Monday, October 14, 2002

March calls for abolishment of death penalty

March calls for abolishment of death penalty

Speakers from different backgrounds speak out at third annual rally
By Katherine Sayre (Daily Texan Staff)
October 14, 2002

Jeanette Popp wants the man who raped and killed her daughter to live.
Popp told her story of advocating a life sentence for Achim Josef Marino, the man who murdered her daughter in 1988, to a crowd of about 200 protesters demanding a moratorium on capital punishment at the state Capitol Saturday afternoon. 

"I saved [Marino's] life, and I saved my daughter's honor," Popp said Saturday. "They will not kill in her name."

Popp's voice rang out over a crowd gathered on the Capitol grounds after protesters marched from Republic Park to the Capital chanting "No Justice, No Peace - Moratorium Now." The third annual rally against the death penalty included speakers representing a range of issues surrounding capital punishment.

Renny Cushing, executive director of Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation, said that contrary to popular belief, many murder victims' families oppose the death penalty.

"We've come to oppose the death penalty because of what it does to us and to society as a whole ... a ritual killing just expands the scope of pain," Cushing said.

He said that many families find their love for the victim is questioned after speaking out against capital punishment. He said Texas' Bill of Rights for Crime Victims should be amended to prevent families from being discriminated against during trials. The bill is a set of legal guidelines that allows a victim and his/her family certain protection rights and involvement in a criminal proceeding.

"It's about no more victims - anywhere," he said.

Ross Byrd, the son of James Byrd Jr. who was murdered in Jasper in 1998, said executions by the state are murder.

"The death penalty is all wrong," Byrd said. "It goes against God, and God said 'thou shalt not kill' ... Thou shalt not kill and that's even for the justice system."

Francisco Javier Alejo, consulate general of Mexico, spoke on the Capitol steps about Mexico's opposition to capital punishment.

Alejo said that while Mexico respects the United States government's right to make independent decisions, Mexico also asks for the same respect.

"We fully respect that as well, as we expect to be respected for our full and adamant opposition to the death penalty," he said, adding that Mexico regards the death penalty as "abominable."

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Friday, October 11, 2002

New Play Includes Story of Kerry Cook

Someone Else Committed Their Crimes 


One of them says that as soon as he returns home, his instinct is to lock his door because it has become natural for him to feel locked up. Another describes the daily ordeal of taking a shower and seeing his scars, including the obscene words that were carved into his buttocks by fellow prisoners. "The State of Texas executed me over a thousand times, man," he says, "and it just keeps doin' it." 

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company 
The New York Times 

October 11, 2002, Friday

SECTION: Section E; Part 1; Page 3; Column 1; Movies, Performing Arts/Weekend Desk 

These last words, from an intense and deeply affecting new documentary play called "The Exonerated," are uttered in a quiet voice that mixes resignation with enduring astonishment. The speaker is Richard Dreyfuss, and he is reading an account by Kerry Max Cook, who spent 22 years on death row for a murder he did not commit. Though Mr. Dreyfuss is a famously flashy performer, he delivers Mr. Cook's observations without dramatic flourishes. The actor, for the moment, has vanished. And the words, and the hurt behind them, do seem to slip directly under your skin, testaments to the idea that some scars never disappear. 

Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen's "Exonerated," which opened last night at 45 Bleecker Theater, is an artfully edited anthology of interviews with six former death row prisoners who were all discovered to be innocent of the crimes for which they were incarcerated. 

The mission of this work, clearly, is to edify, to shake the complacency of Americans who feel that unjust imprisonment is found only under totalitarian governments in foreign lands. "The Exonerated" is, in other words, a worthy enterprise, for which a fashionable cluster of right-minded stars, including Jill Clayburgh and Sara Gilbert, have been enlisted. (Other celebrity performers are to replace them later.) 

Yet theatergoers for whom the adjective worthy is a signal to buy another round of tickets to "Mamma Mia!" should reconsider. There is no reek of piety or creak of didacticism about "The Exonerated," which has been directed with elegant spareness by Bob Balaban. It is, on its own terms, thoroughly involving theater, while reminding you that real life has a way of coming up with resonant metaphors, grotesque ironies and cruel coincidences that no dramatist would dare invent. 

"The Exonerated" has been staged as a concert reading, with 10 performers seated behind music stands bearing their scripts. Many of the readers have obviously memorized their roles, to which they bring a hypnotic and seemingly ego-free focus. There are no isolated moments that scream "watch me," no fancy tics and quavers to pump up the emotional volume. 

Such modesty suits "The Exonerated," which tells stories that require no artificial heightening. The first part of the evening is principally devoted to jaw-dropping accounts, delivered with matter-of-factness, of interrogations, arrests and trials. Steeped in retrospective disbelief and disorientation, these stories inevitably evoke the harrowing opening chapters of "The Trial." 

Three of the convicted men are black, and for them in particular, the world might have been created by Franz Kafka. As Delbert Tibbs (Charles Brown), a former seminary student convicted of a rape and murder in Florida, says, "As I sometimes tell people, if you're accused of a sex crime in the South and you're black, you probably shoulda done it, you know." 

Embodied with wry gravitas by Mr. Brown, Mr. Tibbs is the play's philosopher in residence, whose poetic ruminations frame the accounts of the other speakers. Yet all of the title characters of "The Exonerated" have become philosophers by necessity, trying to find logic and design in what has happened to them. 

Gary Gauger (Jay O. Sanders), an organic farmer convicted of murdering his parents, is led to ponder the blurred lines between reality and perception. Other responses run from a shriveling of religious faith to an odds-defying affirmation of it. These two poles are embodied persuasively by Curtis McClarin as David Keaton, who loses his cherished religion on death row, and by Ms. Clayburgh as Sunny Jacobs. 

Ms. Jacobs's companion, Jesse Tafero, was electrocuted for the crime of which both were accused, the shooting of two law officers. Yet as Ms. Jacobs speaks of her wish to be "a living memorial," Ms. Clayburgh radiates a self-surprising and sincere joy. 

To lend dramatic variety, outside voices are occasionally introduced, from those of interrogating police officers (Bruce Kronenberg and Philip Levy) to family members and lawyers. In some cases, this parceling out of roles leads to confusion and can distract from dramatic flow. 

But there is welcome, tension-releasing interplay between Robert Earl Hayes (David Brown Jr.) and his wife, Georgia (April Yvette Thompson), as they describe the jumpy rhythms of Mr. Hayes's return to civilian life. And the mostly underused Ms. Gilbert, as the woman who marries Mr. Cook after his release from prison, has a heartbreaking moment in which she describes her first impressions of a man frozen in the styles of 22 years earlier. 

Films and television movies inspired by similar subjects usually focus on the legal and detective work that frees the prisoner, building to a climax of deliverance. This is not what "The Exonerated" is about, and it spends far more time on lives that exist in the extended shadows of death sentences, even after prison. 

Ms. Clayburgh, as Ms. Jacobs, asks the audience to perform a sobering exercise. "I'll give you a moment just to reflect," she says of her years of incarceration. "From 1976 to 1992, just remove that entire chunk from your life." In asking you to stare into that abyss, and to sense even slightly its gravitational pull, "The Exonerated" reminds you that some American nightmares are never over. 


By Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen; directed by Bob Balaban; production design/technical supervisor, Tom Ontiveros; costume coordinator, Sara J. Tosetti; original music and sound by David Robbins; production stage manager, Thomas J. Gates. Presented by the Culture Project, Dede Harris, Morton Swinsky, Mr. Balaban, Allan Buchman, in association with Patrick Blake and David Elliott. At 45 Bleecker Theater, 45 Bleecker Street, Greenwich Village. 

WITH: Jill Clayburgh (Sunny Jacobs), Richard Dreyfuss (Kerry Max Cook), Sara Gilbert (Sue Gauger and Sandra), Jay O. Sanders (Gary Gauger), Charles Brown (Delbert Tibbs), David Brown Jr. (Robert Earl Hayes), Bruce Kronenberg (Male Ensemble No. 1), Philip Levy (Male Ensemble No. 2), Curtis McClarin (David Keaton) and April Yvette Thompson (Georgia Hayes, Judge, Paula and Prosecutor). 

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company 
The New York Times 

October 6, 2002, Sunday, Late Edition - Final 

Convicted, Condemned And Innocent 

By CURTIS ELLIS; Curtis Ellis covers entertainment for the I.E. America Radio Network. 

COERCED confessions, conflicting DNA evidence and overturned convictions are the subjects of newspaper headlines. They are also elements of "The Exonerated," a play about six wrongfully convicted death row inmates, starring Richard Dreyfuss, Jill Clayburgh and Sara Gilbert. Developed by two young actors from interviews with former prisoners, it opens on Thursday at 45 Bleecker Street under Bob Balaban's direction. 

The play follows the characters from arrest through imprisonment to life after release, and the words the actors speak are from the exonerated themselves. Other cast members portray judges, police officers and lawyers, their lines taken from court and police records. Mr. Dreyfuss plays Kerry Max Cook, a Texas man sentenced to death for the murder of a woman in his apartment complex. He spent 22 years in prison before DNA evidence proved his innocence. 

Ms. Clayburgh appears as Sonya Jacobs, known as Sunny, who was convicted along with her common-law husband, Jessie Joseph Tafero, of murdering a Florida policeman and a Canadian constable in 1976. Ms. Jacobs was released 16 years later, after the real killer confessed. 

At one point, Ms. Clayburgh, as Sunny, talks about prison letters the couple exchanged. "I saved not only the letters, but the envelopes, because anything that he touched, or that he wrote on, or that he licked with his tongue, I was keeping," Sunny says. "I existed on those letters." 

Jessie writes: "You're the strongest female I've ever known. Hand and glove, you know. Never be lonesome, we're only separated by miles. This won't last either, believe that." 

In 1990, two years before Sunny's release, Jessie Tafero was electrocuted. The chair malfunctioned and flames shot from his head after three jolts of electricity. 

The authors of "The Exonerated," Erik Jensen and Jessica Blank, who are both in their 20's, say they decided to create the play during a conference on the death penalty. Ms. Blank had previously campaigned against capital punishment. At the conference, they heard an inmate on the telephone recounting his story of wrongful conviction. "We had a light-bulb moment," Ms. Blank said in a recent interview, "with this idea of going around the country and interviewing innocent people who had gotten off death row." 

Ms. Blank, who is also a writer, grew up in New Haven and Washington; Mr. Jensen is from Detroit Lakes, a town in western Minnesota. They married while working on "The Exonerated" and live in the East Village. Ms. Blank said that, among other reasons, she is opposed to capital punishment because "there is always a possibility of human error, so you're going to execute innocent people." 

Mr. Jensen said he had found that "the most disturbing thing about it is that it's applied racially, so it evokes the worst kind of racism in this country." 

Ms. Blank and Mr. Jensen said they began working on "The Exonerated," their first play, two and a half years ago. They did a preliminary series of telephone interviews with 40 former death row prisoners, and chose the ones they wanted to meet. The Culture Project, one of the producers, gave them $1,000 in seed money and offered the Bleecker Street theater for staged readings. 

Using cash from their savings, donations from friends and small grants, Ms. Blank and Mr. Jensen went on the road, from Illinois, to Texas, to Florida, often sleeping in their rented car. "We'd do an interview for two or three hours, and drive like heck to the next one," Ms. Blank said. 

Three months and 300 pages of transcripts later, they began editing the material in workshops with actors. Unsure about what the interviews would yield, they had not planned on writing a documentary theater piece. But Ms. Blank said that the playwright and actress Anna Deavere Smith, who has created plays from verbatim interviews, had been an influence on her since high school. "I think documentary theater is an incredible form if you're rigorous with it," Ms. Blank said, "but it can become dictation." 

Mr. Jensen took the script to Mr. Balaban, an actor and sometime producer who had directed him in Arthur Kopit's play "Y2K" at the Manhattan Theater Club in 1999. "I knew when I picked it up and read the first page," Mr. Balaban remembered, "that there was something really important about it for what it had to say." 

He agreed to direct, and called some of his famous friends -- people he had acted with in films -- Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon ("The Cradle Will Rock"), Steve Buscemi ("Ghost World") and Mr. Dreyfuss ("Close Encounters of the Third Kind") for readings in the fall of 2000. (Mr. Balaban said he had commitments from Mr. Robbins, Ms. Sarandon, Mr. Buscemi, Alec Baldwin and Peter Weller to appear later in the current run.) 

After the readings two years ago, Mr. Balaban said, he encouraged the playwrights to "dig up testimony from the exoneration trials as well as the original convictions" and add theatrical elements to what were essentially intercut monologues delivered by performers sitting on stools. A result, the director said, is that cast members begin to tell their stories, "and then, as in story theater, they suddenly start acting out their trial in front of you." 

The playwrights hope "The Exonerated" will provoke debate. But, Ms. Blank said, there is more to it than politics. "These stories have so much to teach us -- not just about the legal system and the death penalty," she said, "but also about humanity, about strength, about how you learn to survive, about courage." 

The Exonerated 
45 Bleecker Street, East Village. 
In previews; opens on Thursday.

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Man found guilty of murdering Jeanette Popp's Daughter Nancy DePriest

Man found guilty of '88 slaying at Pizza Hut 
By David Hafetz 


Friday, October 11, 2002 

Achim Josef Marino was sane and understood what he was doing when he raped and killed a young woman at a Pizza Hut in 1988, a Travis County jury found Thursday.

In convicting Marino of capital murder, jurors brushed aside defense attorneys' claims that he was insane and Marino's own testimony that he had acted under the spell of demonic spirits, which he said had gripped him since childhood. 

Marino received an automatic sentence of life in prison for slaying Nancy De Priest, a 20-year-old mother who was found dying on Oct. 24, 1988, after she had been handcuffed, raped and shot in the back of the head. 

Prosecutors said Marino "should never see the light of day." The life sentence will be added to three life sentences he already is serving for aggravated robberies. In 2005, he will be eligible for parole for those crimes, and then will begin serving his life sentence for killing De Priest. 

Under 1988 law, Marino must serve 15 years of the life sentence for capital murder before becoming eligible for parole. 

De Priest's mother, Jeanette Popp, had urged Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle not to seek the death penalty. 

After Marino was sentenced, Popp walked delicately to the witness stand. Under state law, she is allowed to speak to the court after sentencing. 

"My daughter has been gone for 14 years, and it's just like it was yesterday," Popp said. 

She then held up a photograph of a smiling, blond De Priest. Popp had clutched her daughter's picture during the trial, even as prosecutors showed jurors gruesome crime scene photos. 

"Nancy was a beautiful girl. This is how I remember her. This is how I want you to remember her," Popp said. 

For Popp, it was the second time she watched a jury send someone to prison for her daughter's death. 

Richard Danziger and Christopher Ochoa were convicted of crimes related to the slaying after Ochoa confessed -- falsely, it turned out -- to helping kill De Priest. He then implicated Danziger. 

Danziger was tried and sentenced to life in prison, where he suffered a severe head injury from a beating that has left him incapable for caring for himself. 

Both men were freed in 2001, in large part because Marino began a letter-writing campaign from prison, starting in 1996, to proclaim his guilt in the killing. Later, DNA testing exonerated Danziger and Ochoa and implicated Marino. 

During the trial, different motives were presented for the De Priest killing and for Marino's eventual confessions. 

Marino testified that he had been constantly surrounded by evil spirits from an early age. 

Marino told jurors that he had a violent and unstable youth. He said he was put in psychiatric care, used drugs heavily and was repeatedly sentenced to prison for robberies and other crimes. 

Marino said he killed De Priest as a sacrifice. But he also testified that he killed her out of revenge. He said he hated white, blond women because, while he was in prison, white female guards had relationships with black and Hispanic inmates. 

Marino said he had been planning to plead guilty, but changed his mind to call attention to his opinion that Texas laws need to be more understanding of people who are mentally ill. 

A psychiatrist who testified for the defense said Marino was psychotic. 

"There's no more dangerous beast on the face of the planet," Dr. Jay Fogelman told jurors. 

But Fogelman also undercut the defense by saying Marino knew right from wrong when he killed De Priest, and therefore did not meet the legal definition of insanity. 

In their closing arguments, prosecutors said Marino had carried out the crime methodically, disguising himself as a repairman to persuade De Priest to let him into the locked restaurant. 

They said Marino later searched the floor for a bullet casing that might have had his fingerprint. Prosecutors said Marino might be delusional, but above all is a manipulative liar who just wants attention. 

"This man chose evil, and that's been the pattern of his life," Assistant District Attorney Bryan Case said. 

Marino has said that he decided to confess to killing De Priest after his conversion to Christianity freed him from demonic possession. 

In court, Popp thanked the jury for convicting Marino. 

Crying, she turned to address Marino. 

"May God have mercy on your soul," she said, and stepped down.

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Thursday, October 10, 2002

Texas Moratorium Network October e-letter

October 10, 2002

1) 3rd Annual MARCH FOR A MORATORIUM - October 12
2) Trial has started for man who murdered Jeanette Popp's daughter.
4) Jeanette Popp speaking at UT-Austin on Thursday, October 10.
3) Help Convince the Austin City Council to Pass a Resolution Supporting a Moratorium on Executions- We are incredibly close!
5) Ross Byrd to visit photo exhibit in Austin on Friday, October 11.

Dear Moratorium Supporters,

This is an exciting week. The March for a Moratorium is Saturday. We have a great lineup of speakers. Just this week we heard from Clarence Brandley saying he will be at the march this Saturday. Clarence is an innocent African-American who was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death by an all-white jury. He spent ten years on Texas' Death Row before walking free in 1990. Come to the march and hear his story.

1) The 3rd Annual MARCH FOR A MORATORIUM - October 12

It's here! Many, many people have volunteered hours and hours preparing to make The 3rd Annual March for a Moratorium a great success. The march takes place in Austin on Saturday, October 12. Let's send a message to the Legislature, the Governor, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and all the candidates in this year's elections: MORATORIUM NOW! STOP EXECUTIONS!

There are two buses bringing people to the march from Houston, so if you =
live in Houston and need transportation, contact Gloria Rubac at =

The timeline for the march is:
1 pm - Gather at Republic Park (4th and Guadalupe)
2 pm - March to the Capitol
2:30 pm - Rally at the Capitol
4 pm - Wrap yellow crime-scene tape around the Governor's Mansion
6 pm - Post-march party at 1311 East 13th Street

There is also a pre-march brunch from 10 AM to 1 PM. The brunch is being organized by Inside Books Project as a benefit for their program to send free books to inmates in Texas prisons. The brunch will be at 810 E. 13th St., on the corner of E. 13th & Olander, one block east of the highway. They are asking for a $5 donation from adults,while CHILDREN ARE WELCOME TO EAT FOR FREE. There will be vegan, vegetarian, and meat dishes available. For more information, please contact Inside Books at 512-647-4803 or

The brunch will be a great opportunity to network and socialize with other supporters of a moratorium from around the state and to grab a bite to eat before the march.

Scheduled to speak at the march are: Clarence Brandley, Ross Byrd (son of Jasper dragging death victim James Byrd, Jr.), Jeanette Popp (mother of Austin murder victim, Nancy De Priest), Rep. Harold Dutton (sponsor of moratorium legislation in the last legislative session), Javier Alejo (Consul General of Mexico), 
Sandra Reed (mother of Rodney Reed, who is on Death Row despite a strong case of innocence), Jeannine Scott (wife of Michael Scott), Renny Cushing (Executive Director of Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation), Will Harrell (Executive Director of ACLU-TX), Yolanda Cruz (mother of Oliver Cruz, a man with mental retardation who was executed by Texas in 2000), Rick Halperin (President of Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty), Walter Long (appeals attorney for Napoleon Beazley and Karla Faye Tucker), Nelson Linder (President of Austin NAACP), Akwasi Evans (Publisher of Nokoa newspaper), Njeri Shakur (Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement) and Raul Garcia (who teaches at Lamar University and has done work among migrants, school dropouts, refugees, immigrants, and prisoners nd their families). Houston City Council member Ada Edwards is sending an aide to read a statement of support.

We just made a bunch of puppets for the march. Come to the march and enjoy the company of people who share similar opinions about the death penalty. Call us at 512-302-6715, if you want to help out on the day of the march. We will meet Friday, October 11 at 6 PM at 1311 E 13th Street in Austin to go over everything one more time. You are welcome to join us for that last planning meeting.

2) The trial of the man who has confessed to murdering Jeanette Popp's daughter is underway in Austin.

Jeanette Popp, whose daughter was murdered in 1988, is in Austin all this week attending the trial of Achim Joseph Marino. Several TMNers have been attending the trial with Jeanette. She is our dear friend, TMN's chairperson, and a tireless advocate for a moratorium on executions. A reporter asked her yesterday if she has changed her mind about asking the DA not to seek the death penalty against Marino and she emphatically answered "no", and then launched into an impassioned statement against the death penalty. Jeanette is having a difficult week having to attend another trial concerning her daughter's murder. She has shed many tears this week. She said Tuesday that she feels like she has walked into a time machine and is back in 1990 when two men were wrongfully convicted of her daughter's murder. This time, thankfully, the system has the right person.

Please send Jeanette messages of support. We will forward all emails to her if you write her at:

3) Jeanette will be speaking on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin, Thursday October 10 at 7 PM in Painter Hall, Room 2.48. Painter Hall is on 24th Street, between Guadalupe and Speedway. Please come listen to her in the intimate environment of a small room. She will also be speaking at the TX Cure convention on Saturday morning and at the March for a Moratorium on Saturday afternoon.

4) Austin City Council Resolution Supporting a Moratorium on Executions

We are very close to winning passage of a moratorium resolution in the Austin City Council. We now need to concentrate our efforts on getting the votes of two specific council members. The resolution may pass any week now, if we can just get these two council members to support the resolution. Please email, call, fax or write the following two council members:

The Honorable Danny Thomas
Council Member Place 6=20
Phone: (512) 974-2266
Fax: (512) 974-1890
Mailing Address
P. O. Box 1088
Austin, Texas 78767

The Honorable Will Wynn
Council Member Place 5=20
Phone: (512) 974-2256
Fax: (512) 974-1884
Mailing Address
P. O. Box 1088
Austin, Texas 78767

5) TMN is arranging for Ross Byrd to make an appearance at a photo exhibit in Austin on Friday, October 11.

What: Ross Byrd will address questions and speak with the press at the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center's photo exhibit entitled: "Jasper, Texas - The Healing of a Community in Crisis."

The exhibit honors the efforts of individuals who worked to keep peace in Jasper in the aftermath of the brutal death of James Byrd, Jr.

Who: Ross Byrd is an important new voice in the movement to abolish the death penalty. His father, James Byrd Jr., was chained to the back of a pickup truck and dragged three miles to his death in a racially 
motivated killing on June 7, 1998 in Jasper, Texas. During the trial of his father's murderers, Ross Byrd wanted the killers to receive the death penalty, but his sentiments have since changed. He now opposes all 
executions - including those of his father's killers.

When: Friday, October 11, 2002, 3 p.m.
Where: Carver Museum and Cultural Center, 1165 Angelina, Austin, Texas 78702

See you at the March!


Your friends at Texas Moratorium Network

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