Our struggle continues

Reports from Campaign chapters around the country


Demonstrators march for Eugene Colvin-El

New York City
by Lucy Herschel

On December 18, 200 activists rallied outside United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York City to call for an international moratorium on the death penalty. Inside the UN, Sister Helen Prejean, along with a representative from Amnesty International and one from the Italian group Sant' Edigio Community, presented more than 3 million signatures on Moratorium 2000 petitions to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. Annan reiterated his opposition to the death penalty and his support for an international moratorium.

After the signature presentation, the three were joined by other anti-death penalty activists, including Susan Sarandon and William Nieves, the 89th innocent person to be released from death row.

"We are right now at a new moment in terms of the American people's recognition that the death penalty does not serve us as a country," said Prejean, whose work around the death penalty was depicted in the movie Dead Man Walking.

Prejean was honored the next day in the New York City Council by council member Bill Perkins. Prejean encouraged the city council to act on a moratorium resolution introduced by Perkins. Subsequently, City Council Speaker Peter Vallone scheduled long-awaited hearings for January 22. The Campaign is organizing for exonerated death row inmates from Illinois to testify at the hearings. Others testifying include members of Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation, legal experts, religious leaders and activists. We want to let the City Council know why New York should be the next city to pass a resolution for a moratorium.

Baltimore/Washington, D.C.
by Mike Stark

The Baltimore and Washington, D.C., chapters of the Campaign organized four "Live from Death Row" forums during the first week of December.

The events featured Maryland death row inmate Kenny Collins -- who spoke to the meetings via speakerphone -- and former New York death row prisoner Lawrence Hayes. Among the other speakers were Dr. Norman Handy of the Baltimore City Council; Salima Marriott, a delegate to the Maryland house; John Morris, attorney for Eugene Colvin-El, whose death sentence was commuted last year; Peter Keith, attorney for Kenny Collins; Delores Williams, the mother of Maryland death row inmate Wesley Baker; Sam Jordan, the former director of Amnesty International's Program to Abolish the Death Penalty; and others.

The events were a smashing success. On Monday, at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, a brand new Campaign member organized the event with the support of the Baltimore city chapter. The event drew more than 60 people, as well as a group of art students from a nearby school interested in starting a Campaign chapter on their campus.

The next day, we held an event at the University of Maryland-College Park that drew 90 people. John Morris gave a rousing speech praising the Campaign for its role in stopping the execution of Eugene Colvin-El, and Lawrence Hayes called on people to join the growing anti-death penalty movement.

About 100 people participated in a "Live from Death Row" at Georgetown University on Wednesday. The audience was visibly captivated when Kenny spoke about his struggle for justice.

Finally, at a forum at George Washington University, more than 150 people packed the seats and aisles.

To top off the week, the Campaign held a protest outside death row in Maryland that drew more than 130 people.

Our success demonstrates the huge opportunities before us to win a moratorium in Maryland and abolish the death penalty once and for all.

Bay Area
by Cameron Sturdevant

California death row inmate Kevin Cooper has won DNA testing.

Cooper's legal team successfully negotiated DNA testing on a drop of blood that was used to tie Cooper to the scene of the 1985 murder of three members of the Ryen family and an overnight guest. The case was recently featured on the CBS News program 48 Hours, with the grandmother of the only survivor, then 10-year-old Josh Ryen, calling for further DNA testing.

Specifically, the testing will be done not only for the donor of the blood but to look for the presence of any laboratory preservatives. The presence of preservatives would bolster a defense claim that the blood drop, if it proves to be from Cooper, was planted at the scene as police tried to close the highly publicized and racially charged case.

Cooper did, however, suffer a setback on non-DNA issues, including ineffectiveness of counsel and jury instructions, in a bizarre ruling given by a three-judge panel of the Federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Cooper's attorneys hope to overturn the ruling on appeal.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyear has been fighting advanced DNA testing, which could point to a different perpetrator. That's why Cooper and his attorneys emphasized the importance of activists circulating petitions -- which have generated hundreds of signatures demanding DNA testing. It's up to Campaigners to continue to press Cooper's case and to make sure that the gains won are carried out.

by Elizabeth Terzakis

Seven hundred people registered their opposition to the death penalty at the Committing to Conscience Conference in San Francisco November 16-19.

The Campaign to End the Death Penalty joined other groups, including the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Death Penalty Focus, American Friends Service Committee and others, in hosting this event.

Scores of unaffiliated, new anti-death penalty activists also came out. The size and atmosphere of the conference reflected a new optimism around ending the death penalty.

One of the highlights of the conference was the "Live From Death Row" event sponsored by the the Campaign.

More than 400 people packed the conference's main auditorium to hear Ronald Kitchen, a member of the Death Row Ten from Illinois; Costella Cannon, the mother of one of the Death Row Ten; Greg Wilhoit, an exonerated inmate from Oklahoma; Tanya McClary of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty; and Joan Parkin from the Campaign.

In one of the most inspiring moments of the conference, Cannon brought the audience to their feet with her fiery appreciation of all the fighters against the death penalty.

Just as moving were Kitchen's responses to audience questions around his experience of being tortured by the police -- and the possibilities of forming friendships on death row.

Chicago
by Daniela Dwyer-Grove

On November 3, the Hyde Park chapter of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty hosted a "Live from Death Row" forum at University Church near the University of Chicago campus.

Ronald Kitchen, a member of the Death Row Ten from Illinois, spoke to an audience of 150 people live via telephone hookup. Kitchen told the audience that, in order to extract a false confession, he was handcuffed to a wall and beaten by police with a blackjack, a telephone book and a phone receiver.

The event also featured a panel of speakers, including Ronald Jones, an exonerated Illinois death row inmate who proved his innocence through DNA testing after spending 14 years on death row. Jones said that he was "living proof" that the death penalty is fraught with error.

Louva Bell, Kitchen's mother, gave a moving testimonial about her experience with an unjust system. Recently recovered from her third stroke, Louva said, "It's been real hard for me, but we've come a long way, and we need all of you to help."

Gricelda Ceja, the mother of Illinois death row inmate Raul Ceja, told the audience that we need to go beyond a moratorium on executions. Her son was the first to be sentenced to death after Ryan's announcement of the Illinois moratorium.

Activism was strongly endorsed by all speakers at the event. David Gardner, a University of Chicago student and member of the Hyde Park chapter, called on students to get involved in the anti-death penalty movement. And Marlene Martin, the national coordinator of the Campaign, described the recent successes of chapters across the country and encouraged everyone present to get involved.

Two weeks later, the Chicago chapters of the Campaign organized a spirited march on November 14 to demand justice for the Death Row Ten. Endorsed by numerous community organizations, the march drew more than 100 protesters on one of the coldest nights of the early winter. Members of the Italian Consulate also came to the protest. Demonstrators marched through the downtown streets to State's Attorney Dick Devine's office, where they called for new trials for the Death Row Ten.

Activists in Chicago are busy preparing for a indoor rally to be held on January 31 to mark the one-year anniversary of the state's moratorium. Abolition next!