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Today in Capital Punishment History for May 20
In 2003 the film Citizen Verdict, directed by Philippe Martinez, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. (view full calendar)
Maryland Becomes 18th State without the Death Penalty!
Washington DC (5/2/13)—Today Governor O’Malley signed Senate Bill 276 which makes Maryland the 18th state without the death penalty. “The signing of the death penalty repeal bill is a significant step toward ending the death penalty in our nation,” stated National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty Executive Director, Diann Rust-Tierney. “Policymakers and the public are turning away from capital punishment. In state houses across the country there is new political space to have frank discussions about the costs, flaws and failures of the death penalty.”
A cursory review of the nation’s death penalty system uncovers too many problems. Chief among these problems is the risk of executing an innocent person. As a result, in the last five years, 40 out of 50 states have executed two or fewer people. Twenty-nine of those forty either do not have the death penalty or have not executed anyone in the past five years.
With Maryland abandoning the practice of capital punishment, the death penalty is further isolated to only a handful of jurisdictions across the country. The momentum that we have seen in recent years, in Maryland and beyond, is a clear indicator that public sentiment about the death penalty, and more broadly about what makes effective policy on public safety, is shifting. Laws, such as the abolition bill in Maryland, reflect these changing priorities and the underlying community values.
The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty has worked hand-in-hand with Maryland Citizens Against State Executions and the other campaign partners to help channel the broad-based concern about the death penalty into concrete policy change.
“A growing chorus of mothers, ministers, neighbors, police officers, retail workers and teachers are making it possible for us have a different conversation about how we respond to violence and support those who are harmed by it. These people are like you and me, going about their daily lives and believing that a world without the death penalty is not only possible but desirable,” stated Rust-Tierney.
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Delaware Senate Votes to Pass Death Penalty Repeal Measure
Washington DC (3/15/13)—“On the heels of the historic victory in Maryland earlier this month, the Delaware Senate has voted to abolish the death penalty,” said National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty Executive Director, Diann Rust-Tierney, “Momentum for repeal is increasing in Delaware and across the country.” The measure will now go the House for consideration after the session resumes from the spring recess.
More and more policy makers and members of the public are coming to the realization that the death penalty is a failed policy that does not keep us safer and wastes public resources that could otherwise be used to support victims of crime and strengthen our communities.
We commend the Delaware Senate for taking this momentous step today to do away with a broken, antiquated capital punishment system, and we urge the members of the House to follow suit.
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Maryland Legislature Passes Death Penalty Repeal!
Washington DC (3/15/13)— “Maryland is the bellwether for the country on the death penalty,” said National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty Executive Director, Diann Rust-Tierney. When the bill is signed into law Maryland will become the 6th state in six years to abandon the death penalty.
Click on the image to see the key and additional details
Maryland would be the first state below the Mason Dixon line to end capital punishment. Like other states that have taken a close look at the practice, lawmakers and citizens in the state have come to the conclusion that the death penalty system is simply unworkable. Chief among the concerns is the risk of executing an innocent person which can never be completely eliminated.
Maryland has tried for over 35 years to get it right. They have studied the problems and recently amended the statute to make it among the most restrictive in the country. But the risks of error and unfairness remained. Lawmakers were wise to conclude that enough is enough – it is time to end the practice.
We commend the governor, the speaker of the House, the president of the Senate, the sponsors of this legislation, and those who supported its passage for this thoughtful process and the careful attention that was paid to this issue.
Maryland is leading the way. We expect that other states will draw important lessons from this process. Some will follow suit, conduct their own inquiries and likely arrive at the same conclusion. Others will determine that the ability to eliminate error, bias and unfairness from capital punishment is simply beyond our grasp. “With the death penalty, we squander precious resources in the false pursuit of a foolproof way of deciding who should live and who should die. These resources could be better used to prevent violence, hold people accountable and care for the survivors of homicide,” stated Rust-Tierney.
We celebrate this progress for the state and the nation, and we call on policymakers and Governor O’Malley to make it a priority to provide additional funding for victims services—in particular funding to support survivors of homicide.
Victims’ Families Lead the Way in Maryland
The family members of murder victims have a unique voice and have an essential role in the struggle and debate about ending capital punishment.
There is no right way or wrong way for survivors of homicide to feel or think about capital punishment. We lift up the work of survivors of homicide who have joined our efforts to acknowledge the special sacrifices they have made to contribute to our collective success.
The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty is proud to partner with national organizations such as Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation, Murder Victims Families for Human Rights and The Journey of Hope.
As we celebrate the enormous victory of Maryland, likely becoming the 6th state to repeal the death penalty in 6 years, we wanted to salute the efforts of three individuals without whose selfless efforts the victory in Maryland would not have been possible.
The three people highlighted below were tireless advocates for the abolition of the death penalty in Maryland as well as increased services for those who suffer from homicide. They have bravely shared their story, building bridges and connections to law makers and diverse segments of the community — changing hearts and minds.
Bonnita Spikes, whose husband Michael was murdered at a New York City convenience store in 1994, spoke at a recent rally about the challenge of suddenly becoming a single mother and sole breadwinner and the relatively few resources available to her for support.
Before his death, Michael had served on juries and shared that he could never sentence anyone to death because of inequities in the system. Neither Bonnita nor her police officer son supports the death penalty. Their faith also informs their opposition to capital punishment.
Since 2005 Bonnita has worked as an organizer and victim advocate for Maryland Citizens Against State Executions. She has testified at the Maryland legislature, met with individual legislators, given presentations across the state, spoken at rallies, and worked with survivors of homicide in Baltimore. “Over and over, I have found families in dire need of support and traumatic grief counseling services. I have come to know people, young and old, who have little or no access to professional help coping with their overwhelming loss. They are struggling to hold their households together, to help their families grieve and survive the trauma one day at a time.”
Vicki Schieber didn’t care about the death penalty before her daughter Shannon was raped and murdered in 1998 while pursuing a doctorate in Philadelphia at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. It took years for investigators to find Shannon’s killer. When prosecutors sought the death penalty against the perpetrator in 2002, Vicki and her husband argued against it. “We didn’t want him put to death. This wasn’t the way we were going to find peace and closure.”
Vicki has become deeply involved in the repeal effort over the past decade. She has testified before the Maryland legislature and spoken with individual legislators dozens of times and serves on the board of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions. She has taken her story to 22 states as she urges an end to capital punishment, mostly because of the very harmful effects it often has on the family survivors of a homicide victim. Vicki also serves as the Education Coordinator for the Catholic Mobilizing Network to End the Use of the Death Penalty, and had been a board member of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights until the end of 2012.
Though she has rejoiced as other states have struck down capital punishment, Vicki said seeing the same thing happen in Maryland would be different. “Shannon was born and raised in Maryland and was a great supporter of social justice issues during her 23 years with us. If she had known about the biases and arbitrariness in the application of our U.S. death penalty system, she would have become actively involved in abolition efforts. My work is all done to honor my daughter.”
Erricka Bridgeford also knows the grief of murder intimately. Her brother David was murdered in 2007. “He was my first best friend, first love, first baby. That was my brother.”
Since 2009 Erricka has advocated for an end to Maryland’s death penalty. She has testified at the Maryland legislature, spoken to the media repeatedly, and shared her powerful story at a 2011 death penalty prayer service at the Basilica of the Assumption in Baltimore.
“You start to realize that revenge is taking up space that you need to heal. I have learned that one more dead body cannot be justice. I want life in return for my brother’s death. He is worth forgiveness in return for violence.”
Erricka is also involved in the N.E.W. World Movement, an effort to bring resources to rebuild and support the neighborhood where she grew up in honor of her brother and other friends who were killed in that community.
The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty salutes these wonderful individuals and their unique and important contributions to the successful Maryland abolition campaign!
Maryland House Judiciary Committee Passes Death Penalty Repeal Legislation in a Vote of 14 to 8
Today, March 8, 2013, the House Judiciary Committee voted 14 to 8 to pass HB 295, the death penalty repeal bill. Amendments were introduced and approved to reconcile the bill with the Senate version that passed on Wednesday, March 6, 2013. All gutting amendments were defeated.
The bill will now be heard by the entire House of Delegates, which we expect to happen the week of March 11. Death penalty repeal initiatives have long been supported by the majority of the delegates, and the measure is expected to pass. It will then go to Governor O’Malley to sign, which as the sponsor of the bill, he has committed to do.
The countdown to repeal continues! We will continue to follow the progress of the legislation through every step of these final stages, and we will be reporting to you about major developments as they emerge. We have a variety of ways that you can get the level of information and detail that you are looking for:
Follow National Coalition Executive Director, Diann Rust-Tierney, for commentary on the debates throughout the process at @DiannatNCADP
See photos, get updates, and leave us a message on our Facebook page
Maryland residents: Click here to send a message to your representative urging him/her to pass the death penalty repeal bill with no amendments.
Maryland Senate Passes Death Penalty Repeal Bill by a Vote of 27-20
Washington DC (3/6/13)—Today Maryland is one step closer to ending capital punishment and becoming the 6th state in 6 years to abandon this controversial practice. The Senate vote to send the measure to the House for consideration is likely the last significant hurdle that the bill will face before becoming law. The Maryland Senate voted 27 to 20 to pass Senate Bill 276: Death Penalty Repeal-Substitution of Life Without the Possibility of Parole. The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty applauds the Senate on its thoughtful consideration of the measure and urges members in the House to swiftly follow suit.
After grappling with the death penalty for years, the state of Maryland took a definitive step in the direction of abandoning it altogether. “This process has been a great example of democracy at work,” stated National Coalition Executive Director, Diann Rust-Tierney, “The Senate has finally acted on the recommendation of the 2008 Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment to end the death penalty.”
The Commission was comprised of death penalty supporters and opponents, and included death row exoneree, Kirk Bloodsworth, who now serves as Advocacy Director for Witness to Innocence. Together they studied the system and held hearing after hearing with a broad cross-section of Maryland citizens including law enforcement officers and surviving family members of murder victims. They concluded that “there are so many faults, so many flaws in the system that we could not imagine…ways in which to cure it.” Their report cited racial disparities, jurisdictional disparities, risk of innocence, the negative impact on victims’ families, and the lack of any persuasive evidence that the death penalty deters homicide. It has taken until today for the full Senate to affirm the findings of the Commission that the death penalty in Maryland is not a viable public policy.
When the public and policymakers have the opportunity to take a detailed look at the death penalty in their states, they conclude simply that it is not worth the trouble. Once this legislation passes in Maryland, it will be the first state below the Mason-Dixon Line to abolish the death penalty. However, this change of attitude is not limited to Maryland.
Repeal efforts are underway in Delaware, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Washington and Oregon (where a moratorium is in place). Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe recently announced he would sign a bill to repeal the death penalty if presented one by the state legislature. In Virginia we have seen expansion efforts defeated in each of the last seven sessions and no expansion bill was introduced this year. In Ohio, use of the death penalty is increasingly isolated to only a small number of counties, and in 2011 the Ohio Supreme Court created the Death Penalty Task Force in conjunction with the Ohio Bar Association to review concerns about whether the death penalty is being administered in a fair and balanced manner.
Even in states that are still using the death penalty, regardless of whether the legislature is controlled by Republicans or Democrats, we are seeing changes. In Missouri, for example, where 68 people have been executed since 1976 (fifth most in the country), nine bills have been introduced this session to study, curb, reform, or end the death penalty and other criminal procedures. The Missouri Governmental Accountability and Fiscal Oversight Committee recently passed Senate Bill 61 out of committee which calls for a targeted cost analysis of the death penalty and alternative sentences.
In this era of limited resources people are looking for policies that work, and we expect the repeal of the death penalty in Maryland to continue the momentum away from this deeply disturbing and arcane practice in the increasingly few jurisdictions where this form of punishment is still practiced.
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Maryland Senate Passes Death Penalty Repeal Bill out of Committee
On February 21, 2013, the Judicial Proceedings Committee of the Maryland Senate approved SB 276, The Death Penalty Repeal and Appropriations from Savings to Aid Survivors of Homicide Victims but not before removing a key provision in the bill that would have provided additional funding for survivors of homicide and begin to realign state resources to prioritize meeting the needs of victims of homicide.
Governor O’Malley has committed to, “redirect a portion of the savings from the repeal of the death penalty to aid crime victims and their families.”
Consideration of SB 276 by the full Senate is currently expected to begin Friday March 1, 2013. Consideration of the companion bill, HB 295, in the House Judiciary Committee will begin once SB 276 passes in the Senate.
Maryland residents: Please click here to write to your legislators urging them to pass the bill without additional amendments.
Maryland Death Penalty Repeal Legislation to Appropriate Funds from Savings to the New Maryland Victims of Crime Fund
Washington DC (2/14/13)—The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty applauds Governor O’Malley and the Maryland General Assembly for introducing and considering Senate Bill 276 and House Bill 295: Death Penalty Repeal and Appropriation from Savings to Aid Survivors of Homicide Victims and urges its passage.
The legislation appropriates $500,000 annually to the Maryland Victims of Crime Fund specifically to aid murder victims’ families. The money in the appropriations comes from the savings garnered from dismantling the capital punishment system in Maryland.
The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty jointly sponsored a Victims’ Town Hall Forum in Maryland with Maryland CASE, Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation, the Maryland Crime Victims Resource Center, Community Advocates for Family and Youth, and Still I Rise Inc. What came out of that forum was a clear picture of the need for the state to provide more financial resources to address the myriad of harms that crime victims and homicide survivors suffer.
Senate Bill 276 and House Bill 295 are an important concrete step in the right direction.
The testimony submitted by the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty endorsed the approach taken in the proposed legislation of devoting additional resources to crime victims by ending a capital punishment system that demonstrably is not working.
Among the problems cited with the current death penalty system in Maryland and across the nation were:
The high risk of executing an innocent person;
Pernicious racial bias in the administration of the death penalty; and
The absence of any evidence that the death penalty increases public safety.
Sound public policy requires lawmakers to subject all public programs to the simple test of efficacy and accuracy. That is a test that capital punishment in Maryland has failed—as it has everywhere else in the nation.
Death is not available as a punishment in 17 states and the District of Columbia. Five states have abandoned the death penalty in the last five years. Maryland would be the 18th state without the death penalty and the sixth to abandon capital punishment in the last five years.
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Speak out against the death penalty now!
No matter where you live, speak out against the death penalty by signing this open letter to Maryland state legislators urging them to vote for repeal in Maryland. Maryland is poised to become the 6th state in 6 years to get rid of the death penalty!
Thousands Sign Open Letter to Maryland Legislators Calling on them to Pass Death Penalty Repeal Legislation
Washington DC (1/28/13)—National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty is calling on the members of the Maryland General Assembly to passSenate Bill 276/House Bill 295: Death Penalty Repeal and Appropriation of the Savings to Aid Survivors of Homicide Victims. A key provision of the legislation sets aside funds to provide better services to the families of homicide victims in Maryland.
In conjunction with the Death Penalty Repeal Lobby Day and Rally organized with coalition partners in Annapolis, the National Coalition mobilized thousands of supporters to participate in a “virtual lobby day”. Participants in this virtual lobby day signed an open letter to Maryland lawmakers which will be hand-delivered this evening during the legislative visits.
Supporters of the death penalty repeal measure expect that its passage in Maryland will send a message to the diminishing number of states and localities that continue to use capital punishment. We can no longer continue the status quo of unfairness inherent in the capital punishment system. We cannot continue to sentence innocent people to death or impose death sentences on the basis of race or ethnicity. We cannot impose death sentences when defendants are not provided with a proper defense by competent counsel. We cannot spend money on a system that isn’t working while the needs of crime victims go unmet.
In taking the historic step to abolish the death penalty in Maryland, lawmakers would set in motion a higher standard for justice—one that prioritizes providing support and services to homicide survivors. Favorable action on repeal legislation in Maryland would make it the 6th state in 6 years to end capital punishment and the 18 state without the death penalty.
Governor O’Malley to Sponsor Repeal Legislation in Maryland
The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty applauds Governor O’Malley for his leadership in sponsoring the bill to end the death penalty in Maryland. With Senate President Miller’s public commitment bring the legislation to the Senate floor we are confident that Maryland will become the 18th state to abolish the death penalty.
As a whole, the country is moving away from the death penalty. Over the past five years, five other states have abolished the death penalty—New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, Illinois and Connecticut. The death penalty is a broken and outdated system that continues to operate in an increasingly isolated set of jurisdictions across the country. Maryland is among the 29 states that have not carried out an execution in five or more years. Only 15 counties across the country account for 30% of all executions in the United States since 1976.
The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty has been proud to partner with the NAACP, working with Maryland Citizens Against State Executions—an independent affiliate of the National Coalition—and other organizations representing citizens concerned about civil rights and human rights. We have spoken to and connected with thousands of Marylanders and have listened to the concerns expressed by victims of crime whose needs often go unmet because of limited resources.
Governor O’Malley’s legislation to repeal the death penalty in Maryland and use the otherwise wasted dollars to enhance services for victims of homicide is an enormous step forward for Maryland and the rest of the country.
We stand ready to mobilize the full support of our national network behind this effort.
Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley leads a march of Maryland clergy in support of death penalty repeal in 2009.
Maryland is Poised to be the 6th State in 6 years to Abolish the Death Penalty
As the 2013 Maryland legislative session starts up, one of the top discussion items is repeal of the death penalty. Governor Martin O’Malley is a strong advocate for this legislation, and news reports today (1/9/13) indicate that the votes are lining up! In fact, Thomas V. “Mike” Miller, the longest serving state senate president in the nation and a supporter of the death penalty, is today saying that the bill is expected to pass and that he will help ensure that it gets a vote of the full senate this year. The bill is also expected to easily pass in the Maryland House of Delegates before being signed by Governor O’Malley.
This effort is not complete until the bill is signed, and there remains much work to be done. The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty is working in close collaboration with our state affiliate, Maryland Citizens Against State Executions, to help win this campaign. You can help too by getting involved directly via the National Action Team!
Year-end Report by Death Penalty Information Center Shows the American Public is Turning Away from Capital Punishment
Washington D.C. (12/19/12)—The death penalty continued its decline in 2012 as more states and jurors rejected death as punishment. The 2012 year-end report released by the Death Penalty Information Center on December 18th, 2012, provides more evidence that the current death penalty system is broken and unfair. This mounting evidence, in turn, is having an impact on eroding support for capital punishment among policymakers and the public. In 2012 the fewest number of states (9) in twenty years carried out executions.
According to the report over half (29) of all US states either don’t have the death penalty or haven’t had an execution in five years. In fact, the death penalty is increasingly a rare and geographically isolated form of punishment. Only four states (TX, MS, OK, and AZ) accounted for over 75% of the executions in 2012 according to the report. Previously active death penalty states like Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina had no executions and no new death sentences this year. A total of 38 scheduled executions were stayed because of serious problems in those cases.
Even with this progress, the report points out that people with serious mental illness are still unfairly sentenced to death and executed and that as the practice becomes rarer the risk of arbitrariness, bias and mistake becomes more apparent.
Press Statement: Governor O'Malley Reaffirms Support
for Death Penalty Repeal in Maryland
Washington, DC (12/13/12)—The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty applauds the development this morning and commends Governor O'Malley for his leadership. In a meeting with NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Jealous and NAACP State Conference President Gerald Stansbury this morning, the Governor reaffirmed his support for death penalty repeal in Maryland. The NAACP and its network of state leaders across the country have long been the mainstream standard bearer for fairness and justice for all. The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty is proud to partner with them in this effort.
Nowhere is the need for fairness greater than in the administration of the death penalty in Maryland and across the country. It's patently ineffective and woefully unjustly applied on the basis of race, economic status and geography.
The NAACP's leadership on repealing the death penalty here in Maryland and elsewhere signals a critical turning point in the struggle to end capital punishment in the U.S. Today's development is a positive signal that the state of Maryland will likely become the 18th state to repeal capital punishment and focus their future intention, energy and resources where it should – on caring for those who are harmed by crime and violence and on making the choices which keep our communities safer.
Judge finds Racial Bias in 3 More Death Penalty Cases Under NC Racial Justice Act Defendants resentenced to life imprisonment
without the possibility of parole
Three death row inmates were resentenced to life imprisonment without parole, after a Cumberland County judge found that racial discrimination in jury selection played a key role in securing their death sentences.
Tilmon Golphin, Christina Walters, and Quintel Augustine will spend the rest of their lives in prison with no possibility of release, under the provisions of the N.C. Racial Justice Act. The law, passed in 2009 and one of only two such statutes in the nation, allows death row inmates to present evidence that race influenced their sentencing process. Those who win their cases receive life in prison without parole.
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ATTENTION FEDERAL EMPLOYEES -- CFC Pledge Season is Underway!
Did you know that Federal and state employees can donate directly to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty using payroll deduction through the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC)?
Be sure to use the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty's CFC number (11946) when you sign up and your tax deductible donation will be automatically deducted from your paycheck. It's just that easy! Remember to use CFC number (11946) to help us repeal the death penalty once and for all. Thank you for standing with us.
National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty CFC # is: 11946
Join NCADP's National Action Team to help make the difference in the hottest campaigns and the states where we're closest to Abolition! Click here for details and to sign up!
Thanks to all who participated in our live internet conference.
Thirty-five years ago, the Supreme Court upheld one of the country’s most controversial practices — capital punishment. Since then, nearly 1,300 Americans have been executed by the state. In the second edition of McKinney & Associates’ eBook series, The Death Penalty Failed Experiment: From Gary Graham to Troy Davis in Context, National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty executive director Diann Rust-Tierney passionately argues that race, wealth and geography play a greater role in determining who faces capital punishment than the crime itself.
“How do you administer the most severe punishment imaginable in a manner that is accurate, free from bias and demonstrably fair?” writes Rust-Tierney. “Until we are all seen and treated as equal, we cannot afford to keep capital punishment.”