Voices from the Inside

Death Row Prisoners Speak Out


I will exit this world fighting

My name is David Paul Hammer, and I am on the Federal Death Row Unit at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.

This death row unit became operative on July 13, 1999. Twenty of us were transferred here from around the country on that date. There have been three federal executions since that time. My own execution will be the next.

I received a death sentence for the murder of my cellmate while confined at the United States Penitentiary Allenwood in White Deer, Pennsylvania. I pled guilty to first-degree murder. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury recommended death as my punishment. In accordance with that recommendation, United States district judge Malcolm Muir sentenced me to death on November 4, 1998.

Over the years, I have vacillated over whether or not to fight in court or to accept the punishment imposed. The appeals have continued, and I have worked diligently toward the abolition of capital punishment.

On January 6, 2004, I will appear once again before a U.S. district judge to have my execution date set. I have elected to forego any further judicial review of my conviction and sentence. I am now 45 years old and have spent the past 26 years in prison.

I am not suicidal, nor am I "volunteering" for anything! I am a realist; I’m guilty of having taken a human life and have next to no chance of any relief from the courts. My case does not contain issues such as actual innocence, race (all involved were white) or selective prosecution. I had excellent, well-trained lawyers and a top-notch defense team. They tried desperately to save my life.

I am wholeheartedly opposed to capital punishment because it is arbitrarily used against minorities and the poor. Capital punishment does not, as many would argue, serve as a deterrent.

Why then, you may be wondering, have I elected to allow my own execution to proceed without exhausting every available remedy?

It is a personal decision made after careful thought and consideration. I won’t beg President George Bush to spare my life through a clemency petition. He would undoubtedly take a perverse pleasure in denying such a plea. However, I will not exit this world without voicing my opinion and opposition to the federal government’s use of the death penalty.

For over three years, I have battled in federal court to ensure that federal death row inmates have the right to speak out via the news media. In early 2000, the U.S. Department of Justice placed a ban on our first amendment right to speak to members of the press. The media cannot record face-to-face interviews or even telephone interviews.

While the civil case was pending, my friend Jeff Paul and I, along with friends on the outside, founded a Web site, www.deathrowspeaks.info, where men and women on the death rows could post profiles, writings, artwork, etc.

The Web site was a place where their voices could be heard. The Web site was the main source of information available to the news media during the frenzy surrounding the execution of Timothy McVeigh in June 2001. Media outlets worldwide quoted writings by death row inmates posted on the site. We have a voice in spite of government officials attempting to silence us!

I’ve also filed in court for witnesses to be allowed to watch the entire execution process, from the time I enter the chamber, so that nothing is hidden.

It is my hope that protests against capital punishment will be loud and vocal on the day before I am killed, not for me, but rather for the thousands of men and women still fighting against overwhelming odds for justice in their respective cases.

There is no justice in capital punishment; it is revenge, pure and simple!

David Hammer #24507-077
Federal Death Row Unit
U.S. Penitentiary
P.O. Box 33
Terre Haute, IN 47808

Allowing rogue prosecutors to go unpunished

There was an article being passed around the pod earlier today about DNA evidence that lead to the exoneration of five men who had been convicted in the New York jogger case. Earlier this year, people were freed when the Houston crime lab was caught lying.

But a lot of people who are innocent don’t have DNA evidence to prove their innocence.

I had an execution date set in February (the 26th) and was only able to get a stay after a confession was found where someone else admits to the shooting that I am on death row for. The state had hid it from us for seven-and-a-half years! If it hadn’t been for a good friend of mine, who also happens to be very opposed to capital punishment, digging through the files at the courthouse, I would be dead right now.

The fact that all it took was two days of sorting papers to discover what they had done doesn’t say much for my lawyers. I have had five different court-appointed lawyers--a prime example of the top-notch representation we get down here in Texas.

Now, I know that prosecutors have a job to do, and they should be passionate about doing it, but when they start violating their own laws to get a conviction that they know to be unjust, they lose the moral authority that they had to prosecute people in the first place. The practice of allowing rogue prosecutors to go totally unpunished for their own crimes only encourages that sort of behavior.

One of my friends here, Kenneth Foster (#999-232), is completely innocent of the crime he was charged with. He was convicted though. Why? The jurors who convicted him said that he was "guilty by association." Am I the only one who thinks this is just a bit outrageous? What are these people thinking?

His case is not unique in that sense. Sometimes I think Texas has gone collectively insane! Why even have laws, when the very people who are supposed to be enforcing them are doing everything they can to circumvent them? What’s the point?

I know that the only reason I am alive right now is because people who didn’t even know me before I came to prison have taken the time to get involved in my case. I am thankful for that, and I am thankful for everyone else who is involved in bringing things like this out into the open.

The courts don’t pay attention, or they just don’t care, until the public gets involved. They let blatant violations of their own laws just slide right by if no one is watching. I realize this, and I am very grateful for all the people who are involved in pointing out all the injustice in this system. Thank you.

Michael Johnson #999-198
Polunsky Unit
3872 South F.M. 350
Livingston, TX 77351

For more information on Michael’s case or to see a copy of the signed confession from the real killer, please e-mail statedeathrow@yahoo.com.