Highlights Of The Struggle

Reports From Campaign Chapters Around The Country

Baltimore/Washington, D.C.
By Dexter Sumner and John Coursey

We’ve had our hands full fighting the death penalty in recent months. Public debate on the death penalty intensified in response to the sniper shootings. And the debate has become even more heated following the inauguration of Maryland’s new governor, Robert Ehrlich, who plans to restart the machinery of death here.

We stood our ground as prosecutors from Virginia, Maryland, Alabama and the federal government made their case for the death penalty for John Malvo and John Mohammad, the two men arrested in the sniper shootings.

We organized a rally at George Washington Un iversity to say "NO" to the death penalty under any circumstances. The rally featured a panel that included Shujaa Graham, a former California death row prisoner, and speakers representing the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Bar Association, Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and the Campaign to End the Death Penalty.

Panelists spoke out against the barbaric practice of executing juveniles and criticized prosecutors for seeking the death penalty for John Malvo, who is a juvenile. Speakers also addressed the fight against the death penalty in Maryland and nationwide.

Shortly before Ehrlich’s inauguration, a two-year study of Maryland’s death penalty concluded that the system is racist and geographically biased--something that abolitionists have been saying all along.

Disgracefully, the report’s conclusions did not cause a change of heart in Ehrlich. So we organized a protest at his inauguration! More than 75 protesters participated in the protest, chanting, "Hey Ehrlich, just face it, death row, is racist!" Our chants could be heard by everyone attending the inauguration, and we received widespread media attention.

Now, it’s official. Maryland’s moratorium on executions is over. The state has scheduled the execution of Steven Oken for the week of March 17. The news came just one week past Ehrlich’s inauguration.

We’ve got our work cut out for us. The Campaign is planning a march to the Supermax prison in Baltimore, a phone blitz and an e-mail campaign, plus letters to newspapers. Also, numerous organizations are coordinating an anti-death penalty conference at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore for late February with the aim of bringing new activists into the fight against Maryland’s death penalty!

Austin, Texas
By Lily Hughes

Like folks around the country, the massive victory in Illinois inspired and overjoyed anti-death penalty activists in Austin. After mu! ch jumping up and down and hootin’ and hollerin’, we immediately thought of what a victory like this would mean for us. We often feel like we are fighting right in the belly of the beast here in Texas. But we have always said that even here, we can change this system, and now we are feeling that even more.

In its race to kill, the state of Texas scheduled seven executions for the last two weeks of January. But we don’t plan on letting this happen quietly. We have a press conference and picket planned for the end of the month, where we will make our voices heard.

We are also organizing support for Texas death row prisoner Rodney Reed. We believe Rodney is innocent. Last fall, we met Rodney’s family and began working with them around Rodney’s case. They are determined to win justice for Rodney and all those on death row.

We held a meeting in Bastrop, Texas, the family’s hometown, which drew more than 50 people from the community and the Austin area. Rodney’s mom, Sandra, highlighted the injustices in her son’s case, and meeting participants discussed strategies for moving forward.

Rodney’s case highlights the worst features of the death penalty, including racism, inadequate defense and innocence. The Reed family’s involvement re-energized our chapter. And the example of the Death Row 10 pardons in Illinois has given us a renewed commitment to our fight.

At the end of February, we will be holding a Live From Death Row with Rodney Reed. Rodney’s family will speak, along with Robert King Wilkerson, who spent more than 30 years in a Louisiana prison before he was exonerated. We’re also planning a dance in Bastrop, with DJs, food and a raffle, to benefit Rodney’s case.

We will fight the disgusting assembly line of death in Texas to the very end!

By Julien Ball

Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan made his decision to grant blanket clemency to death row inmates and to pardon fo! ur members of the Death Row 10 after a flurry of activity by the anti-death penalty movement. Exonerated inmates, family members of those on death row, victims’ families, capital defense lawyers and grassroots activists worked together on the campaign to urge the governor to commute all death sentences.

On December 8, Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation held a powerful event at which dozens of victims’ family members--one by one--described their loved ones who had been murdered and stated their opposition to the death penalty.

One week later, more than 500 people gathered at Northwestern Law School to hear from nearly 40 former death row inmates, the largest-ever gathering of the exonerated and other leading voices in the abolitionist movement.

The following day, exonerated Illinois death row prisoners took part in a "walk" coordinated by the NU Center on Wrongful Convictions from Statesville Correctional Facility to the State of Illinois Building, where they presented the governor’s office with a message calling for blanket commutations.

Then on New Year’s Eve, Rev. Jesse Jackson, death row family members and the Campaign to End the Death Penalty visited the Death Row 10 and other prisoners housed at Pontiac Correctional Center’s Condemned Unit. Following the visit, Jackson held a press conference urging Gov. Ryan to commute all Illinois death sentences and to look at cases of innocence.

During the first week of the new year, about 120 family members with loved ones on death row spoke to Gov. Ryan about their pain and suffering as the mothers, daughters, fathers and sons of those on death row. Family members presented Ryan with a scrapbook of family pictures. Abolitionists groups in Illinois worked together to organize this critical meeting.

One week before Ryan’s announcements, the Campaign organized a press conference with exonerated Illinois death row prisoners calling for pardons and commutations for the! Death Row 10. In a final push to urge the governor to commute all death sentences, we held a rally at the State of Illinois Building that brought together a host of organizations to voice this message.

Campaigners here are proud of our victory. Now, we’re setting the stage for all-out abolition. On Martin Luther King Day, we coordinated a press conference with Rep. Art Turner, who recently introduced legislation--House Bill 213--to abolish the death penalty in Illinois!

And we will be marking the third anniversary of the Illinois moratorium on executions on January 31st with an indoor rally: No Turning Back--Abolition Now!

Berkeley, Calif.
By Becky Downer

Before the semester ended, the Campaign chapter and the ACLU chapter at UC-Berkeley co-hosted a Live from Death Row featuring California death row prisoner Kevin Cooper. In an emotionally charged atmosphere, Kevin spoke to an audience live via telephone hook-up from San Quentin’s Condemned Unit.

Kevin was the first California death row prisoner to receive post-conviction DNA testing under a new state law. But the results of Kevin’s tests showing his DNA on several pieces of evidence are suspect. Without the consent or knowledge of the defense, the state’s criminologist David Gregonis checked out key pieces of evidence, along with Cooper’s blood and saliva, for 24 hours in 1999.

Kevin has always maintained his innocence. One witness, Josh Ryen, who survived the tragic murder of his family, originally testified that Kevin was not the killer. Moreover, Josh identified the race of the killers as white or Hispanic; Kevin is African American.

On top of that, a pair of bloody coveralls that could be linked to the crime was deliberately thrown away by the police. And blond hair that was found in the victims’ hands has yet to be identified through mitochrondrial DNA testing.

Our chapter is now circulating a petition demanding a new trial for Kevin Cooper. We’re ! also waiting to hear if the court will agree to hold an integrity of evidence hearing.

"I have been on death row for nearly 20 years, falsely convicted of homicide, and I have thoroughly seen and experienced the corruption and injustices of our criminal justice system and the death penalty," wrote Kevin in a recently published letter in the San Francisco Chronicle.

"Here in California, where there are more than 600 men and women on Death Row, there are these same problems exposed in Illinois...What has happened in Illinois is a great victory for the anti-death penalty movement, and it should be seen as a spark that will ignite a nationwide movement that will not cease until abolition of this unjust death penalty is attained."

That’s why the Campaign is urging the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to adopt a resolution supporting a statewide moratorium on executions. We’re mobilizing for the board’s next meeting on February 25 as a stepping stone to make Alameda County and all of California a "Death Penalty Free Zone."