Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Misplaced National Anti-Death Penalty Funding Priorities

The Daily Texan is running a well-written column today by Hooman Hedayati entitled "National neglect and our death penalty struggle" in which he says "the national anti-death penalty movement should invest more time and money in our state. How many lives could have been saved, as was Kenneth Foster's, if national campaigns channeled more funds into Texas over the last 10 years?"

That is a good question, worth repeating. Hey, hey, national leaders of the anti-death penalty movement, how many lives did you fail to save in Texas this year?

You can probably include the name of Michael Richard in the list of people whose executions were carried out in Texas in part because national leaders failed to adequately fund the Texas effort to stop executions. The non-profit law firm that was working on the Richard case had computer problems that delayed them getting an appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals before 5 PM on the day of the execution. Presiding Judge Sharon Keller of the CCA refused to accept the appeal late and Richard was executed. Keller should resign her position or be removed from office for failing to uphold the integrity of the justice system by allowing the state to execute someone who was not given full access to the courts. Before telling Richard's lawyers, "We close at 5", she did not even consult with other judges on her court who were in the office working late and who have said in newspaper reports that they would have allowed the appeal to be accepted late.

Putting aside the actions of one unethical judge, if there had been more funds invested in Texas by the national anti-death penalty movement over the last year, then Texas Defender Service might have some reliable computers that would not have broken down.

Instead of misdirecting funds to non-death penalty states such as Wisconsin and Iowa, as was done by the national leadership in 2006, funds need to go to those states where funding will save people from execution. The Tides Foundation gave $182,500 to six states through their state strategies program in 2006, but zero to Texas.

In 2008, there should be $250,000 in new anti-death penalty funding directed to Texas. This money should be used to build a grassroots infrastructure ahead of the next session of the Texas Legislature in 2009.

The national leaders have directed such major funding to one state before. As Hooman points out in his article, "the JEHT Foundation (Justice, Equality, Human dignity and Tolerance) gave a total of $542,400 to New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty from 2004 to 2006, but there hasn't been an execution in New York since 1963, and there is one person on that state's death row".

More from Hooman's Texan column:

An enormous opportunity looms in Texas to actually achieve a moratorium on executions because of growing awareness that innocent people can be caught up in the system. But, lacking support on the national scale, Texas groups working to stop executions are not as well-equipped as they could be to take advantage of this ripe political moment.

The Kenneth Foster campaign taught us that organizing at the grassroots level works. Gov. Rick Perry would not have stopped Kenneth Foster's execution if there had been no public outrage concerning the planned death of a person who had not killed anyone. The group that played the biggest role in stopping Foster's execution was a student organization right here at UT: the Campaign to End the Death Penalty. In a thank-you letter after his commutation, Kenneth Foster wrote, "these people are gladiators when it comes to grassroots activism, and they definitely were the force behind this frontline."

The Texas nonprofit groups dedicated to abolishing the death penalty are run mainly by volunteers, and they lack funding and professional staff. There is not a single person in any grassroots anti-death penalty organization in Texas who is paid to work full-time. However, other states with far fewer executions than Texas have several full time staff members and much more funding.

Sphere: Related Content

No comments: