Greg Wright: Peter Bellamy speaks out in memoriam in London

The following is the text of a speech made by Peter Bellamy on the occasion of the protest against the death penalty outside the US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, London, on Friday 30th April 2010, organised by Voices for Death Row Inmates.

Peter Bellamy speaks outside the US Embassy, London UK

*     *     *

The date October 30th 2008 will forever live in my memory. It was the day my friend, Gregory Edward Wright, was wilfully and wrongfully executed by the State of Texas, USA. His final words to me were:

“I sure did not want to be writing a letter like this to you. If you are reading this, then you know the State of Texas has killed me. I am going to the other side of the door with my head held high. I know I am innocent, and the people killing me will suffer, when their time comes, for the crime against me. Thanks Peter for all of the help and the support. I hope I will be able to see you again.

With brotherly love, much respect, big hug, Greg.”

My correspondence and support of Greg lasted approximately three and a half years, from Spring 2005 to the day of his execution in October 2008. We exchanged hundreds of letters in that time, and I was able to speak with him on the telephone from Dallas, when he was having his DNA test and taking a polygraph; also, minutes before the execution. We became good friends and I came to understand the deficiencies of his trial and the broken system of US justice in respect of the death penalty. Gregory Edward Wright was innocent of murder.

In a polygraph volunteered by Greg, and paid for by his supporters, he protested his innocence. The conclusion of the polygraph expert was:

“After 3 test charts and a number of stimulus tests were administered, an analysis of the polygraph charts was made, and in my professional opinion Mr Wright is being truthful in all his answers to the relevant test questions.”

The story

Greg was accused of the murder of a woman in DeSoto, on the edge of Dallas. John Adams was separately tried and convicted of the same crime. Donna Vick, the victim, was in fact a friend, a good Samaritan, who offered Greg accommodation in exchange for help around the house and in the grounds outside. They became good friends in a very short time and Greg was able to get to grips with life again after time on the street following the temporary loss of his licence for a minor traffic offense. He was a long-distance truck-trailer driver. Donna and Greg identified a job opportunity for him nearby, but it required two people, and Greg remembered another homeless person, Adams, whom he thought would also be interested. Greg and Donna picked Adams up from Dallas with the idea that he would stay overnight with them in Donna’s home, and then set off early to try to get the jobs. During the evening, after a disagreement between Donna and Adams, the murder was committed while Greg was in the bathroom. He is deaf in one ear and thought the noise was coming from the TV. By the time he realized what was happening, it was too late to help Donna. It was at that point that Greg made his mistake – and it cost him his life in turn. Because Adams had pulled an assailant off him in a fight some weeks earlier, he thought he owed Adams a favour and didn’t report the murder. Over the next 24 hours, Adams decided he was likely to be identified as the killer from the evidence left in Donna’s stolen car. So he set Greg up to take the blame by planting the jeans and murder weapon in and close to the hut where Greg was sleeping out. In fact they had both shared the hut for a time. Adams made two 911 calls to the police, or rather the first was made by a businessman who reported Adams first confession. Then after wandering off, Adams made a second call himself. Greg’s defence attorneys were never told of that first 911 call until minutes before the start of the trial. And then they said the tapes could not be produced because they had been lost, in spite of the evidence that they had been delivered to the Prosecutor’s office. Because the tapes could not be produced, the evidence of Adams confession was deemed by the trial judge to be inadmissible in court. The jury never heard of it before making their judgment.

The trial

The indictment against Greg was as the sole killer. During the trial the prosecution tried to hedge their bets implying that even if the jury was unconvinced that the evidence proved he committed murder, they could convict on the law of parties. At that time the judge ruled they could not use that claim. However, the jury heard it, and was undoubtedly influenced by it. Also the 5th Circuit Federal Court of Criminal Appeals, in their final rejection of Greg’s appeals, used that same claim.

During the trial, the prosecution committed other inexcusable and illegal strategies to ensure Greg’s conviction. They hired an out-of-State ‘forensic expert’ to testify that he could identify a fingerprint taken at the scene as belonging to Greg. That, in spite of rebuttals of such possibility, both from State forensic officials and an independent forensic expert found by the prosecution, told the jury that he could not demonstrate by any means how he came to his conclusions of a match to Greg, but they would have to take his word for it. In other words, he was using ‘junk science’ to give the prosecution what they wanted. The defence attorneys failed to protect Greg’s constitutional rights in respect of this evidence, and it could therefore not be effectively challenged later by more competent appeal attorneys.

Prosecutorial games

Greg was denied DNA testing until the final months of his life, and then I and other supporters were obliged to pay for it. The prosecutors and trial judge then chose to interpret the inconclusive results against Greg, in spite of the fact that Adams DNA was found on the jeans, claimed by the prosecution to have been worn by the killer. Adams always denied having ever worn the jeans. Greg had admitted having tried them on once, as they had been included in a package sent to him by his family. But they were too small for Greg as was evidenced by physical measurements taken of his at the time of his arrest. In contrast, the jeans were the correct size to fit Adams. There was other evidence that Greg had been seen wearing jeans of a different colour and character, earlier on the day of the crime. In its final conclusions to the final appeal by Greg, the 5th Circuit Federal Court of Criminal Appeals, on the 29th October 2008, one day before Greg’s execution, said this:

“The recent [DNA] profile match clearly favours Wright to some degree, as it renders it more probable that Adams wore the jeans [used by the killer] at some point. However, even assuming that Adams wore the jeans at the time of the murder, there is still substantial evidence that Wright actively participated in the stabbings. In sum, the cumulative effect of the DNA testing and Adams’ letters cannot possibly amount to clear-and-convincing evidence that no reasonable jury could have convicted Wright of the murder. Wright has failed to make the threshold showing of innocence necessary to file a subsequent application pursuant to clause 2244 Accordingly, we need not consider the merits of Wright’s underlying claims for habeas relief.”

This verdict was described by his Defense Attorney as ‘legal fraud’ since Greg had never been on trial under the unique and much criticized Law of Parties, still employed in Texas. Also the ‘substantial evidence’ referred to by the court had already been shown by the defence to have no credibility of fact – including as it did the disputed fingerprint, unreliable evidence from a drug dealer suspected of having been given an undeclared deal of immunity, and evidence of other prosecutorial misconduct including the withholding of the 911 tapes and the confession made in them by Adams.

The confession

Finally, Adams himself had written letters of confession in the weeks just before Greg’s execution. Although later in court he had withdrawn his confession, which specifically absolved Greg of any complicity or function in the killing of Donna Vick, it is inconceivable that he would have made such multiple confessions, taking the risk that it would have been accepted as valid by the court. Especially since he had already gained a court order for the review of his own sentence. Had his confession been accepted as true then that sentence review would have almost certainly failed to alter his own sentence of death. Hi subsequent denial of the substance of his confession was then, motivated by the need to save his own life. As an addendum to the written confession, Adams specifically made this statement:

“My name is John Wade Adams. I want the record clear that Greg Wright is innocent of the crime he’s here on death row for. If you kill him you are killing an innocent man. Greg Wright was used as a scapegoat. I’m doing this because I’m tired of seeing innocent people being killed for murders they’ve not done. The statement I made is a lie, the one I made at the time of our arrest. Greg Wright is innocent! I was there and I know better. I set him up.”

He went on to say:

“If the District Attorney and Judge can’t accept [this confession] then his murder is on their hands. I set Maverick (Greg’s nickname in prison) up for the crime. Now here’s my fingerprint seven times. If they can’t get this right then they are dumb!”

Final words

Can I end by reading to you the statement Greg made from the gurney moments before the lethal drugs were pumped into his body?:

Greg Wright

“There has been a lot of confusion on who done this. I know you all want closure. Donna had her Christianity intact when she died. She never went to a drug house. John Adams lied. He went to the police and told them a story. He made deals and sold stuff to keep him from going to prison. I left the house, and I left him there. My only act or involvement was not telling on him. John Adams is the one that killed Donna Vick. I took a polygraph and passed. John Adams never volunteered to take one. I have done everything in my power. Donna Vick helped me; she took me off the street. I was a truck driver; my Commercial Driver’s License was still active. Donna gave me everything I could ask for. I helped her around the yard. I helped her around the house. She asked if there was anyone else to help. I am a Christian myself, so I told her about John Adams. We picked him up at a dope house. I did not know he was a career criminal. When we got to the house he was jonesin’ for drugs. He has to go to Dallas. I was in the bathroom when he attacked. I am deaf in one ear and I thought the TV was up too loud. I ran into the bedroom. By the time I came in, when I tried to help her, with first aid, it was too late. The veins were cut on her throat. He stabbed her in the heart, and that’s what killed her. I told John Adams, ‘Turn yourself in or hit the high road.’ I owed him a favour because he pulled someone off my back. I was in a fight downtown. Two or three days later he turned on me. I have done everything to prove my innocence. Before you is an innocent man. I love my family. I’ll be waiting on y’all. I’m finished talking.”

An innocent life was taken that day. Greg rests in peace, but the United States should hang its head in shame. Please, abolish the death penalty.

Peter Bellamy

http://www.freegregwright.com

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Hank Skinner: What should we hope for next?

It became clear on Wednesday night, as we celebrated (“crying AND doing the Happy Dance” as my friend Carol Crowe-Leonard said on Twitter), that there was a lot of remaining confusion about exactly WHAT had been granted to Hank Skinner and what that actually meant. It was a relief to see this clarification posted by Change.org. I urge everyone to read it. It looks like there are still a number of weighty ‘Ifs’ between Wednesday’s indefinite stay of execution and freedom for Hank.

Governor Rick Perry and smiling fans

Smiling Perry and fans

So – if the worst happens and the treacle of the American justice system becomes too thick for reason to prevail at the next phase – what chance remains for a reprieve? Well let’s not forget that even if the Supreme Court denies review, there is the final recourse to Governor Rick Perry to continue the stay for an additional 30 days, and to just TEST THE DNA. Would he give the instruction do so? Well, just as the Texas Board of Paroles is a closed and secretive body, it’s hard to read Governor Perry. Instinct would say it’s unlikely. He’s the beloved figurehead of the ‘Hang ‘Em High state’ after all, and he’s busy fighting the corner of his hardcore Republican fanbase on the matter of the healthcare reform bill right now amidst cries of ‘Lead us into secession, Governor Perry, save us from Washington!’. But those cries also mingle with the ones saying ‘Please, Governor Perry, run for President!’ Looking at his snakeoil charm and devout, if misguided, following, and coupling that with the past form of Texas Governors in acceding to the Presidency*, it’s entirely possible that his unstated ambition is that of one day becoming POTUS. And if so, could he in years to come enter into that race knowing that everyone in the Western world had watched him deny a man his last, earnest chance to clear his name?

Opponents of the death penalty tend to look upon Texas as an almost unassailable mountain to climb – it does after all hold the record as the State with most executions under its belt, by a long way – but I can’t help but feel that whatever the outcome for Hank, we have turned a small corner. Perry is in a difficult position, the rationale of the TBPP has again been called into question, and the entire machinery of the capital justice system, which would allow a man’s life to be callously terminated while exculpatory evidence remains, MUST be under increased scrutiny…

So we need to hope that SCOTUS reviews the case for civil appeal. We need to hope that they agree that a constitutional right exists for Hank to have access to the DNA evidence thus far denied. We have to hope the DNA is conclusively in Hank’s favor. And we have to hope that the evidence of his innocence concludes rapidly with a full pardon and release. Above all, we must hope that everything that has happened in Texas since long before Tim Cole and Cameron Todd Willingham, right up to the present day, will be ringing loud and irrepressible alarm bells in courtrooms and police stations across the land.

That’s a lot of hope. I think we’re up for it!!!

Here’s a video interview with Hank’s daughter Natalie soon after we had news of the stay.

* Governor George W. Bush notoriously once claimed that not one innocent man had been executed on his watch.

Protest the planned execution of Hank Skinner on March 24th!

Sandrine and Hank Skinner

Here for the benefit of those not on Facebook is the substance of today’s plea from Sandrine Ageorges-Skinner. With only a few days remaining for the Board of Paroles and Pardons and Governor Perry to grant a stay of execution so that critical DNA materials can be tested, it’s important to do whatever you can to petition the State and secure a chance for Hank.

Too many death row prisoners have been exonerated upon DNA proof of innocence. Too many people have been executed on unsafe grounds. The criminal justice system is not perfect. Please – Help give this man the chance for life he deserves.

*     *     *     *

Hank’s clemency petition is seeking a commutation of Hank’s death sentence to life in prison in order to enable him to prove his innocence and seek a pardon.

WRITE, FAX OR CALL GOVERNOR RICK PERRY

Governor Rick Perry
Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 12428
Austin, Texas 78711-2428
Fax: 512-463-1849

Main number: 512-463-2000
Website email contact form/ http://www.governor.state.tx.us/contact/

or use the online letter signing page set up by the Innocence Project here:
http://www.change.org/innocence_project/actions/view/order_dna_testing_for_hank_skinner

THANK YOU ALL FOR YOUR SUPPORT!

All the details of the case are available on the website, however, here are some of the points you can raise:

  • Hank was sentenced to die on the basis of a perjured testimony and circumstantial evidence
  • The accusation theory relied on that one witness, who later recanted and explained how she was threatened to make a false statement to the police and give a deposition at trial which was based on a script supplied by the district attorney’s office
  • Both the State’s star witnesses (Andrea Reed & Howard Mitchell) have testified that they believe Hank to be innocent
  • The little forensic analysis done before his trial excluded him as the killer
  • The additional and minimum testing done during his post conviction appeals excluded him too
  • The available scientific evidence proves his physical incapacitation at the time of the crime
  • The significant quantity of evidence remaining to be tested is essential to reveal the truth about his innocence
  • His motions for DNA testing have been denied although he has always offered to pay for the costs
  • The state of Texas has a very poor record in terms of wrongful convictions and DNA exonerations
  • The interest of justice is to find out the truth and to not execute an innocent
  • The state is withholding the untested evidence that can prove Hank’s innocence
  • All three of the previous D.A.s have publicly stated that they believe the evidence needs to be tested
  • The D.A. has admitted in Ch 64 DNA pleadings that the evidence is in a condition making testing possible, that the chain of custody has been maintained, that the evidence is capable of providing a probative result and identity is an issue in Hank’s case
  • Texas should not execute a man it does not know for a fact to be guilty. After Andrea Reed’s recantation, according to the state’s own experts, the remaining evidence does nothing to prove guilt at all. The A.G has stated through his spokesman that it would violate the constitution to murder someone who is innocent – that has got to apply equally to someone they do not know for a fact to be guilty

Both petitions (commutation and reprieve) as well as three statements attached to the petitions can be dowloaded in the “legal documents” section of the website.

http://www.hankskinner.org

Say No to the Death Penalty! Geneva, Day 2, Evening workshop

Elaborating arguments to convince public opinion

Influencing public opinion was acknowledged across the 3 days of the World Congress to be a key challenge facing the abolitionist movement. In some countries, and States of the USA, even those which are currently without the death penalty, point-in-time polls have revealed staggering public support for executions. There are some massive caveats around this which we’ll revisit in other posts in coming days, however the point is that some governments are hiding behind ‘the will of the people’ to refuse to even begin to negotiate on terms for abolition. Furthermore, we mustn’t forget that even in Europe, where we are lucky to have almost total rejection of capital punishment at statutory and constitutional level, this remains an emotive topic; so popular that it’s not inconceivable pressure could increase to reinstate it in some regions ‘for the worst crimes’. Of course in Europe this would never in all likelihood gain traction given the steadfast position of the European Union on Human Rights; but it remains important to consider, as a general theme, arguments which we can draw on to remind people or persuade them that the death penalty is a bad thing. So it was useful to hear in this session about two very personal perspectives which campaigning groups are drawing on to attempt to remind the public at large why the death penalty makes no sense.

Wrongful conviction, exoneration and enlightenment

In this workshop we heard from Joaquín José Martínez, a former death row inmate of Florida, now exonerated and living in Spain, and from Bill Pelke, co-founder of  ‘Journey of Hope’, whose grandmother was murdered. The panel was moderated by David Lindorff, a freelance journalist and author of ‘Killing Time’, a report on the facts surrounding the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Joaquin Jose Martinez

Joaquin Jose Martinez

Joaquín told us his story. He had once been an arrogant upstart, a supporter of the death penalty and blessed with a good upbringing and education. He used to say things like ‘Why wait to execute ’em?’ He was a successful business man in his early twenties with two young daughters, and already going through a somewhat acrimonious divorce. Now, he looks back and knows, from what happened to him, and from what he witnessed while he was on death row, just why he was so wrong.

In 1996 a double homicide in Tampa, Florida, occurred. There was a huge public outcry to find the killer and see justice served, augmented by the fact that the victim was the son of a local sheriff. Altogether 12 suspects were arrested in connection with the killings, and Joaquín was one of them – but why? It transpires that his estranged wife decided to incriminate him out of spite, perhaps not fully cognisant of the potential outcome. She told police that he had given her information which would appear to implicate himself, and that she had it on tape. In short, Joaquín was convicted on the basis of an alleged confession, and one way or another the police managed to stitch him up completely with ‘lost’ evidence, inaudible recordings and the unreliable testimony of his embittered ex-wife. In his arrogant naivety, and given the lack of any evidence anyway, Joaquín had not really believed that he would come badly out of his trial and had engaged his personal business lawyer to defend him, rather than spend decent money on a fully competent lawyer.

Subsequently, in 1997, Joaquín ended up on death row. Even as recently as that, the default method of execution in Florida was the electric chair. Joaquín tells how the prison would test the chair every week, and the effect that had on the inmates. The row would be quiet and still; he recalls hearing inmates crying as the lightbulbs dimmed along the block. Is this not mental torture?

Eventually, with the help of his parents and family back in Spain, Joaquín managed to raise enough money (about $1 million) for a ‘proper’ defense and his case was eventually appealed and overturned. Through the love of those who believed in him, he managed to gain the support of senators, press, and a retrial at which the maximum sentence available would be life in prison. But he was freed.  He now lives in Spain, but stays in touch with his daughters, speaking to his ex-wife daily.

Joaquín understands the emotions that someone feels when you lose someone to violent crime. Hate, rage, desire for vengeance, these are all things he himself had the misfortune to endure when his own grandfather was later killed. But he acknowledges that he could have seen the perpetrator electrocuted a hundred times over and the pain of loss would not be lessened. Today Joaquín tours, speaks and campaigns against the death penalty.

Forgiveness vs revenge

Bill Pelke pointed out that exonerees are not saved by the system, but in spite of it. He said the death penalty is cruel and it is unnecessary, not just to the condemned, but to their families as well.

‘As long has human beings make decisions, they will make mistakes,’ he said. ‘But people will listen to other people’s stories, it’s very compelling.’

Bill Pelke with Sister Helen Prejean and Susan Sarandon

Bill Pelke with Sister Helen Prejean and Susan Sarandon

Journey of Hope knows that if you can touch people’s hearts you can change their minds. So it is murder victims’ family members who lead the association, which also includes families of the condemned, of the executed, exonerees and general activists. They undertake speaking engagements and tours to reach out to communities, schools and other groups, to help them to understand that there are no number of retaliatory deaths that can replace a loved one. He quoted that the death penalty is nothing more than the ‘animal instinct for gut-level, bloodthirsty revenge.’

Bill and his colleagues believe  that  love and compassion is the answer. Healing is what victims need, not revenge. Bill himself lost his grandmother to murder… And knew that she would have been horrified to think her murderer would perish in turn. Forgiveness is what has helped Bill to heal.

Bill told us about his grandmother’s killer, Paula Cooper. She was only 15 in 1985 when the murder occurred, but this was prior to the introduction in the USA of legal prohibition of the execution of minors, and so she was sentenced to death. At first, Bill was glad, and wanted nothing more than to see his gentle grandmother’s killer executed; but then upon reflection he came to realise that his grandmother, a Bible teacher, would have wanted compassion. After her conviction, news of the young girl being condemned reached Italy, and a campaign was begun there to petition for Paula Cooper’s life. Bill could scarcely believe the strength of compassion coming from abroad, as in his home state of Indiana everyone wanted the girl dead, and as soon as possible. Ultimately, the state legislators were extremely embarrassed by the international attention and raised the age limit for death eligibility to 16; but no mercy for Paula. Eventually, with Bill speaking out at every turn to say he did not want the girl to be executed, the sentence was commuted to 60 years in prison.

In 2014 Paula Cooper will become eligible for parole. She committed her crime and was condemned at 15. Upon release she will be 44 and a completely different person. Bill has remained in close touch with her over the years, and knows she will need tremendous support and rehabilitation to re-enter the outside world.

‘On the day Paula is released, I will meet her at the gates,’ said Bill. ‘She has already agreed to come with me wherever I want to go. “You saved my life,” she tells me’.

Bill has plans to take Paula touring with him and Journey of Hope to continue telling their story of violence, hurt, lives lost and lives saved, and the reconciliation that has ultimately enriched and directed Bill’s own life.

So in conclusion, the theme of the session was to set the scene for an elaboration on a few of the reasons why the death penalty needs to be abolished, via a pair of extremely close-up and poignant perspectives.

  1. The innocent man condemned, who escaped death, and has learned to forgive and completely turned his youthfully ignorant views on their head.
  2. And the victim’s family member who not only forgave his grandmother’s killer, but was instrumental in saving her and is a role model for reconciliation and restoration.

Poem – “On the Row” by O’Della Wilson

Introducing O’Della Wilson as a contributor to The Optimism Club.

ODella Wilson

O'Della

As a small child, I was fascinated by our legal system. As I grew older, my fascination turned to dismay as I witnessed more and more injustice and corruption. That ignited a fire inside of me, a drive towards finding justice that is equal and unbiased. Hopefully I can do my small part to make this world better – through the power of the written word, one of the many gifts I received from God.

Life is a learning experience full of lessons, to live and learn. What it all boils down to – attitude! Our attitude towards life in general is what we “choose” it to be. We take with us from that and thus, pass along those attitudes to every other person we encounter in life. I choose to look at life with optimism, taking the good & positive with me and sharing them, learning from the bad & negative so as not to repeat and pass those on to others. There is something good in everything, no matter how bad the situation. We have to choose to find it first, before we can learn from it.

I got active in fighting against the death penalty in the early 90’s, as a result of the Federal Death Penalty expansions of 1988’s “Drug Kingpin Statute” and then, the 1994 “Crime Bill Expansion” which I felt would result in targeting the underprivileged and minorities. Little did I know at that time, I would find my own child sitting on Alabama’s Death Row in the year 2001, convicted under Alabama’s ‘complicity’ law. Suspecting for years there were many innocent persons sitting on death row, I learned firsthand how some of these wrongful convictions were occurring. And, I can personally state it is a nightmare for everyone involved – not just the murder victim or accused, but the many ‘invisible’ victims who share that sentence of death.

“We can NEVER return the lost years of those wrongfully convicted.” Think about that for a moment, then think about this: error rates are as high as 68% in some areas. Which supporter of the Death Penalty wants to be the first to volunteer to draw those odds? While I cannot go into my son’s case, I can tell you as a result of that, I met other Death Row inmates on a personal level. That led me to developing/publishing one of their newsletters. The newsletter “Dark Faces of Justice” is written by the inmates on Alabama’s Death Row. “Wings of Hope” is the mother publication that inspired the newsletter.

Esther Brown

Esther Brown of the PHADP

When the Chairman of PHADP, Darrell Grayson [executed by State Sanctioned Murder on July 26, 2007, 6:35 PM] sent me the first package of article contents, he told me to contact a woman named Esther Brown. She would have a profound impact on my life, as I’m sure she does with everyone she meets. Esther Brown is the public voice and driving force behind “Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty”.

“Execute Justice not People” is the motto of  www.phadp.org and I couldn’t agree more. Esther Brown is a selfless, tireless person dedicated to educating anyone willing to listen, anyone willing to learn the real facts surrounding the Death Penalty. Most people are misinformed and unless personally affected, never know the reality of what the death penalty entails. You can learn more about Project Hope by visiting their website.

I have learned a lot about many of Alabama’s Death Row Inmates over the years – several since executed – and have my own opinions on the guilt and innocence of each. But, one of the most prominent lessons I have carried with me over the years would be “One moment in life cannot define the character of a person, anymore than we can judge the value of our own lives or future worth by any single act.” Are many of these people guilty? Sure. Are some of these people innocent? Absolutely! Either way points to the overwhelming, problematic failure of Capital Punishment; and both of which are affected by its failures.

Death row

Death row, Alabama

I would also like to say, that another prominent lesson I learned – even more important: there is no such thing as “Justice” when it involves the Death Penalty. There are flaws in every system that are numerous and involve too many passions. As humans we all have passion and emotion, that in itself creates biased implementation of the death penalty. And the death penalty requires infallibility which humans lack by nature.

The poem “On The Row” was inspired by my involvement with these very real people, many of whom sit “on the row” for crimes they did not commit. I am of firm belief that each one of us, has the power and obligation to stop the barbaric practice of Capital Punishment. We are the children of God, not God himself.

If after reading “On The Row” you have been moved emotionally, I ask that you get involved: Take action, start writing your legislators, demand this barbaric practice be stopped – once and for all. Thank you.

ON THE ROW
In my room of only eight by six
time slowly moves too fast
Smoking on my cancer sticks
reminiscing on my past.

Mama tried to tell me back then
the dangers of this life
Choose wisely in choosing friends
even wiser in a wife.

Be careful with the words you speak
and whom you might want cursed
Our motives we must learn to seek
weighing consequences first.

As I sit here savoring the taste
of my coffee brewed in tin
I think of my future with haste
and all of my past sin.

I watch the smoke rise from my lips
as it floats overhead
And as I try to come to grips
I pray I wake not dead.

One day the truth to be told the world
as the guilty might confess
All lies and secrets be unfurled
the facts finally egress.

Written/Copyrights Retained by: O’Della Wilson AKA Alhavakia
©February 13, 2005 All Rights Retained

Two new Amnesty events for February

Please see our Events section! News of two new campaigns coming up very shortly:

Unite 4 human rights in Iran

Unite for Human Rights in Iran - Feb 11th

1) Unite for Human Rights in Iran

February 11th is a day of significance in Iran. Amnesty is asking bloggers of the world to unite by posting something on that day to reflect the travesty of Human Rights abuse in Iran. Executions are happening and pending daily there. The Optimism Club will be posting a blog for Iranian justice on that day. Please see the links for more background and details of how you can get involved.

2) Amnesty USA hits the road this month with Witness to Innocence to educate the US public on death penalty issues. Feb 26th – March 7th. Are you resident in the USA? You can join in!

Remember, readers, we WILL see an end to the death penalty in the USA – perhaps within the next ten years – but it needs an active attitude. Don’t be afraid to challenge the points of view of those who claim to support it. There is no justification for capital punishment, anywhere in the world. Check out the Resources page on this website for some starting places to inform and equip yourself in these discussions.

An interview with Jonathan Flinner

The Optimism Club has the pleasure of interviewing Jonathan Flinner, whose father, Michael, is a condemned prisoner living on death row, San Quentin, California. Michael’s story can be read here: he has continually protested his innocence since his arrest for conspiring in the murder of his fiancée in 2000. Jonathan, now 20 (2010), has launched himself as a young adult into action to help clear his dad’s name and ultimately see him freed.

Jonathan and Michael Flinner

Jonathan and his dad, Michael, at San Quentin

Q: Jonathan, you’re 20 now, but you were 11 when your dad, Michael, was taken from you and later condemned to death for the murder of his fiancée. Did you understand then what was happening?
A: No. I was just about to turn 11 years old, I don’t believe any child at that age can actually take something like that and grasp it fully, it’s completely mind blowing. I was educated enough at the time to see that something “bad” had happened but nothing to this severity, I just always felt so depressed and alone cause I couldn’t understand it.

Q: What’s your favorite memory from the time you were together?
A: I remember two great days, my father loved to go boating and jet skiing and that was my first time. We had an awesome father/son day out at the beach: it was amazing. The second thing was when we used to play catch, I don’t know why that makes me so happy but I loved playing ball with him just because our bond was so strong at that time.

Q: How often do you get to see your dad?
A: I have seen him ONCE in the past 9 years, due to my location compared to his. I love my father and I wish I could see him more but I’m a full time college student and just don’t have the funds to go out to California. It’s depressing to say the least.

Q: Tell us a little about Michael’s accommodation and his days spent in San Quentin.
A: My father lives in a tiny cell, approximately 5 and a half feet by 9 ft, and spends most of his time praying and writing to his close friends, followers and family. He likes to keep in shape to stay mentally and physically fit.

Q: What aspect of your dad’s existence on Death Row do you find most hurtful?
A: The fact that he is an INNOCENT man. I cannot believe the things that have happened in my life, I’m 20 years old and I have probably lived through more problems than three 80 year olds. Nobody deserves to be on death row, especially the innocent. I haven’t had a father most of my life because of the ignorance of others. I will never get this time back.

Q: What makes you most proud of Michael?
A: His intelligence and his passion. You would think any man on death row would be depressed and upset 23 hours out of the day. My father has a gift of intelligence which he uses every single day, he is a writer and a soon to be published author. The other thing I love about my father is that he never gives up, I love that. It must run in the family.

Q: And how about you? You are studying right now?
A: At the moment I am attending a community college, still doing pre-reqs but I’m leaning toward a degree in the social sciences or in law. I’m doing well, hanging in there. Really cracking down on making this Twitter site all it can be.

Q: What’s the Twitter site?
A: I have a Twitter ID, @DeathRowInmates, aimed solely at raising awareness of my father’s situation

Q: And how is that going?
A: Really great, I have built a following of over 1000 in just one month! So a good audience to tell my father’s story to.

Q: What are your father’s hopes and dreams for you?
A: He hopes that I never get tangled up in a situation like him, he wants me to be happy anyway that I can and hopes that I graduate from college and settle down and get married, he has told me when I have kids he hopes he can be out so he can spend time with his grandchildren.

Q: You spend a lot of time working to raise awareness of your father’s situation – on Twitter and elsewhere. Do you get any time just for yourself?
A: Believe it or not I do! I actually have a lot of free time, time to spend with my family and my little brother, my best friends, my girlfriend. I love to travel and ride my quad and just stay happy. You would think since I’m always online I’m never doing anything for myself but I do, all the time!

Q: Jonathan, it seems like you have suffered many times over. From the loss of your mother, and then of Tamra, and then in a way, of your father too. And yet you seem so full of life, energy and determination. What support do you receive? Where do you find the strength to carry you through all of this?
A: I have done my unfair share of suffering, this whole fiasco started when my mother passed away when i was only 7 years old. Since then my whole life really took a turn for the worse. I wake up every morning and put a smile on my face, I know that there are better things in life to look forward and to be happy about. I find the best things in life and I love them, I surround myself with the most amazing people and I do my share to make sure I am happy and everybody I know is happy. I grow from every negative thing in my life, it makes me a stronger person, it makes me who I am today.

Q: Tell us about Michael’s book “A Portion of Thyself: Essential Reflections From Death Row”
A: This book is one of many he is writing, my father is an amazing writer. This book really captures his way of living now, his everyday thoughts and how he responds and reflects from being on death row, I know you all will love it. It’s due to be published later in February 2010.

Q: What is next for your father? Where is he in the appeal process?
A: More book writing! We aren’t completely sure when the process will begin but I hope to start a campaign to raise money for a really good lawyer for him. That is the main goal at the moment.

Q: If you could ask the people reading this one special favour, what would it be?
A: To pray and spread the word of this campaign, its all about networking and who you know, every little thing counts and I really want to get my father off of death row. These past 10 years have been so terrible for my family and I, constant crying and sobbing, we could really use your prayers.

Q: What words of comfort or advice do you have for others whose parent or loved one is condemned or in peril?
A: Stay strong and never let your head down. I know life is tough, life is going to throw nasty curveballs at you and you have to overcome. There is no time in life to let down your guard and give into depression’s temptation, you are a wonderful individual and you are meant to be happy. Keep smiling and never stop doing what you’re doing, especially if you believe in it.

Q: A final thought to leave us with?
A: I’d like to say “thank you”, this journey I have been on has been a crazy one, to be given this opportunity is absolutely amazing and I thank everyone who supports me, my wonderful grandparents, my awesome friends, my amazing girlfriend. Thank you for always being by my side when I needed you the most, I love you all.

Thank YOU, Jonathan.
For more details about Michael Flinner’s case and the ongoing effort to provide a voice for condemned prisoners, see DeathrowInmate.org.

Author’s note regarding San Quentin: the State of California is currently under moratorium – executions have been on hold since 2006 pending a thorough review of the protocols for the lethal injection procedure. In January 2010, the California Department for Corrections and Rehabilitation issued a deadline for the latest public scrutiny and comments. A number of organised campaigns led to the receipt of over 12,000 comments challenging the procedures, each of which must be taken into account and responded to ‘substantively’ by the State. In the meantime, Governor Schwarzenegger has pledged to cut prison spending in the State vs Higher Education budgets, having last year been criticised for continuing to spend on expanding the prison system, including plans for a new block for San Quentin’s death row, which already houses around 670 condemned prisoners, taking the capacity to over 1200 with proposed double-celling.

We believe Governor Schwarzenegger should encourage legislation to repeal the death penalty statute altogether for California and save the State billions of dollars which could be channelled into more appropriate public spending