News and Updates

The death penalty in decline…

As life-without-parole sentences rise


Ronnie Kitchen
By: Marlene Martin

A snapshot of the year 2009 shows the death penalty on the decline -- even though executions themselves were up from the previous year.  2009 saw 52 people executed -- an uptick in executions from the previous year when 42 people were put to death. But 24 of these executions were carried out in Texas alone. Out of the 35 states that have the death penalty on the books, 24 did not execute a single person. And nine men were exonerated from death row in 2009, the second-highest number since the death penalty was reinstated.

Last year, the case of Cameron Todd Williamham, who was executed in Texas in 2004, made national headlines, exposing the fact that Texas almost certainly executed an innocent man, further eroding public confidence in the death penalty.


Standing up against police torture


Credit: Catherine McMillan
By: Mark Clements

As the New Abolitionist goes to press, there is the stirring of a new movement in Chicago to take on the issue of police torture.  Different organizations have joined together to form a group called the Jail Jon Burge Coalition. The goal of this group is to force Cook County officials and the criminal courts to grant new hearings and trials for the more than 20 men who remain in prison stemming from confessions that were beaten and tortured from them while they were in police custody under the command of Jon Burge.


Lynching then and now


Credit: Alan Bean - Friends of Justice
By: Marlene Martin

“I saw them burn the nigger, didn’t I, Mama?”
“Yes, darling, you saw them burn the nigger.”

—Overheard conversation between an eight-year-old
and her mother after the lynching of Henry Smith

The screams of Henry Smith as he was tortured to death in 1893 were captured on gramophone and later sold. Photographs show a crowd of 10,000 gathered in Paris, Texas, arriving by train, in wagons and horses, and by foot to see the lynching.  Postcards were made of the photos with the caption: “Wish You Were Here.”


“I was in the clouds”

Interview with Barbara Lewis


Barbara Lewis on a recent visit with her son, Robert Gattis
By: Marlene Martin

Robert Gattis won a commutation of his death sentence to life without the possibility of parole just days before his January 20, 2012 execution date. Robert’s lawyers mounted a strong clemency campaign, focusing on Robert’s troubled childhood and showing how it impacted Robert’s behavior. Another point of emphasis was the fact that Robert had for many years expressed remorse over killing his then-girlfriend Shirley Slay during a “crime of passion.” 

Delaware CEDPers, along with other abolitionists, worked hard to win Robert’s clemency. Barbara Lewis is Robert’s mom and a longstanding abolitionist. She spoke with Marlene Martin shortly after her son won his commutation.

What was it like to learn that Robert’s sentence was commuted? 


A mighty voice for justice


Credit: New Abolitionist
Louva Bell (right) speaks at a Campaign to End the Death Penalty protest for the Death Row 10
By: Marlene Martin
Socialist Worker

Marlene Martin of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty remembers a warrior for justice, who helped save the life of her son and end capital punishment in Illinois.


Supreme Court Strikes Down Florida's Death Penalty System

By: Nina Totenberg
NPR

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down Florida's death sentencing system as unconstitutional on Tuesday, casting doubt on the status of all the state's death sentences.

Florida ranks second in the nation in the number of death row inmates, with 390 men and women currently awaiting execution.


Defense: New evidence points to victim’s fiance in Reed case


Rodney Reed's parents
By: Jillian Beck
The Austin-American Statesman

Lawyers for a man convicted and sentenced to death for a 1996 Bastrop County murder filed a motion in district court this month saying a previously undisclosed police investigation points to the victim’s fiance as the perpetrator.

Rodney Reed was convicted and sentenced to death in 1998 for the rape and murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites. Less than two weeks before he was scheduled to be put to death this year, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed his execution based on a new appeal Reed’s attorneys filed in February.


Jeff Wood's Stay of Execution Casts More Doubt on the Texas Death Machine


By: Jordan Smith
The Intercept

TERRI BEEN WAS being interviewed by a reporter inside a Whataburger restaurant in East Texas on the afternoon of August 19 when the text came in: Her brother, Jeff Wood, on death row for his alleged involvement as an accomplice in the 1996 murder of his friend and facing imminent execution, had been granted a stay. She read the text sent by Wood’s attorney twice before dialing him up. “Are you serious?” she asked.


Death Penalty Loses Majority Support for First Time in 45 Years


By: Niraj Chokshi
New York Times

For the first time in almost half a century, support for the death penalty has dipped below 50 percent in the United States.


Impressions of my first convention


Credit: Eric Ruder
Some of the 900 who came out to hear Howard Zinn talk to Dave Zirin about “The power of the people.”
By: Carter Pagel

“People fighting against injustice starts small, but it grows because the truth is on our side.”  Those words came from Howard Zinn as he spoke to
Dave Zirin at the Campaign to End the Death Penalty’s (CEDP) ninth annual convention, and for me, they encapsulated the theme of the entire weekend.  What I witnessed at my first CEDP convention was amazing -- whether it was Jack Bryson tearing up over the realization that he has found true brothers and sisters in his fight against injustice, or Marvin Reeves stepping back to take in a standing ovation from 900 people applauding his courage, people were profoundly affected and changed by  this weekend; we all were.