I began this blog in May 2009 following the death of Marcia Powell at Perryville State Prison in Goodyear, Arizona. It is not intended to prescribe the path that leads to freedom from the prison industrial complex.

Rather, these are just my observations in arguably the most racist, fascist, militaristic state in the nation at a critical time in history for a number of intersecting liberation movements. From Indigenous resistance to genocidal practices, to the fight over laws like SB1070 and the ban on Ethnic Studies, Arizona is at the center of many battles for human rights, and thus the struggle for prison abolition as well - for none are free until all are. I retired the blog in APRIL 2013.

Visit me now at Arizona Prison Watch or Survivors of Prison Violence-AZ

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Troy's last wish: The beginning of the end of the Death Penalty

Arizona State University - Hayden lawn
September 21, 2011

---------------from POLITICO--------------

By: Mackenzie Weinger
December 9, 2011 08:42 AM EST 
Could capital punishment be at death’s door in 2012?

That’s the goal for several states next year, say leading anti-death penalty advocates who are making a push to end the controversial practice.

In California, supporters of abolishing the death penalty have gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures to place a measure on the November ballot, while activists and lawmakers in Maryland, Kansas, Ohio and Connecticut are gearing up for legislative battles in their states.

Advocates say the coming year could be their best opportunity yet to replace the death penalty with life without the possibility of parole in these states, pointing to shifts in public opinion, rising concern over execution costs, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber’s recent decision to place a moratorium on capital punishment, and Troy Davis’s high-profile execution galvanizing opposition to the death penalty. And in California, the drive for a public referendum could get a boost by appearing on the presidential election-year ballot, backers say.

Davis’s controversial case, which spurred protests in Georgia and around the country, was a wake-up call for many Americans, said Diann Rust-Tierney, the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty’s executive director. “That was a sad but stark example to folks of how broken the system is,” Rust-Tierney told POLITICO.

It’s a system that’s not just broken, anti-death penalty activists say, but far too costly.

In California — where capital punishment was passed by the voters over 30 years ago and can only be repealed by referendum — the state’s painful budgetary crisis spells a great opportunity for success in 2012, according to those pushing the measure.

Natasha Minsker of the SAFE California Campaign, the group leading the effort to qualify a measure for the state’s November ballot replacing the death penalty with life without possibility of parole, said a recent study that found California has spent roughly $4 billion to carry out 13 executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978 has fired up the repeal effort in a state plagued by terrible financial problems. The staggering $4 billion figure comes from all costs funding the death penalty system in California, including the trials, appeals, death-row housing, healthcare of inmates and the executions themselves.

“More voters now realize that the death penalty is enormously expensive, and we’re in the worst budget crisis ever in California history,” Minsker told POLITICO. “With the economic crisis right now — that Californians are living everyday with terrible budget cuts — people are much more likely to pay attention to the fact that we are wasting money on the death penalty.”

The campaign has collected 240,000 signatures — California requires 504,000 valid signatures for the referendum to make it onto the ballot — and is aiming to submit about 750,000 by the end of February. And, Minsker added, they’ve already got $1.2 million in their coffers from contributions that ranged in size from $5 to $500,000.

“The fact that it’s a presidential election year, we definitely believe a large voter turnout and the more Californian voters voting on the measure is better for us,” Minsker said.

And California, where voters must make the final decision through the referendum process, will also seek to capitalize on the slight swing in public opinion: A Gallup poll conducted just after Davis was executed in September showed support for the death penalty has fallen to a 39-year low nationwide — 61 percent of Americans said they back capital punishment, a three point drop from 2010. Just over half of Americans, or 52 percent, said the death penalty is applied fairly, a six point drop in approval from last year.

Kent Scheidegger, legal director for the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which supports the death penalty, said he doubts most of the repeal efforts will go anywhere in 2012. Anti-death penalty advocates often forget there is still overwhelming public support for capital punishment, he said, and noted that the budgetary argument could soon lose steam as the U.S. economy recovers.

“If they manage to convince the people of their spin that it’s much more expensive — and, more importantly, can’t be fixed — then it has a possibility of passing,” Scheidegger told POLITICO. “It’s a concern given that there’s probably a lot more money on that side than what the supporters of capital punishment can possibly muster.”

Scheidegger also said that he doubts the legislative efforts in the states will lead to repeals in an election year when legislators are afraid of supporting bills that could leave themselves open for being attacked as soft on crime.

Repeal advocates are decidedly more optimistic: The effort in California, as well the campaigns in Connecticut, Maryland, Kansas and Ohio stand a good chance of succeeding next year, Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center said.

“Any or none of those could succeed, but they’re all teed up for this coming year,” Dieter said. “It could be three states, and it would be unusual for one year to produce those results.”

There are currently 34 states with the death penalty and 16 states, as well as D.C., without capital punishment, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Connecticut offers a particularly unique case for anti-death penalty advocates: Several representatives have said they will not seek to abolish the death penalty without the men convicted of the brutal murders of a mother and her two daughters in Cheshire receiving their sentences. One man has already been sentenced to death, and jurors handed down the same sentence Friday to the second man.

“We have had at points thought that we had a winning vote, but that case always colors everything,” said Democratic state rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, who will work to push an anti-death penalty bill in the February session.

But 2012 could be a different story without the Cheshire case hanging over legislators’ heads, Connecticut advocates say — several members have said they would be willing to support abolition after the sentencing and Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy has said he would sign the bill into law.

“If those senators keep their word, then we will be able to get it passed,” Ben Jones, executive director of the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty, told POLITICO. “2012 will be the year.”

That optimism is mirrored in Maryland, where Democratic Delegate Sandy Rosenberg said he believes that as long as their repeal bill makes it to the floor, state legislators will vote to end the practice. Gov. Martin O’Malley, Democrat and staunch supporter of repeal, has said he will sign such a bill.

“We believe that our count, after the election of 2010, we have the votes, we have the constitutional majority in both houses for repeal,” Rosenberg said. “The key is getting a floor vote in the Senate. We do know we have the votes on the floor, but as of now, we do not have the votes in committee.”

In Kansas, Republican state senator Carolyn McGinn is leading the call for an end to the death penalty. Donna Schneweis of the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty noted that the issue has taken hold across the political spectrum: A bill that would have abolished capital punishment in 2010 garnered support from conservatives, moderates and progressives, but ultimately failed on a 20-20 vote in the state senate. In 2012, supporters say they’ll try again.

Another state that’s looking to make moves in 2012 is Ohio, where a new judicial study commission is looking at how the death penalty is working in the state and there’s currently a bill that would replace executions with life without parole. A state senator is planning to introduce a companion measure, Kevin Werner of Ohioans to Stop Executions added.

In Georgia — where Davis was held on death row and executed after the U.S. Supreme rejected a last minute appeal — advocates aren’t ready to push for full repeal, but they’re looking to capitalize on the energy and momentum from the polarizing case. Kathryn Hamoudah of Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty told POLITICO the major reform focus in the state in 2012 stems from the key point in Davis’s case: excluding the use of the death penalty based solely on eyewitness testimony.

“It’s not just about Troy Davis, but I think his case was deeply personal to people not just in Georgia, but all over the world,” Hamoudah said. “People in the south were saying, ‘That could be me, that could be a family member, or that could be a friend.’ It really propelled people to action in a way we’ve never seen before.”

For Jeanne Woodford — who spent 26 years working at San Quentin and five years as the California prison’s warden — ending the death penalty is deeply personal for many of those working in law enforcement.

“People do forget that there is an impact on those of us who are asked to carry out these executions,” said Woodford, who now works as the Executive Director of Death Penalty Focus in California.

Whenever she had to conduct an execution — and she did four for the state of California — Woodford said a staffer would ask if they made the world safer tonight. “We all knew the answer was no,” she said.

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