November 28, 2005

Broken Justice: The Death Penalty in Alabama

According to a new report released by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), structural and procedural flaws in Alabama’s criminal justice system stack the deck against fair trials and appropriate sentencing for those facing the death penalty.

The report, Broken Justice: The Death Penalty in Alabama, details unfair and discriminatory practices in the state’s administration of the death penalty. It concentrates on six major areas of concern: inadequate defense, prosecutorial misconduct, judicial override of jury recommendations, execution of the mentally retarded, racial discrimination and geographic disparities. Among the report's key findings are the following:

- Lack of a statewide public defender system in Alabama creates wide disparities among circuits in their standards of indigent defense, or representation of defendants who can’t afford private legal counsel.

- Alabama is among the few states that still allow judges in capital trials to override jury recommendations for lesser sentences and impose the death penalty.

- Eighty-one percent of those executed in Alabama since 1976 were convicted of killing white people, yet only 35 percent of all murders in the state involve white victims.

- Between 1973 and 2003, nineteen Alabama death penalty cases were reversed because of prosecutorial misconduct.

- The 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision prohibiting execution of mentally retarded offenders left it to the states to define mental retardation. In failing to issue its own definition, Alabama places mentally retarded inmates at risk of unconstitutional execution.

Based on its findings, the ACLU has recommended at temporary halt to executions in Alabama to allow a thorough review of the state's capital punishment system. A July 2005 poll by the Capital Survey Research Center found that 57 percent of Alabamians would support such a moratorium on executions.

Alabama has the sixth -highest execution rate and the sixth-highest death-sentencing rate in the nation. There is no statewide public defender system, and 95 percent of those on death row are unable to afford representation. Five innocent people have been released from Alabama's death row since 1976. (ACLU Press Release, "New Report Finds Fatal Flaws in Alabama's Death Penalty," October 20, 2005). Read the report. See Representation, Race, Arbitrariness, and Innocence.

Posted by Mentor at 06:34 PM

Amnesty USA

USA: 1,000th execution looms as lottery of death reaches shameful milestone

A prison guard takes a man out of a prison cell. The guard leads the man through a hallway to an execution chamber and in the presence of witnesses, the prisoner is poisoned to death.

The witnesses go home, many of them traumatized for life. The prison authorities who directly participated in extinguishing a human life are similarly traumatized. The journalists write stories about the man that has just been put to death in front of them. Officials clear the room until the next time.

In the USA, this scene is fairly routine. Since 1976, when the death penalty was reinstated by the US Supreme Court, nearly 1,000 men and women have been killed by the state in the name of justice.

As the 1,000th execution in the US approaches, Amnesty International, along with a broad spectrum of human rights organizations, social justice groups, and concerned individuals, is calling on US State and Federal authorities to put an immediate end to all executions.

“The death penalty is by nature ineffective, arbitrary and does not deter crime. On the contrary, it creates more victims and demeans society as a whole”, said Amnesty International.

A disproportionate number of those executed in the USA in the past three decades were economically disadvantaged, people of colour, and those who had little or no access to competent counsel. Many suffered from mental retardation or were child offenders – groups that are exempt from the death penalty under international human rights standards. Others suffered severe mental illness. Many were executed while serious questions remained concerning their guilt -- to date 122 people have been released from death rows across the country on grounds of wrongful conviction.

“The execution of 1,000 men and women by the state has resulted in immeasurable human costs - for the victims of violent crime, for the families of those who were executed, and for those who participated in these state-sanctioned killings. It is time for the US to realize the ultimate futility of the death penalty and follow the global trend towards abolition.”

For more information, please see: and

Posted by Mentor at 05:22 PM

November 22, 2005

One Thousand Executions

The U.S. is approaching its 1,000th execution in the post-Furman era. A coalition of local activists and national groups has been working to develop resources that will allow anyone – regardless of where you live – to use this milestone as an opportunity to take action against the death penalty.

What can you do?

1. Visit the new web site and add your photo and message to the collection of people (and a few pets, too) who are standing up to say no to the death penalty.

2. Host an event! Individuals or groups can host an event in connection with the upcoming 1,000th execution. An event can be a speaker, a debate, a community meeting, a protest, a vigil or anything else you’re inspired to host. Publicize your event at and we’ll help you get the word out!

3. Track the 1,000th execution and take action against all pending executions by going to

Posted by Mentor at 01:21 PM

November 21, 2005

Innocent Man Executed in Texas

Published on Monday, November 21, 2005 by the Houston Chronicle

Innocent Man Executed in Texas

They were two teenagers who shared a deadly pact of silence: One grew up in prison tortured by a secret that might have stopped his friend's execution, and the other went to his death without revealing what he knew.

Ruben Cantu and David Garza's teenage bond was forged in the unforgiving streets on the south side of San Antonio, where the only rule they learned to respect was never to snitch.

When they were both arrested in 1985 for a neighborhood murder-robbery, Cantu, 17 at the time of the crime, insisted he was innocent and was condemned to die. Garza, 15, admitted guilt only to robbery — but not the murder — and got a deal.

Now, Garza has broken a 20-year silence with a surprising story that would appear to clear Cantu and implicate another man. Garza says he was with another neighborhood teen on Nov. 8, 1984, when they broke into a home, shot and killed one man, and seriously wounded another.

"Ruben Cantu had nothing to do with the murder, attempted murder and robbery of the two men at 605 Briggs Street. I should know," Garza wrote in a sworn statement obtained by the Houston Chronicle.

Common Dreams

Posted by Mentor at 05:55 PM

November 20, 2005

Executed Man May Have Been Innocent

HOUSTON, Texas (AP) -- Doubts are being cast on the guilt of a Texas man executed more than a dozen years ago after the crime's lone witness recanted and a co-defendant said he allowed his friend to be falsely accused under police pressure, the Houston Chronicle reported Sunday.

Article Link

Posted by Mentor at 10:22 PM

Action Alert


Robin Lovitt is scheduled to be executed in Virginia on November 30, which would mark the gruesome milestone of the 1,000th execution in the United States since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Amnesty International is concerned that most of the small amount of DNA evidence presented at trial linking Lovitt to the crime was illegally destroyed by a court clerk to free up space in court storage rooms, before Lovitt could appeal against his conviction.

Urge Governor Warner to make a difference by granting clemency to Robin Lovitt.


Posted by Mentor at 06:40 AM

November 14, 2005

Citizens United for Alternatives to the Death Penalty

Citizens United for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (CUADP) works to end the death penalty in the United States through aggressive campaigns of public education, and the promotion of tactical grassroots activism.

CUADP's mission contains two areas of focus:

1. Invigorated education about viable alternatives to the death penalty
2. Strategic and tactical grassroots activism

Invigorated education involves the use of mass media to effectively communicate to the U.S. public the message that the death penalty is bad public policy on economic, moral, and social grounds. To effect political change, alternatives to the death penalty must be made attractive to the majority of U.S. voters. Mass public education must be reinforced at the grassroots level by local organizations and respected individuals. Politicians must be provided the support to lead on this issue, even in the face of unpopular public sentiment.

Posted by Mentor at 08:18 PM