Thursday, May 01, 2003

May Days of Action

Saturday, May 3, 200311:00 a.m.

People from around the world will converge in Austin, Texas for a multi-issue rally sponsored by American Friends Service Committee. The rally is a demand that peace be reflected not only in our international policies, but in our domestic policies as well.

Death Penalty Activists Meet at Woolridge Park
(9th and Guadalupe)
Demand a moratorium on the death penalty.
Demand true human security, not homeland security: funding for healthcare, education, housing, jobs and environmental sustainability.
Demand protection of civil liberties for citizens, immigrants and indigenous peoples.
Demand an end to military interventions at home and abroad.

Anti-Death Penalty March
San Antonio, Texas

Sunday, May 4, 2003
3:00 p.m.
Meet in front of the Alamo and march to San Fernando Cathedral.
For more information, send email to Irene Muniz

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Tuesday, March 25, 2003

House to Hear Moratorium Bill on Tuesday, April 1, 2003

House of Representatives
notice of public hearing
State Affairs Committee
8:00 a.m., Tuesday, April 1
John H. Reagan Building, Room 120
Chairman: Rep. Kenny Marchant
The committee will meet to consider the following measures:

  • HB 357: Dutton

  • Relating to the creation of a commission to study capital punishment in Texas and to a moratorium on executions.

  • HJR 22: Naishtat

  • Proposing a constitutional amendment relating to a moratorium on the execution of persons convicted of capital offenses.
    HB 1576: Gallego

    Relating to the telecommunications planning and oversight council.
    HB 2397: Corte

    Relating to a vendor's or subcontractor's remedy for nonpayment of certain contracts.
    HB 1780: Davis, Yvonne

    Relating to payment to a subcontractor under a public work contract.
    HB 1499: Dukes

    Relating to the view of the state capitol.
    HB 2033: Menendez

    Relating to historically underutilized businesses that perform investment brokerage services for a state agency.
    1) The Chair will recess this hearing prior to 10:00 a.m. The hearing will be reconvened upon adjournment of the House of Representatives.
    2) Any measure posted for the March 31, 2003 hearing of the State Affairs Committee, but not considered at that hearing, may be considered at this hearing.
    3) Depending upon the duration of this hearing, the Chair may recess the hearing to reconvene at 8:00 a.m. Wednesday, April 2, 2003 in Room 120 of the John H. Reagan Bldg., at which time consideration may resume of any measures posted for the March 31, 2003 hearing or this hearing, but not yet considered.House State Affairs: 8 Republicans, 2 Democrats
    The House moratorium bills, HB 357 by Rep. Dutton and HJR 12 by Naishtat, have gone to State Affairs. There are six Republicans on the committee who voted "no" on all DP reform bills last session, two new Republicans who have no voting record yet, and two Democrats who voted "yes" on all our bills.
    Kenny Marchant (R), Chair: voted against MR, LWOP, Moratorium and Juvenile
    PHONE (512) 463-0468 FAX (512) 475-2271
    Jerry Madden (R), Vice-Chair: voted against MR, LWOP, Moratorium and Juvenile
    PHONE (512) 463-0544 FAX (512) 463-9974
    John Davis (R), CBO: voted against MR, LWOP, Moratorium and Juvenile
    PHONE (512) 463-0734 FAX (512) 479-6955
    Gary Elkins (R), Seniority Appointments: voted against MR, LWOP, Moratorium and Juvenile
    PHONE (512) 463-0722 FAX (512) 463-5610
    Toby Goodman (R), voted against LWOP, Moratorium and Juvenile
    (no recorded vote on MR)
    PHONE (512) 463-0562 FAX (512) 475-1178
    Jerry Madden (R), voted against MR, LWOP, Moratorium and Juvenile
    PHONE (512) 463-0544 FAX (512) 463-9974
    Byron Cook (R), Speaker Appointments: new member
    PHONE (512) 463-0730 FAX (512) 463-5896
    Dan Gattis (R), new member
    PHONE (512) 463-0309 FAX (512) 463-5896
    Glenn Lewis (D), voted Yes on MR, LWOP, Moratorium and Juvenile
    PHONE (512) 463-0716 FAX (512) 463-8411
    Michael "Mike" Villarreal (D), voted Yes on MR, LWOP, Moratorium and Juvenile
    PHONE (512) 463-0532 FAX (512) 463-7675

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    Friday, February 14, 2003

    Texas Baptists Call for Moratorium

    After two-year study, Texas CLC 
    calls for death penalty moratorium 

    By Ken Camp 
    Texas Baptist Communications 

    DALLAS--The Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission has joined the call for a moratorium on the death penalty. 
    With one dissenting vote, the moral concerns and public policy agency of the Baptist General Convention of Texas asked for the moratorium on capital punishment Jan. 10. 
    At the same time, the commission agreed to support legislation that would allow Texas juries the sentencing option of life without parole as an alternative to the death penalty. 

    Buddy Helms, pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Big Lake, explained that he voted against the motion because he thought support for expanded sentencing options should have been handled separately from the call for a moratorium. 
    "I think there are instances where the death penalty is necessary," he said. 
    The commission, underscoring that its role is to speak to Texas Baptists and not for Texas Baptists on moral and ethical issues, also approved an extensive report examining the issue of capital punishment from biblical, historical and social justice perspectives. All but two of the commission members present voted to approve the report. 
    The report was favored by 10 commissioners who were either present or had submitted proxy votes due to schedule conflicts. The commission's five other members were not present and did not submit a vote. 
    The commission's report concludes that "in the final analysis, biblical teaching does not support capital punishment as it is practiced in contemporary society." 
    Further, the report states: "The practice of capital punishment in our nation and state is an affront to biblical justice, both in terms of its impact on the marginalized in society and in terms of simple fairness. How can we perpetuate a system which is clearly so unfair and so broken?" 
    According to the commission, the Bible emphasizes two principles that must be considered when examining the death penalty--the critical importance of obeying God's commands and the demand for profound respect for human life. 
    Scripture not only places limits on revenge, as reflected in "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," but also moves beyond retribution to "transforming initiatives," the report states. "Shunning the vicious cycles of even limited retaliation, Jesus calls us to creative confrontation and constructive community-building." 
    The way Texas applies the death penalty is unjust in terms of its impact on racial minorities, the poor, juvenile offenders and inmates who mistakenly are convicted, according to the report. 
    "Racism in sentencing is not a relic of the past," the report asserts, noting studies that show the race of the victim and the defendant have a direct bearing on sentencing. 
    For example, a Texan who murders a white person is five times more likely to be sentenced to death than a Texan who murders an African-American, the report states. And white Texans rarely receive the death penalty for killing black people. 
    "Statistically, race is more likely to affect death sentencing than smoking affects the likelihood of dying from heart disease," the report adds. "While the latter evidence has produced significant legal and societal changes, racism continues to be a dominant factor in the administration of the death penalty." 
    The commission also points to discrimination based on economic class, explaining, "A defendant's poverty, lack of firm social standing in the community and inadequate legal representation at trial or on appeal are all common factors among death-row populations." 
    The report further notes: 
    The United States is the only western democracy currently using the death penalty. Globally, the U.S. ranks third in the total number of executions since 1998, behind China and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 
    Since 1976, Texas has carried out about one-third of the executions in the nation. Last year, 33 of the 71 executions in the country were performed in Texas. 
    Texas accounts for 61 percent of the juvenile executions in the United States since 1976 (13 of 21). And Texas leads the nation in the number of juvenile offenders on death row (29). 
    African-Americans comprise 12 percent of the Texas population but account for 42 percent of the state's death-row population. More than two-thirds of the people on Texas death row are non-Anglo. 
    Cy Fletcher of Baytown supported the commission's call for a moratorium but voted against adopting the report on capital punishment. He agreed the way the death penalty is applied needs review in order to make sure justice is done. But Fletcher said he favored "retaining the possibility of capital punishment" as a matter of law, and the report essentially presented the argument for abolition of the death penalty. 
    "It can logically and meaningfully be argued in fairness that no one has the right to murder someone for his own purposes without thereby placing his own life in jeopardy of proportional risk," he said. 
    Fletcher also cited concerns about how the principles presented in the position paper would be applied logically to the use of deadly force by police officers or prison guards. 
    "I support the option of life without parole," he said. "Yet that raises a question. How do we hold people for life against their will without the threat and use of deadly force? In the future, are we going to hear protests that the impersonal shock of an electrical fence is murder by proxy and the split-second decisions of a prison guard should be viewed the same way?" 
    Bobby Broyles of Earth noted that a statement by Menno Simons cited in the historical portion of the report summarized his views on capital punishment. The 16th century Anabaptist leader argued that if a murderer genuinely repents and turns to God, then that person is a new creation and a brother in Christ. If the murderer does not repent, then executing him would rob him of future opportunities to repent and be spared from punishment in hell. 
    "Sending somebody into eternity without Jesus is a grave thing to consider," Broyles said. 
    Charles Kemble of Universal City spoke in favor of the moratorium and the position paper, saying, "The death penalty as it is now is an immoral situation." 
    Kemble cited his belief in the transforming power of God's love on even the most abused and abusive person. 
    "Whereas electricity and chemicals can kill people, love can change people," he said. 

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    Saturday, January 25, 2003


    The Boston Globe 

    January 25, 2003 


    BYLINE: By Bella English, Globe Staff 

    Kerry Max Cook, who spent 20 years on death row in Texas for a crime he didn't commit, doesn't want bleeding-heart liberals to come see "The Exonerated," a play based in part on his story. No, he really wants those who believe in the death penalty to "come see another side" of the issue. Not that he expects them all to change their minds - but it might give them pause. 

    "Usually, somebody will come up to me [afterward] and say it made them think differently," he says. 

    "The Exonerated," which opened at the Wilbur Theatre Tuesday night for a two-week run, uses a stark setting and simple narrative form to tell the stories of six former death-row prisoners who were found innocent and released. The play, which has also opened in New York and other major cities, has garnered strong reviews for its unadulterated, affecting portrayal of lives nearly lost to the American criminal justice system. It comes at a time when the death penalty is under the microscope: The five young men convicted in the Central Park jogger case have been freed after DNA evidence determined their innocence, and Illinois Governor George Ryan basically shut down the state's death row earlier this month, releasing four prisoners and commuting the sentences of the remaining 164 to life without parole. 

    The night before he announced the decision, Ryan had seen "The Exonerated," which was playing in Chicago. After the performance, he spoke privately with Cook, who was in the audience watching Richard Dreyfuss play his part. "I told him to remember the six stories he saw were just part of the real face of the death penalty. I told him there was no way of knowing how many innocent people we've executed in America," says Cook, who was 21 years old when he began serving time for rape and murder, and was 41 when he was released in 1999. 

    While he was in, 141 fellow inmates were executed, and Cook came within days of his own demise. While he was in, Cook's beloved only sibling - his older brother, Doyle was shot dead defending a friend in a bar brawl. While he was in, Cook's father died of cancer. 

    Cook lost his mother, too. She still lives in east Texas, but she will not speak to him. 

    "She accuses me of killing my brother and father," he says, looking down at his hands. "She knows I didn't rape, mutilate, and kill that girl, but she says that I brought shame on the family by hanging out with the wrong people. She has no love for me at all. She said I was executed and I can't come back." 

    But Cook has come back from his near-death experience. When he got out, he went to work as a paralegal in Dallas, where he fell in love and got married. He and his wife, Sandra, have a 2-year-old son, Kerry Justice Cook. "We say that after 23 years, Justice has finally arrived," says Cook, who is 45. A SIMPLE MESSAGE 

    Now that he's out, his life still revolves around the death penalty and prison. He and his family moved to New York after a "well-known philanthropist" saw the play and offered them a place to live. Cook spends his time traveling and speaking out on human rights violations - mainly the death penalty - and promoting the play. He has appeared with Bianca Jagger, Johnny Cochran, and many other celebrities. He says he was put on the waiting list at Bennington College, where he would like to study writing, and will reapply for the fall. 

    Like the play, his message is simple: "We're killing innocent people. The play depicts six stories that are the acceptable collateral damage of the death penalty. These are people whose only crime was being poor." 

    Cook was perfect fodder for a flawed criminal justice system: a poor kid expelled in the 11th grade after an arrest for "joy riding" - in a deputy sheriff's car - in the small town of Jacksonville, Texas. He turned 17 in the county jail. A year later, he got out and went to Dallas, where he worked as a bartender. At his apartment complex, he met Linda Jo Edwards, who invited him over for drinks. 

    Five days later, Edwards was found raped and murdered, and Cook's fingerprint was found on a patio door. His family scraped together $500 for a defense attorney. After a five-day trial, he was convicted and sent to death row. "I was 18 and poor and couldn't hire a lawyer to adequately defend me," he says. "Being innocent is not enough to save you." ONE MAN'S TRIALS 

    Appeals courts granted him three trials because of police and prosecutorial misconduct, including a prison informant who cut a deal with prosecutors and testified that Cook had confessed to Edwards's murder. "That guy got out early after testifying against me, ended up killing two people, and is now in Missouri doing two life sentences without parole," says Cook. 

    Finally, after pleading no contest on the eve of his fourth murder trial in 1999, Cook was released, though he told the trial judge, "I would rather be executed than plead guilty to a crime I didn't commit." His plea, he stresses, is not an admission of guilt. But if he went to trial again, he knew he'd run the risk of being sent back to death row. 

    A month later, DNA test results came back, suggesting that Edwards's married boyfriend was the killer. 

    Cook said that man, called "Professor Whitfield" in the play, was dean of library sciences at what is now the University of Texas at Tyler, and Edwards was a library clerk working for him. According to court records, they were having an affair, and she attempted suicide after they broke up. He lost his job, and the two were seen arguing on the day of her murder, June 9, 1977. The man has never been prosecuted. 

    "He works for the Harris County Sheriff's Department," Cook says with a wry smile. He adds: "When all the dust settled, the only real criminals in the courtroom were the prosecutors." 

    Has anyone from the Texas criminal justice system ever apologized to him? 

    "No, no one ever does," he says. But other district attorneys and judges have come up to him after the play and apologized on behalf of "the system." 

    This is what Cook most remembers from his time in a 5-by-9-foot cell: for the first 10 years, his only book was the Bible. "I read it cover to cover, then I smoked it," he says. He didn't have rolling papers or money to buy cigarettes, so he made his own, using the Bible pages. He remembers the men who went to the death chamber. "Some put up a fight, but most go quietly," he says. 

    And there are indelible reminders - on his skin, and his psyche - of the sexual attacks he suffered behind bars: a crude tattoo of a fairy on one arm, an obscenity carved into his buttocks, both put there by other inmates. He tried to kill himself, more than once. 

    Cook still has trouble being alone, and nights are the worst, but it is life-affirming that he endured what he endured and didn't emerge in a psychotic rage. Indeed, Cook insists that he is not bitter or angry, despite the fact that he will not receive a cent in reparations from the state of Texas. ("You can't sue in Texas," he says flatly. "If I was angry, who would listen to me?" he asks. "My story would not reach people. I know it's a miracle just to be here." SEEING BOTH SIDES 

    From death row to national spokesman, Cook must feel as if he has gone through the looking glass. He has seen the play dozens of times, watching stars such as Dreyfuss, Peter Gallagher, Aidan Quinn, and Chad Lowe tell his story. He won't say which one is his favorite. "I love them all," he says diplomatically. 

    He was in Washington, D.C., for the opening, and was disappointed though not surprised that President Bush didn't attend. "When he was governor of Texas, he pushed legislation to expedite executions," he says. "That's why we lead the nation in executions. It's a 'kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out' mentality." 

    As a brother of a murder victim, he says, he can relate to both sides of the death penalty argument. For a long time, he hoped his brother's killer would be put to death. "He murdered my brother," he says. "I wanted him to die. But I came to realize that as long as we have the death penalty, there is no protection from errors in a human-operated system. How many innocent people have to die so we can give in to anger?" 

    As it turns out, his brother's killer served only three years in prison. 

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