Highlights Of The Struggle

Reports From Campaign Chapters Around The Country


Louva Bell, mother of Death Row 10 member Ronnie Kitchen, speaks out

ATLANTA
by Cari Courtenay-Quirk
Re-energized by the Campaign’s national convention in November 2001, the Atlanta chapter began the new year with a whirlwind of activity.

During the first week of the Georgia General Assembly’s new legislative session, our chapter organized a "Welcome Back Party" press conference at the capitol. We released 123 helium balloons -- each balloon had the name of a current death row prisoner written on it.

We are also supporting the formation of a moratorium campaign in Georgia along with a number of other abolitionist groups. In particular, the Campaign is encouraging non-abolitionist groups such as the National Mental Health Association of Georgia to join the call for a statewide moratorium.

We’re proud to say that we interrupted Gov. Barnes’ State of the State address as part of our new "Barnes Storming" campaign. Seven Campaigners held picket signs and chanted in the gallery of the House chamber until we were asked to leave. Our action was covered by the local public TV station that night. We plan to disrupt Gov. Barnes at future public events to let him know that he cannot sit idly by while Georgia continues to execute its citizens.

At an anti-death penalty conference at Mercer University in Macon, Ga., organized by Amnesty International students there, Campaign members argued strongly that lobbying is not a tactic that can work without a broad, grassroots movement backing it up. About 30 people were in attendance, and seven or eight of them became interested in starting a new chapter of the Campaign.

Georgia’s machinery of death resumed last October, and we have been speaking out against the executions. On the night of Georgia’s fifth execution in three months, we held a panel that included two former Georgia death row inmates, Emma Cunningham and Billy Moore; Ed Brown, the brother Jamil Al-Amin, who currently faces the death penalty; and Campaign member Jon Wexler. About 50 people attended this event, and 10 people joined the Campaign.

Now, we’re gearing up to protest another execution. Our work continues!

AUSTIN, TEXAS
by Lily Hughes
Although executions are again on the rise in Texas, support for the death penalty continues to decline. The Austin chapter is taking the struggle forward by focusing on several cases that highlight the barbarity and injustice of capital punishment in Texas.

The case of Andrea Pia Yates is pushing the issue of the death penalty back into the spotlight. We recently held a panel discussion entitled "Execution or Understanding: The Case of Andrea Yates" at the University of Texas in Austin, featuring Diane Bossum of the Houston-based Andrea Pia Yates Support Coalition; Hannah Riddering, president of the Austin chapter of the National Organization for Women; and Jeannine Scott of the Campaign.

Speakers pointed out that Texas ranks 49th in the nation in terms of funding for mental health care and has a history of executing people with debilitating mental illness, like Larry Robison and Bettie Lou Beets. The lack of health insurance and adequate health care was a running theme throughout the discussion.

In addition to the Yates case, our chapter is building a campaign for justice in the "Yogurt Shop Case," which involves three innocent men accused of murder. Robert Springsteen has already been sentenced to death row, while Michael Scott and Maurice Pierce await trial.

No physical evidence links any of these men to the crime. In fact, the DNA collected at the crime scene excludes all three of the defendants!

We have organized a petition campaign, held public meetings, and distributed fact sheets about their case. At a recent Ralph Nader rally in Austin, we signed up hundreds on the "Yogurt Shop" petition as well as our moratorium petition. We plan to hold a press conference soon to expose the injustices in their case.

To raise money to support all of our activity, we recently held a fundraising party. We played a game called "Pin the tail on Perry." Partygoers were given a tail -- slips of paper with information about different bills that Gov. Rick Perry has vetoed -- and were asked to read them before being blindfolded. The target was Perry’s face, featured on both the head and the tail of the donkey. This definitely helped us get in the spirit for our Pound on Perry Campaign!

CHICAGO
by Jesse Sharkey
Campaign chapters in Chicago are actively campaigning to win justice for the Death Row 10 -- a group of African American men who were tortured by Chicago police and forced into giving confessions that were used to convict and sentence them to death.

A new trial for one of the Death Row 10 would open the door for the rest and add fuel to the fire in the fight for abolition in Illinois.

Things are heating up in the case of Death Row 10 member Madison Hobley, who was convicted and sentenced to death for an arson that killed five people, including his wife and child. But in a recent hearing, an expert in fire investigation testified that Madison could not have started the fire that burned down his apartment building. Madison’s evidentiary hearing is expected to conclude soon, at which time he could win a new trial!

Death Row 10 member Aaron Patterson could also win a new trial. Last year, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office offered Aaron a deal if he admitted guilt and dropped his torture claims. Aaron refused and continues to fight to prove his innocence.

To show our support for the Death Row 10, Campaigners are packing the courtroom on important court dates and organizing pickets in front of the courthouse on the morning of certain hearings.

Another Death Row 10 member, Andrew Maxwell, recently accepted a deal offered to him by the State’s Attorney’s office. Andrew spent nearly 15 years on Illinois death row. He is now serving a 75-year sentence at another correctional facility.

Cook County State’s Attorney Richard Devine has continually denied that torture ever happened at Area 2 and 3 Headquarters. But the deals he has offered are yet another sign that he is feeling the pressure from activists who continue to expose the issue of police torture and coerced confessions in Chicago.

We need to keep up the pressure to win justice for all of the Death Row 10!

OAKLAND, CALIF.
by Elizabeth Terzakis
The Oakland chapter of the Campaign began the year with a burst of activity.

At the 10,000-strong San Francisco Martin Luther King Day march, we organized a contingent supporting Pennsylvania death row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.

We marched with placards that called for a new trial for Mumia and quoted King’s opposition to the death penalty. To put a local, human face on the death penalty, we passed out fact sheets about California death row prisoner Matthew Souza, who is from Oakland.

Later in January, we joined a protest of 500 against the execution of Stephen Wayne Anderson at San Quentin Correction Facility on the night of his execution. Anderson, who became an award-winning poet while on death row, was executed despite repeated pleas from the victim’s family to spare his life. At the protest, the Campaign circulated petitions calling for a California moratorium on executions.

We also hosted a Live from Death Row event in Oakland on February 9. Speakers included exonerated California death row inmate Shujaa Graham; Georgia Hill, the sister of death row inmate Erven Blacksher; a call-in from San Quentin death row inmate Rodney Berryman; and local Campaign organizer Elizabeth Terzakis.

Graham spoke powerfully about his own experience on death row and his ongoing struggle against the death penalty. Two members of the San Quentin 6, members of the Black Panther Party and Graham’s defense committee accompanied him to the event. The presence of these lifelong fighters against injustice was an honor and a privilege to everyone who attended.

Hill told the audience about her brother’s mental illness. And live from San Quentin’s death row, Berryman spoke about the prosecutorial misconduct in his case and the conditions on death row.

Unfortunately, death row prisoner Dellano Cleveland, who was also scheduled to call-in from San Quentin, had his phone privileges revoked at the last minute due to new and arbitrary rules.

The Oakland chapter is preparing to turn up the heat around Kevin Cooper’s case. Cooper is the first California death row prisoner to be granted postconviction DNA testing.

We’re looking forward to a busy spring, with many opportunities to challenge California’s death penalty.