Tag Archives: Amnesty International

Stop the execution of Marcellus Williams!

Marcellus Williams is scheduled for death on Tuesday despite circumstances that he might be innocent. Sign a petition to the Governor of Missouri to halt the execution.

Why should we halt the execution?

Mr. Williams might be innocent.
But even if he is not, executing people to keep people from committing crimes has proven ineffectual.
Execution lowers us to the level of those who kill.
The violence of an execution feeds violence.
Thou shall not kill.

Background from Amnesty International

The state of Missouri is scheduled to execute Marcellus Williams on August 22 despite a lack of solid evidence used to secure his conviction and a new report from a DNA expert that his lawyers argue supports his claim to innocence.

“The death penalty is abhorrent in any circumstance, and as we have seen time and time again, the capital justice system is capable of error,” said Zeke Johnson, senior director of programs at Amnesty International USA. “The state of Missouri must not allow this execution to go forward, and must commute the sentences of all of those on death row. There is no acceptable way for the state to kill its prisoners.”

Williams was convicted of the 1998 murder of former St. Louis reporter Felicia Gayle by a jury consisting of 11 white jurors and one black juror. Williams is black and Gayle was white. There was no forensic evidence or eyewitness testimony linking him to the crime. The jury was not presented evidence of Williams’ background, which included severe abuse and mental disability.

Two experts retained by the appeal lawyers have concluded that DNA testing conducted in December 2016 on the murder weapon excludes Williams as the contributor of the male DNA found on the knife. The lawyers have just filed the latest expert report they have obtained on this with the Missouri Supreme Court in a bid to obtain a stay of execution.

See you along the Trail.


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Amnesty International USA Responds to Death Penalty in Boston Bombing Case

Thanks to Steven W. Hawkins, executive director of Amnesty International USA for this statement about the death penalty verdict in the Boston bombing case.

“We condemn the bombings that took place in Boston two years ago, and we mourn the loss of life and grave injuries they caused. The death penalty, however, is not justice. It will only compound the violence, and it will not deter others from committing similar crimes in the future.

It is outrageous that the federal government imposes this cruel and inhuman punishment, particularly when the people of Massachusetts have abolished it in their state. As death sentences decline worldwide, no government can claim to be a leader in human rights when it sentences its prisoners to death.”

See you along the Trail.

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1 stayed; 1 scheduled

1 stayed

Amnesty International reports that:

A judge in Georgia has granted Warren Hill a temporary stay of execution to consider a lethal injection question. A petition is still pending before the US Supreme Court on the claim that Warren Hill has “mental retardation” and that his execution would therefore violate the US Constitution. The execution warrant does not expire until noon on 20 July.

Shortly before the execution was to be carried out on July 15, the stay was issued. The hearing is to be held on July 18. If the stay is lifted before the execution warrant expires at noon on July 20, the state could conduct the execution.

1 scheduled

John M. Quintilla, Jr. is scheduled to be executed today in Texas. The execution may have already taken place. I am having trouble finding information. Quintilla was convicted of killing Victor Billings, a former sheriff’s deputy, in a robbery turned violent. Reports are that, along with two others, Quintilla “entered an action amusement center through a partially opened back door, demanded cash from an employee and advised all other patrons to get down on the floor. An adult white male [Victor Billings] attempted to disarm Quintanilla and was fatally shot three times. A second victim, and adult white female, was also shot, but the injury was not fatal.”

My prayers for those who loved Victor Billings and Myra Wright and Joseph Handspike. There can be no defense or justification of their murders.

But the execution of those who commit such acts is not the answer. It feeds the cycle of violence. There has to be a better way.

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Last hope to stop execution of Warren Hill

Georgia has set an execution date of 15 July for Warren Lee Hill, Jr. This is not the first time that a date has been set.

Stays have been granted on previous occasions. Questions focus on his mental capacity.

Amnesty International reports that experts who have assessed Hill now say that he has ‘mental retardation’, which would make his
execution unconstitutional. His lawyers are asking the US Supreme Court to step in.

Hill was serving time for the murder of his girl friend, Myra Wright, when he was convicted of killing Joseph Handspike, another inmate, and sentenced to death. There is no question of his guilt.

The question in this case, beyond those in any execution, revolves around Hill’s mental capacity. His IQ is reported to be 70. This raises the question of his mental capacity and his awareness to understand his acts.

The U.S. Supreme Court addressed the issue of capacity in the 2002 decision Atkins. v. VirginiaThe American Psychological Association summarizes that decision as follows:

The Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, ruled that executions of mentally retarded criminals are “cruel and unusual punishments” prohibited by the Eighth Amendment. The Court cited the growing number of states prohibiting the execution of persons with mental retardation as a reflection of society’s view that offenders considered to have mental retardation are categorically less culpable than the average criminal. The Court also reasoned that it was “not persuaded that the execution of mentally retarded criminals will measurably advance the deterrent or the retributive purpose of the death penalty.”

However, Georgia has a high standard of proof for proving mental retardation: the standard of proving mental incapacitation beyond a reasonable doubt. Georgia does not believe that standard has been met in Hill’s case.

Amnesty International notes that Hill’s lawyers are asking the US Supreme Court to stop the execution. Several US law professors have filed a brief arguing that this is a case in which the Court should take this unusual step of exercising the Court’s power to consider “original habeas petitions” (in exceptional circumstances to take a case brought directly to it rather than on appeal from a lower court).

Amnesty International asks that those concerned about this case write immediately – before 15 July – to the Attorney General of Georgia. Letters should:

  • Note that  all seven experts who have assessed Warren Hill now agree that he has mental retardation, which would render his execution unconstitutional; and
  • ask the Attorney General to concede this and to support the petition for Supreme Court intervention.

The Honorable Sam Olens, Attorney General of Georgia
40 Capitol Square, SW
Atlanta, GA 30334, USA
Fax: +1 404 657 8733
Email: AGOlens@law.ga.gov
Salutation: Dear Attorney General

Copies of the letter should go to:
Governor Nathan Deal
Georgia State Capitol
Atlanta, GA 30334, USA
Fax: +1 404 657 7332
Email: http://gov.georgia.gov/webform/contact-governor-domestic-form

I grieve for Myra Wright and Joseph Handspike and for their family and friends.  There can be no defense for Hill’s crimes.

But that is not all the story. What does it say about our society – about us – that we resort to execution in the case of an individual with the mental capacity and awareness of Hill? Can we not find another way?

See you along the Trail.


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Stop the Execution of Warren Hill in Georgia

Amnesty International USA provides this introduction to the situation and an opportunity to send a message to the Georgia Board of Pardon and Paroles:

Warren Hill is scheduled to be executed in Georgia on July 18, despite having been ruled “mentally retarded” by a preponderance of the evidence by a Georgia state judge. Executing persons with intellectual disabilities is unconstitutional, and the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles has the opportunity and the responsibility to do what courts have been unable to do – prevent this execution and preserve the integrity of Georgia justice.

To learn more about this case, read or print AIUSA’s full Urgent Action sheet: PDF format

Warren Hill is to be executed for the 1990 murder of a fellow prisoner, Joseph Handspike. He has a mental disability the seriousness of which leaves the constitutionality of his pending execution in real doubt. However, Amnesty International USA reports that Georgia requires defendants to prove their mental disability to “the enormously high ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ standard.” AIUSA suggests that in most other states, Hill would not face execution.

I grieve for the family and friends of Joseph Handspike. There is no justification for his death.

But I oppose Warren Hill’s execution and I have signed AIUSA’s call to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles because of questions about Hill’s mental capacities, because it will not bring Joseph Handspike back, because it will be an act of vengeance, because imprisonment without parole is an option, and because state violence diminishes us all.

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Amnesty International: Execution set for man defended by law clerk

Amnesty International invites people to send appeals to the Governor of Mississippi on behalf of Michael Brawner who is scheduled to be executed on next Tuesday. Here are details on how to contact the Governor:

Governor of Mississippi
Governor Phil Bryant
PO Box 139
Jackson, MS 39205
Fax: 1 601 359 3741
Salutation: Dear Governor

And here is why Amnesty calls for this action (slightly adapted):

Michael Brawner is due to be executed in Mississippi on 12 June for a quadruple murder in 2001. His pre-trial representation was mostly conducted by a “law clerk” who had failed his state bar exam, and only became a practicing lawyer on the first day of the trial.

On 25 April 2001, 24-year-old Michael Brawner shot dead Barbara Brawner, from whom he had been divorced the  previous month, her parents, Jane and Carl Craft, and his four-year-old daughter, Candice Paige Brawner, at the Craft  home in rural northern Mississippi. He was arrested the following day at his fiancée’s apartment.

The trial judge appointed a lawyer for the indigent Michael Brawner, and appointed a “law clerk” to assist. This individual was a law school graduate who had failed his state bar exam. He managed to pass the exam in early 2002, and was admitted to the practice of law on 8 April 2002, the first day of the Brawner trial. The judge appointed him as co-counsel on the defense, and noted that he was “in court today for the first time as a lawyer”. According to Brawner’s current lawyers, it was the clerk who had handled the bulk of the pre-trial defense work. For example, he, not the lawyer,discussed with Michael Brawner the prosecution’s offer of a life-without-parole sentence in return for a guilty plea, which Brawner rejected, and advised Brawner on whether he should plead not guilty by reason of insanity (which was the plea eventually submitted). The only defense witness presented at the guilt phase was the defendant, with no expert evidence to support the insanity plea. After a three-day guilt phase, the jury deliberated for half an hour before finding Brawner guilty of four counts of capital murder.

The lead lawyer delegated the preparation of mitigating evidence to the clerk, but the latter’s time sheets indicate that he did no investigation to this end. Towards the end of the guilt phase of the trial, the lead lawyer asked the defendant (outside the jury’s presence): “Mr Brawner, do you wish me to try and get you ‘life’ or ‘life without parole’, if you are, in fact, found guilty of any of these counts by the jury? In other words, it’s what the lawyers call ‘put on a mitigation case’…”

The lawyer said that a psychologist was available to present mitigating evidence. However, she had been retained only to evaluate whether Brawner was competent to stand trial and sane at the time of the crime. In an affidavit in 2011 she said that she had never met or spoken to the lead lawyer, only to the clerk, and that the lawyer’s suggestion that she had been ready and willing to present mitigation was “simply not true”.

Michael Brawner responded that he did not want mitigation, saying, “I don’t feel that I deserve life to live”. This was surely not an informed decision if his lawyer was unaware of the range of mitigation evidence available and unable to advise him fully of his options. Evidence that could have been introduced at the sentencing included details of a childhood of severe  abuse, parental alcohol and drug abuse, and a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Please write immediately:

  • Explaining that you are not seeking to excuse these murders or to downplay the suffering caused;
  • Expressing concern that Michael Brawner was in effect represented before his trial by a law clerk, not a lawyer;
  • Noting that his jury did not hear mitigating evidence of his severe childhood abuse and mental health problems;
  • Opposing the execution of Michael Brawner and calling on the governor to grant him clemency.

Governor of Mississippi
Governor Phil Bryant
PO Box 139
Jackson, MS 39205
Fax: 1 601 359 3741
Salutation: Dear Governor
Please check with the AIUSA Urgent Action Office if sending appeals after the above date.

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Kony 2012 and children in armed conflict

An issue that has drawn lots of attention lately is the Kony2012 video and campaign. My friend and colleague Jessica Hawkinson gathered some resources for the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations that are related to addressing the issue of Kony and the LRA and the larger issue of children in situations of armed conflict.

Millions of viewers have tuned in to the KONY2012 video and campaign, recently released by the organization Invisible Children. The campaign encourages public support for the arrest of Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), who is wanted for trial by the International Criminal Court. Kony is charged for, among other things, the widespread recruitment and use of child soldiers. The campaign also seeks to build support for the disarmament of the LRA and rehabilitation of these child soldiers.

For all of the support the campaign has gained, many key stakeholders have raised questions about the video, noting its failure to adequately address the complexities of the issue. Included below are several resources about the video, the Ugandan conflict and the LRA, and ways that you can help bring an end to the use of children in armed conflict.

Learn more about the LRA and children in situations of armed conflict

How you can help

Follow live on Twitter

A prayer for children in situations of armed conflict
by David Gambrell

Loving God, giver of life,
through your prophets you promised
that a little child would come to lead us
in the paths of everlasting peace.
Help us to follow where you lead
and hasten the coming of the day …
when wars throughout the earth will end …
when neighbors and nations will put down their weapons …
when all children will live in safety and freedom …
when all people will have justice and dignity …
when the wolf and lamb will dwell together
and no one will hurt or destroy in all the earth.
We ask these things through Jesus Christ,
your beloved child, our eternal peace.  Amen.

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A discovery

I discovered a new blog today – Death Penalty News. The author states:

I oppose the death penalty in all cases unconditionally regardless of the method chosen to kill the condemned prisoner.

The blog compiles stories about the death penalty from around the world:

The blog provides action ideas – see the article about Sakineh Mohammadi for ways to speak against her possible execution. In the case of Robert Gattis, who faces a January 20 execution date, two online options are available:

Death Penalty News also identifies resources such as Quest for Justice: Defending the Damned, a book by Defense Attorney Richard Jaffe that will appear in February.

I have subscribed to Death Penalty News and look forward to learning more.

And I have taken action on behalf of Sakineh Mohammadi and Robert Gattis. I invite you to do the same.

See you along the Trail.

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I signed. Will you?

The international movement to end the death penalty grows. I signed a petition this morning from the World Coalition against the Death Penalty.

Amnesty International notes that in 2010 (the last year for which they have published records):

23 countries carried out executions and 67 imposed death sentences in 2010. Methods of execution in 2010 included beheading, electrocution, hanging, lethal injection and shooting.

Amnesty’s report “Death Sentences and Executions 2010” notes:

Bahrain (1), Bangladesh (9+), Belarus (2), Botswana (1), China (1000s), Egypt (4), Equatorial Guinea (4), Iran
(252+), Iraq (1+), Japan (2), Libya (18+), Malaysia (1+), North Korea (60+), the Palestinian Authority (5),
Saudi Arabia (27+), Singapore (+), Somalia (8+), Sudan (6+), Syria (17+), Taiwan (4), United States of
America (46), Viet Nam (+), Yemen (53+).

The petition from the World Coalition against the Death Penalty states:

139 nations have already abolished the death penalty. In December 2012, the United Nations’ General Assembly will vote on a resolution calling for a worldwide halt to its use.

We, the undersigned, in recognition of the five million people who signed the moratorium petition that was handed to the United Nations’ General Assembly in 2007, promoted by the Community of Sant’Egidio in collaboration with Amnesty International and other organizations all over the world, renew the call for a worldwide moratorium on sentences and executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty worldwide in the belief that this penalty is inhumane:

* Whatever the method of execution, there is no humane way to kill
* Whatever the country, death row is inhumane
* Whatever the length, awaiting death dehumanizes people sentenced to death

We welcome the strong progress already made towards a global end to capital punishment and acknowledge that 139 nations have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

For the 4th vote of the United Nations General Assembly on a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, to be held in December 2012, we, the undersigned, call on all countries to support the resolution and all those which retain the death penalty to establish a moratorium on its use, with a view to abolishing this inhumane practice altogether!

I signed. Will you?

See you along the Trail.


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Nine years of resistance

Today’s letter in the Amnesty International’s Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon went to President Calderón of Mexico on behalf of Inés Fernández and Valentina Rosendo.

For more than nine years, these two courageous women have taken on the military and authorities to demand justice after soldiers raped them in 2002. Inés Fernández and Valentina Rosendo are Indigenous Me’phaa (Tlapaneca) women. Amnesty International notes that:

Indigenous women in Mexico who are raped rarely file a complaint due to cultural, economic and social barriers. Inés Fernández and Valentina Rosendo have shown courage in reporting their ordeals and have followed up their cases in national and international courts. The women and their families have faced threats as their battle for justice continues.

Guided by Amnesty International’s sample letter, I urge President Calderón to ensure a swift, full and impartial investigation into the rape Inés Fernández Ortega and Valentina Rosendo Cantú. This investigation should take place in civilian courts as should all cases of human rights violations by military personnel.

Sign up to participate in the Write-a-thon.

Find resources for the Write-a-thon, including sample letters to adapt.

Learn about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the international human rights framework.

See you along the Trail.

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