News and Updates

Happy Birthday, Montell!

Montell and his mother, Gloria
By: Ken Richardson
Monday, January 28, 2013

On January 25, Montell Johnson had his 47th birthday celebration at University Church in Chicago.  About 30 friends of Montell, and his mother, Gloria Johnson, gathered to celebrate another year of freedom for Montell; and vowed to continue the fight to ensure no mother has to endure what Gloria Johnson endured. 

Montell had spent 15 years behind bars; he was diagnosed with chronic-progressive multiple sclerosis in 2001, when he was on Illinois' death row.  In 2003, George Ryan, then the governor of Illinois, commuted his sentence to forty-years.  In 2008, former governor Rod Blagojevich pardoned Montell based on the severity of his illness.  Neither of these things would have happened with constant public and legal pressure, and the determination of his mother, Gloria Johnson. 

Death, Life Without Parole, and Legislating Extreme Punishment

Credit: J.M. Giordano
Maryland's death chamber cell at the prison hospital in Baltimore
By: Michael Corbin
Saturday, January 19, 2013

 Maryland lawmakers have a real chance this legislative session to vote to abolish the state’s death penalty. This makes it an opportune time to examine the growing body of research and reflection on America’s increasing use of sentences of “life without parole”(LWOP) and their relationship to the broad national trend toward capital punishment abolition.

Police Torture and the Death Penalty in Illinois: Ten Years Later

By: Flint Taylor
The Nation
Friday, January 11, 2013

On January 11, 2003, the world watched as Illinois Governor George Ryan, days before leaving office, granted clemencies to all 163 men and women on death row in his state, reducing their sentences to life without parole. The previous day he had pardoned four death row prisoners—Madison Hobley, Aaron Patterson, Leroy Orange and Stanley Howard—all of whom had been tortured into giving false confessions by police officers working under notorious Chicago police commander Jon Burge.

NYPD's controversial 'Stop and Frisk' policy ruled unconstitutional

Reverend Al Sharpton and marchers participated in silent march in opposition to the NYPD's stop and frisk tactics.
By: Kerry Wills, Robert Gearty, and Stephen Rex Brown
New York Daily News
Tuesday, January 8, 2013

 A Manhattan Federal Court judge has ordered police stop making trespass stops outside private residential buildings immediately. The tactic was decried by some as infringing on civil liberties. 

A key part of the NYPD’s controversial “stop and frisk” tactic has been ruled unconstitutional.

Questions Left for Mississippi Over Doctor’s Autopsies

Dr. Steven T. Hayne performed as many as 1,700 autopsies annually from the late 1980s to the late 2000s.
By: Campbell Robertson
The New York Times
Monday, January 7, 2013

JACKSON, Miss. — For a long time, if a body turned up in Mississippi it had a four-in-five chance of ending up in front of Dr. Steven T. Hayne.

Between the late 1980s and the late 2000s, Dr. Hayne had the field of forensic pathology in Mississippi almost to himself, performing thousands of autopsies and delivering his findings around the state as an expert witness in civil and criminal cases. For most of that time, Dr. Hayne performed about 1,700 autopsies annually, more than four for every day of the year and nearly seven times the maximum caseload recommended by the National Association of Medical Examiners.


America’s Retreat From the Death Penalty

By: Editorial Board
The New York Times
Tuesday, January 1, 2013

When the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, it said there were two social purposes for imposing capital punishment for the most egregious crimes: deterrence and retribution. In recent months, these justifications for a cruel and uncivilized punishment have been seriously undermined by a growing group of judges, prosecutors, scholars and others involved in criminal justice, conservatives and liberals alike.

Victims of a racist witch hunt

The Central Park Five attend the New York City opening of the documentary about their case
By: Lee Wengraf
Socialist Worker
Monday, December 17, 2012

Twenty-four years ago this April, the so-called Central Park Jogger case thrust five young men into the national spotlight amid the racist media hysteria that was fueling a law-and-order policing agenda then and in the years after.

On April 19, 1989, a 28-year-old white woman named Trisha Meili was raped in New York City's Central Park. The police unleashed a manhunt, sweeping up 30 young men and interrogating a number of whom were allegedly in the park that night. Fanning the flames was a media frenzy about "wilding" by "wolf packs" of Black and Latino youth.

Within several days, five African American and Latino teenagers had been arrested in the case--Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Kharey Wise.

Christmas Behind Prison Walls

By: Mark Clements
Monday, December 17, 2012

I spent 28 years behind prison walls before finally being freed in 2009. I can tell you from that experience that the holidays can be the most depressing time of the year for those that are confined behind prison walls. For a prisoner there is no holiday celebration, nor a welcoming in of the new year.  Some prisons are even known for locking the inmates in their cells on that day because they do not have adequate staff to work the prison. In most prisons Christmas Day is the same as every other day.  Prisoners are caged inside their cells and are only allowed to talk to their loved ones for 30 minutes (and the costs of those calls are outrageously high). While locked up in a cage, you can’t help thinking about everyone else having fun with family and friends.

Judge commutes three death sentences, citing racial bias

A North Carolina judge ruled on evidence that prosecutors worked to get blacks eliminated from the pool of jurors

By: Associated Press
Friday, December 14, 2012

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — A North Carolina judge on Thursday commuted the death sentences of three convicted killers, including two who killed law enforcement officers, to life in prison without the possibility of parole after ruling that race played an unjust role in jury selection at their trials.

Cumberland County Superior Court Judge Gregory A. Weeks based his ruling on evidence presented over four weeks of hearings that he says showed prosecutors in each case made a concerted effort to reduce the number of black jurors.

The three who had their sentences commuted were among the most notorious killers on North Carolina’s death row.

Family members of the victims and more than 60 uniformed police officers packed the courtroom. Before Weeks could finish issuing his ruling, the brother of a murdered state trooper stood up and yelled an expletive at the judge.

Remembering Prisoners Over the Holidays

By: Campaign to End the Death Penalty
Monday, December 10, 2012

For most people, the holiday season is filled with family, friends, good food, and cheer. But for those in prison, the holidays can be an especially painful time to be separated from loved ones. As you are filling out your holiday cards this season, please remember the men and women who will spend the holidays behind bars. Receiving a holiday card filled with greetings and words of encouragement from you could really mean a lot to someone who has to spend the holidays away from his or her family.