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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Video from Alternative Spring Break

The 2008 Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break was a great success. Students attended from many colleges throughout the U.S. We expect many of the participants will remain active and make an impact in the human rights field after they leave college. Already one of the students has started a new chapter of Students Against the Death Penalty at Washington College in Maryland. Here is their new FaceBook site.

One of the events the students held was a "Peoples' Tribunal Against the Death Penalty" at the Texas Capitol. Below is a video of it.



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Friday, March 14, 2008

Host a Screening of New Film "At the Death House Door"

We took a group of students from the anti-death penalty alternative spring break to see this film on March 12 at the SXSW Film Festival. It is a very powerful film. If you would like to host a screening of the film in your area, contact us at 512-302-6715 and we will help you apply. You have to act quickly though, before they run out of hosting kits.

The Independent Film Channel (IFC), is preparing to release a new documentary titled At the Death House Door which addresses the most pressing issues surrounding debate on capital punishment including: lethal injection, wrongful conviction, morality and religion. The movie tells the story of Carroll Pickett, who served as the Chaplin for the Texas Department of Corrections from 1982-1995 and counseled 95 inmates executed by lethal injection. It chronicles Pickett’s experience counseling Carlos De Luna, who was executed for a crime he didn’t commit, and tracks Pickett’s ideological transformation from supporting to opposing the death penalty.

We are writing to offer you the exclusive opportunity to host a screening of this film in your community. We have developed free “Screening in a Box” kits which have all the tools necessary to organize a screening in your area. Kits contain:

· DVD of the film
· Invitations for the screening including postage
· Promotional posters
· Event planning/discussion guide
· Snack voucher
· Customizable press release
· Sample letter to the editor
· Postcard to promote tune-in for the film premiere on IFC in May

We designed the kits to help make the events turn-key and easy for you to plan and host. We hope the kits will help you generate further discussion and debate about the death penalty in your area, and we invite you to use the screenings as educational tools to expand your membership, grow your organization, generate media attention, or accomplish any other organizational goal you have.

While the kits are free, they are very valuable, and we want to ensure we find partners who will be motivated and responsible hosts. We are seeking partners who will promote the screening to their membership and community, and will organize events for 50 or more people.

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Lehmberg, Cobb and LaCresha Murray

ROSEMARY LEHMBERG - A TALE OF TWO CHILDREN
by Barbara A. Taft, President
People of the Heart

Gary Cobb, one of the perpetrators of the travesty launched against an innocent child, LaCresha Murray, in 1996, has been eliminated from the race for District Attorney. Rosemary Lehmberg, however, still holds a smoking gun. In the interest of changing the guard and securing perhaps a more just, merciful and law-abiding person in the office of Travis County District Attorney, I offer the following.

In 1996, Rosemary Lehmberg and Gary Cobb filed capital murder charges against an 11-year-old, with no physical, eye witness or forensic evidence physically linking either the home or anyone there with the numerous injuries suffered by a deceased two and a half year old. Lehmberg, Cobb and/or their subordinates assisted three seasoned APD detectives assigned to the case by advising them in circumventing the Magistrate Law, which demands that a child in police custody, before a statement is taken, be presented to a judge, who explains the ramifications of talking to the police and generally assigns an attorney. Based on advice received from the D.A.’s office, the detectives arranged for Child Protective Service (CPS) to leave this child alone in an empty building on CPS’ campus to be “found” by the detectives, thereby eliminating any charge that she was in police custody and, in effect, waiving her rights under the Magistrate law.

No evidence, no confession, no case. Desperate, the detectives interrogated the 11-year-old for three hours, continually suggesting a scenario to explain the baby’s injuries, badgering and bullying her, pounding on the table, threatening her grandparents, threatening her with incarceration, a child without an attorney, parent or advocate of any kind, a child who hadn’t spoken with a family member for five days. 39 times Murray denied any knowledge of the baby’s injuries. They frightened her into signing a statement manufactured and typed on site by the detectives, a statement that failed to explain the injuries; that she couldn’t read, that she was “forced” to sign.

Because they used an illegally obtained statement from a child, because the circumstances indicated it may have been coerced, the conviction was reversed for the second time by the 3rd Court of Appeals. In using that statement, Cobb and Lehmberg knowingly sanctioned breaking the law and exploiting the ignorance, fear and youth of a child in lieu of real evidence in order to get their indictment, a conviction and a sentence of 25 years; however, like so many lawbreakers, they left behind evidence of their crime – the interrogation tape, memoranda from the D.A.’s office regarding the question of police custody and the courtroom testimony of the homicide detectives, more than willing to pass the buck for illegally obtaining a statement to the district attorneys on the case.

Further, Lehmberg and Cobb failed to pursue the truth of what happened to Baby Jayla. Available evidence indicated she had been injured 12 to 14 hours before her death, but neither the D.A. nor APD ever went to the baby’s home to investigate. They ignored apparent old injuries and that Baby Jayla was “off the charts” in size and weight; but a child abuse case would not have garnered the state and nationwide headlines Earle secured with a child-killer case during a hotly contested re-election campaign.

How many other children have been wrongfully imprisoned, children who didn’t happen to have a champion as did Murray, a champion who, thanks to the grace of God, got the attention of the New York Times and 60 Minutes? Two months after 60 Minutes aired “Juvenile Injustice?” Murray was home and the Texas legislature had moved to close the loophole Cobb and Lehmberg used to incarcerate an innocent child, a loophole which for Murray resulted in three excruciating, damaging years in prison and two more years threatened with prosecution and
hounded by the press.

If we cannot depend on our prosecutors to exercise some caution, perhaps a little mercy before consigning a child to the justice system, to wrongful prosecution; if we cannot depend on them to pursue the real perpetrators and not the expedient or convenient scapegoat, what kind of society are we preparing for other children as they reach adulthood? Rosemary Lehmberg failed to exercise due diligence, acted to circumvent Texas law and in so doing caused irreparable damage to a very young child and her family. At the very least, she should not be District Attorney.

For more information on this case, including a transcript of the Interrogation of LaCresha Murray, see www.peopleoftheheart.org.

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Friday, March 07, 2008

Schedule for Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break March 10-14

Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break is next week, March 10-14. Below is the schedule. All the events are free and open to the public.

Monday, March 10

5:15-5:45 PM -- Meet at Garrison 1.126 for snacks and socializing before the first speaker.

5:45 - 6 PM -- Introduction to the Alternative Spring Break by Hooman Hedayati of Texas Students Against the Death Penalty and Scott Cobb of Texas Moratorium Network.

6 :-6:45 PM -- A talk with Rick Reed, a former Dallas and Austin assistant district attorney who opposes the death penalty.

6:45-7:00 "Live Phone Call from Inside a Prison" event organized by the Austin chapter of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty featuring a live phone call from an inmate whose death sentence was commuted to life by former Governor Ryan in Illinois. Victor Safforld (AKA Cortez Brown), one of the Death Row 10, will call in and speak to us on the phone from inside a supermax prison in Illinois.

7:00 – 7:10 PM Break

7:10 - 8:15 PM Alan Clarke, a lawyer who has handled death penalty cases and co-author of a new book entitled "The Bitter Fruit of American Justice: International and Domestic Resistance to the Death Penalty". Room to be announced.

Evening Time on your own for enjoying Austin, including the SXSW film festival.

Tuesday, March 11 - Meet at Garrison 1.126

1:00 - 2:15 PM Workshop: "Lobbying and Influencing Legislators" led by Doug Lewin, chief of staff for Texas State Rep. Lon Burnam. During the workshop, participants will learn how to interact effectively with legislators or legislative aides and plan for the next day's lobbying activity.

2:15- 2:30 PM BREAK

2:30 - 3:20 PM Workshop "How to Debate the Death Penalty" led by Bryan McCann, coach of UT's nationally-ranked speech and debate team. Bryan is a member of Campaign to End the Death Penalty.

3:20 - 3:30 BREAK

3:30 - 4:30 Mental Illness and the Death Penalty led by Kristin Houlé, who served for five years as the Program Associate for Amnesty International USA's Program to Abolish the Death Penalty. She was involved with Amnesty International for more than 12 years and held several volunteer leadership roles (including State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator for Kentucky) before joining the staff in 2002. Kristin was the lead organizer of AIUSA's National Weekend of Faith in Action on the Death Penalty (NWFA). In 2007, Kristin received a Soros Justice Fellowship to work on the issue of the death penalty and mental illness in Texas.

5 PM - Petition Signature Gathering Competition: We will divide into teams and fan out throughout Austin to collect signatures on a petition against the death penalty. People can collect signatures at places such as where SXSW events are taking place, outside certain bookstores or other stores if they allow it, on the streets in downtown Austin and wherever else the teams want to try. The team that collects the most petition signatures (with names, addresses, email addresses and possibly phone numbers) will win a prize of $100. We will decide as a group what size the teams can be. Options are 1, 2, 3, 4, or more person teams.

7 PM: Meet back at Goodall Wooten to see who won

Wednesday, March 12 Death Penalty Issues Lobby Day and MVFR Panel - Meet at Texas Capitol

10:00 AM - 11:30 AM: Murder Victim Family Member panel.

Location: The Texas State Capitol in room E2.016, which is in the underground level of the Capitol.

Panelists include:

Renny Cushing, Founder and Executive Director of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights. His father's murder in 1988 has shaped his work as an advocate for crime victims and as an opponent of capital punishment. As a victim-abolitionist Renny has been a pioneer in the effort to bridge death penalty abolition groups and the victims' rights movement)

Jeanette Popp, mother of a mother victim. Jeanette's duaghte, Nancy was murdered in Austin in 1988 and two innocent men were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to life. Later, the real killer confessed and the innocent men released after 12 years spent in prison. Jeanette asked the Travis County DA not to seek the death penalty against Nancy's killer.

11:30 Lunch Break

12:00 Get in line for 1 PM Film Showing at the SXSW Film Festival. Bring $10 for admission. We will see the documentary, "At the Death House Door ", which follows the remarkable career journey of Carroll Pickett, who served 15 years as the death house chaplain to the infamous 'Walls' prison unit in Huntsville, Texas. During that time he presided over 95 executions, including the very first lethal injection done anywhere in the world. After each execution, Pickett recorded an audiotape account of that fateful day. The film also tells the story of Carlos De Luna, a convict whose execution bothered Pickett more than any other. Pickett firmly believed the man was innocent and two Chicago Tribune reporters turn up evidence that strongly suggests he was right.

3 PM: Visits to Legislative Offices

4 PM "A People’s Tribunal Against the Death Penalty". Location: South Steps of the Texas Capitol . Everybody from spring break and others from the public will have an opportunity to put the death penalty "on trial." It will be conducted as a sort of public "trial" at which the "defendant" is the death penalty. Everyone will be able to "testify' against the death penalty as a "witness" saying why the death penalty should be abolished.

Thursday, March 13: Protest and Rally Day

1 PM-2:45 PM Meet at Garrison 1.126Skills Building Workshop: "Winning Step-By-Step: How to Organize and Win Moratorium and Abolition Resolutions at the Grassroots Level" led by Sarah Craft. This workshop will cover how to convince student governments, city councils, churches and othe:r organizations to pass resolutions. Sarah Craft works for Equal Justice USA (www.ejusa.org). EJUSA is a national leader in the movement to halt executions, providing hands-on technical assistance, grassroots organizing support, and capacity building to state and local campaigns across the country. UTC 1.146 on the UT-Austin campus. Map.UTC is next to the PCL Library.

2:45 to 3:00 PM Break

3:00 - 4:00 "Youth Media Workshop" led by Campus Progress.

4:00 - 6 PM Organize and Carry out a protest around the case of Rodney Reed. Rally for an innocent man on Texas' death row beginning at the Capitol (11th and Congress) and marching down Congress, Sixth, and then back tot he Capitol. The exact type, location and message of the protest will be decided on by the students. Coordinated by Campaign to End the Death Penalty.

7PM - Meet back at Goodall Wooten for discussion of the protest as well as the entire spring break. Fill out feedback forms. We can all go out to eat together afterwards.

8 Pm - 9PM Last Supper - Spring Breakers will go out and eat their last supper. Location will be decided by the students.

Friday, March 14: Fun Day

This is Spring Break, so today we will have some fun and take a break after all the hard work we have done all week. Everyone is free to choose their own activities. Some things people could do are: Go swimming at Barton Springs Pool, attend a SXSW film or music event , go shopping, take a Segway tour of Austin, go jogging around Town Lake, go bike riding, visit a museum or do something else. Some of these activities cost money, so plan accordingly.

11 AM -- UT Campus tour for anyone interested - Each day, they offer two student-guided walking tours of campus for prospective students and families that begin at the Main Building ("UT Tower") and cover the center of campus from the unique perspective of a current student. This is one of the best ways to get a feel for campus, and we recommend that all prospective UT students sign up for the tour. Wear comfortable clothes and walking shoes, and feel free to bring your camera. You can also register for info sessions and other tours.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Rick Reed at Tres Amigos Tonight in South Austin

Rick Reed and family and supporters will be watching the election returns tonight at Tres Amígos Restaurant & Cantina, 1807 W. Slaughter Ln. (at Manchaca Rd.) in Austin.

http://www.tresamigos.com/

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Rick Reed for Travis County DA

Our choice in today's election for Travis County District Attorney is Rick Reed.

As we have said before, if Reed is elected, he will probably be the most progressive DA Texas has ever seen. In a time when Texas has just surpassed California as being the state with the most people in prison and when the United States has more people in prison than China, it is time for us to elect a district attorney who will find ways to reduce the number of people behind bars by diverting many more non-violent drug offenders to diversion programs where they will get treatment.

Reed does not believe sending drug offenders to prison is the most effective and efficient use of tax dollars, especially if it is that person's first drug-related offense and no one else was harmed.

Reed is the best person to elect to put in charge of the Public Integrity Unit to make sure that politicians who do wrong are held accountable. Reed led the push to indict Tom Delay when others in the DA race were either not involved or even opposed to seeking an indictment. If Reed had not possessed the judgement, legal reasoning skill and tenacity to convince his boss to indict Delay, then justice would not have been done and Delay would still be in office up to his old shenanigans of using corporate money to influence elections.

Reed is the only DA candidate who opposes the death penalty and has said that he would never ask a jury to sentence someone to death. Instead, he would ask juries to use the newly created sentence of life without possibility of parole in capital trials.

Reed's endorsers include The Daily Texan, The Nation, Mike Farrell, Kinky Friedman, Texas Moratorium Network and most importantly many people among Travis County voters who identify with progressive values.

Probably the most well-respected blog on criminal justice issues in Texas is Grits for Breakfast, which Friday endorsed Rick Reed. Grits says in "Rick Reed top choice in Travis County DA's race":
Reed wants to institute an "open file" policy, allowing defendants and their counsel full access to prosecution files, even putting the information password-protected online, following the model in Tarrant County - to let both prosecutors and defense attorneys access it paper free with less hassle. That's been needed for years, and other counties have done it already: I'd like for that change to be made.

Finally, Reed's most prominent stance has been against the death penalty; he's said that if elected he won't implement it as DA, either in ongoing cases (Travis has five people on death row) or in new murders. I had a chance to talk to Reed face to face about this, and he said that he might believe in the death penalty theoretically, but because we know sometimes Travis prosecutors make mistakes in extremely serious cases, and just as importantly, because it diverts so many dollars and office resources from pretrial diversion, drug courts, and other prosecutorial strategies the community supports, he decided to simply oppose capital punishment altogether and let the chips fall where they may.

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Saturday, March 01, 2008

Republican Williamson County DA Donates $1,000 to Mindy Montford

The Austin American-Statesman reports today that one of Mindy Montford's supporters is the Republican District Attorney of Williamson County John Bradley, who gave her $1,000.

Two of Mindy's opponents also have some suspect supporters, which she brought up herself during the recent debate on News 8 Austin.

Roy Minton, Tom Craddick's attorney, is suppoting Rosemary Lehmberg.

And Steve Brittain, Tom Delay's attorney, is supporting Gary Cobb.

The only candidate for DA who will not have to write a thank you note to any Republican District Attorneys or to lawyers for Delay or Craddick is Rick Reed.

If Rick Reed wins, he can thank Austin's progressive voters, because if he wins, it will be because change-oriented, progressive voters heard about his progressive stances on the issues and voted for him.

Probably the most well-respected blog on criminal justice issues in Texas is Grits for Breakfast, which Friday endorsed Rick Reed. Grits says in "Rick Reed top choice in Travis County DA's race":

Reed wants to institute an "open file" policy, allowing defendants and their counsel full access to prosecution files, even putting the information password-protected online, following the model in Tarrant County - to let both prosecutors and defense attorneys access it paper free with less hassle. That's been needed for years, and other counties have done it already: I'd like for that change to be made.

Finally, Reed's most prominent stance has been against the death penalty; he's said that if elected he won't implement it as DA, either in ongoing cases (Travis has five people on death row) or in new murders. I had a chance to talk to Reed face to face about this, and he said that he might believe in the death penalty theoretically, but because we know sometimes Travis prosecutors make mistakes in extremely serious cases, and just as importantly, because it diverts so many dollars and office resources from pretrial diversion, drug courts, and other prosecutorial strategies the community supports, he decided to simply oppose capital punishment altogether and let the chips fall where they may.
If Reed is elected, he will probably be the most progressive DA Texas has ever seen. In a time when Texas has just surpassed California as being the state with the most people in prison and when the United States has more people in prison than China, it is time for us to elect a district attorney who will find ways to reduce the number of people behind bars by diverting many more non-violent drug offenders to diversion programs where they will get treatment.

Reed does not believe sending drug offenders to prison is the most effective and efficient use of tax dollars, especially if it is that person's first drug-related offense and no one else was harmed.

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