They say death, we say no...

Take Vernon Evans off death row!

By: Mike Stark

Maryland death row inmate Vernon Evans was scheduled to be executed the week of April 18. Thankfully, the Maryland Court of Appeals stayed Vernon’s execution pending a June 7 hearing. While the court’s decision was welcome news, Vernon and several others on Maryland’s death row remain in serious danger of being executed. Therefore, local abolitionists decided to go ahead with our planned activities to protest Vernon’s execution and expand our focus to Maryland’s entire unjust death penalty system.

Local Campaign to End the Death Penalty chapters organized three weeks of intense activity calling attention to the injustices in Vernon’s case. Activities included "Live from Death Row" events featuring Vernon Evans via telephone hookup at Georgetown University, American University, University of Maryland College Park, Mount St. Mary’s University, and Baltimore Unitarian Universalist Church. We also organized a well-attended forum at Takoma Presbyterian Church that included a taped recording of a speech by Vernon. And finally, Vernon even participated in a "Live from Death Row" event in Chicago, Illinois. All this culminated in a protest outside of Maryland’s death row on a Saturday afternoon with over 100 people chanting, "They say death, we say no, take Vernon Evans off death row!"

New Abolitionist readers may recall that in 2002 former Maryland Governor Paris Glendening halted Wesley Baker’s execution and imposed a moratorium on all executions, citing concerns over fairness in Maryland’s death penalty. The following year, the findings of a comprehensive, state-funded study conducted by the University of Maryland showed that Maryland’s death penalty was racist. Specifically, the study found: "Blacks who kill whites are 2 1/2 times more likely to be sentenced to death than are whites who kill whites, 3 1/2 times more likely than are Blacks who kill Blacks, and almost 11 times more likely to be sentenced to death than ‘other’ racial combinations." In light of the 2003 UM study, Vernon and two other inmates, John Booth and Wesley Baker, are challenging the constitutionality of Maryland’s death penalty in the courts.

Despite the disturbing findings in the UM study, the newly elected Governor of Maryland, Robert Ehrlich, ignored the study, lifted the moratorium, and resumed executions. Ehrlich, along with other pro-death politicians, contributed to the lynch-mob atmosphere that was used to push through Steven Oken’s execution last summer.

Pro-death penalty politicians are finding Vernon’s case more difficult to justify. Vernon’s case exemplifies everything that is wrong with the death penalty. Vernon is a Black man convicted of killing two white victims in Baltimore County, a mostly white, affluent area. During Vernon’s trial, prosecutors used eight of their ten preemptory strikes to remove potential Black jurors.

Too poor to afford an attorney, Vernon’s court-appointed lawyer failed to interview or present the testimony of the sole eyewitness to the shooting, who later stated that Vernon was not the killer. Other witnesses gave varying testimony regarding the shooter’s height and clothing as well as where other witnesses were at the time of the crime. On top of that, the state’s main witness, Vernon’s girlfriend, received a deal from prosecutors in exchange for her testimony.

Further, Vernon Evans is a completely transformed individual from the one the state claims was involved in the 1983 conspiracy to kill David Scott Piechowicz and Susan Kennedy. Through correspondence, interviews, and his own Weblog hundreds of people have gotten to know Vernon as a caring, compassionate, and deeply thoughtful individual. Vernon is a father, a grandfather, and a source of love and support to his family. He is a mentor and counselor to fellow inmates. Plus, he is an inspiration to abolitionists as he constantly reminds us that he is just one of thousands who languish on death row and in prison unjustly. He has encouraged activists to write other prisoners and to take up their cases as well.

Taking up Vernon’s call to action, abolitionists are going on the offensive against executions in Maryland.