The Abolitionist New  
Vol. 2, No. 2
February 2014
Quick Links
A Contagion Of Secrecy Has Infected America's Debate On The Death Penalty
Ronald T. Clemmons

"Truth never damages a cause that is just." ~ Gandhi


     Transparency is the new watchword in American politics, a concept implying that governmental decision-making is an open process with all facts and points of view considered before an action is taken. In the American political lexicon, the party in power maintains they operate in this manner and the opposition proclaims this will be their governing philosophy if they attain power.


     Transparency, in most instances, is simply a new term for the old shibboleth of business as usual. Foreign policy, spying on American citizens, holding people in jail without due process is still ongoing, regardless of which political party is running the country. A contagion of secrecy is developing in this country that threatens the core values of our political system.


     The fight to abolish the death penalty is a prime example of where governmental secrecy is being invoked more than ever. A litany of new laws and policies are being implemented across the country to shield states from lawsuits and to expedite executions.


     Missouri has amended the definition of its "execution team" to include the pharmacy that makes the execution drugs, the method of acquiring the drugs, and the identity of the medical personnel who approves the drug.  All of this information is no longer available under the public records act. The state has been paying $11,000 in cash to a company in Oklahoma for one of the drugs.


     Since European countries refuse to sell drugs to states that will use it to kill people, many states are reducing the number of drugs in the death-cocktail from three to one. The new drug is phenobarbital. It's a secret to most people that this drug is the primary one used to euthanize animals. In fact, People For The Ethical Treatment (PETA) recommends this drug when it becomes necessary to kill an animal.


     Idaho media organizations had to file a federal lawsuit to force the state to comply with a court order to make all aspects of the execution process open to the public.


     In Tennessee, Shelby County Assistant District Attorney General Robert Henderson was censured by the state supreme court for secretly keeping evidence from a defendant's lawyers. On two separate occasions the prosecuting attorney told the defense that the state had no "evidence which tends to exculpate the defendant of the crime charged against him." Ironically, the censure has no penalty, and Henderson's boss has stated he will not take any disciplinary action.


     Proponents of the death penalty are not entitled to the dual standard of killing people, but exempting the details from public scrutiny.  This is not transparency; it's totalitarianism.


     If the death penalty is a deterrent, why is the government taking unprecedented measure to make the process a secret? What's driving the bloodlust to execute as many people as quickly as possible? "The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure," said Founding Father Patrick Henry, "when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them."  


     God's love and the death penalty are incompatible. In light of what's occurring across the country, it's our responsibility to ensure that Jesus' message of love and forgiveness is proclaimed. 


     Abolishing the death penalty is our goal, and you do not have to keep that a secret. 


ALMIGHTY God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen. 

Time Cannot Heal Some Injustices

George Stinney

     As U.S. troops slogged their way through Europe and the Pacific in 1944 to maintain freedom, another drama was underway in South Carolina that still haunts Americans six decades later.


     Two girls, ages 11 and 8, were looking for wild flowers on March 22, 1944, when they encountered George Stinney and his younger sister Katherine, whom they asked for assistance in finding passionflowers.


     Tragically, the two girls were found dead in a drainage ditch the next day, both having died from a head trauma. Stinney was arrested for murder on one piece of circumstantial evidence: he had talked to the two white girls.


     Three white policeman interrogated Stinney and he "confessed" to killing the two girls, although at his trial he denied making the confession. There was no physical evidence that Stinney killed the girls, nor were there any witnesses. The only testimony used by the state was the "confession" and the autopsy reports.


     Stinney was represented by a court appointed lawyer, who just happened to be seeking political office in the community. The defense offered no witnesses. The entire trial lasted one day, with the all-white jury returning a guilty verdict after ten minutes of deliberation. Stinney was sentenced to death by electrocution.


     He walked to the electric chair carrying a Bible, which he had to use as a booster seat because he was too small to fit the chair. Three jolts of 2,400 volts killed George Stinney. Only eighty-0ne days elapsed between his arrest and execution.


     George Stinney was 14 years old, the youngest person ever to be executed in the United States.


     Efforts are currently underway to get a new trial to clear his name, but local officials and the family of one of the girls are resisting. The judge hearing the retrial argument has stated that all that could be expected from a retrial is the recognition that Stinney was the victim of a racist era that no longer exits. There is no way, she stated, that his innocence can be proven.

Reversals Of Criminal Convictions Grow


     The National Registry of Exonerations released a study earlier this month that revealed that 87 people had their criminal conviction overturned in 2013, the largest number since the organization began tracking the data.


     Included in the list was Reginald Griffin, a Missouri death row inmate convicted thirty years ago. Griffin was the 143rd death row inmate released due to new information coming forward.


     The report also noted that 1,304 exonerations of criminal charges have occurred since 1989. Texas, with 13 exonerations in 2013, led the country in overturned convictions.


     The Lone Star State also accounted for 45% of the executions in the United States last year, which included the only woman. She was the 500th person to be executed in Texas since the ban on the death penalty was lifted in 1976.


     Texas has executed two people in 2014, including one woman. This accounts for 20% of all executions in the U.S. Seven additional executions are scheduled for 2014 in Texas.


     The information for this article is courtesy of the Death Penalty Information Center.

            Death Penalty News Across The Country Mixed

Washington- Governor Jay Inslee has suspended the death penalty during his term of office. If a death penalty case comes to his desk, the governor stated he will issue a reprieve, which is neither a pardon nor commutation. In announcing his decision, Inslee stated, "There have been too many doubts raised about capital punishment, there are too many flaws in this system today." 


California- Three former California governors are launching a petition drive to place a referendum on the ballot that would limit death row inmates' legal appeals, remove these inmates from special death row housing, and force them to work to pay restitution to victims. Proponents of the death penalty decry the lengthy appeals process available to death row inmates and seek to shorten the process. California voters refused to abolish the death penalty in 2012.


District of Columbia- The Pew Research Foundation reports that although 55% of

Americans still favor the death penalty for people convicted of murder, the percentage has dropped from 78% in 1996. The number of individuals who oppose the death penalty has risen from 18% in 1996 to 37% in 2013. These results track with a similar survey conducted last fall by Gallup polling.


Florida- Governor Rick Scott has signed the death warrant for Robert Lavern Henry, the fourteenth individual to be executed during his term. Florida executed Juan Carlos Chavez on February 13. Since the death penalty was reinstituted in 1976, Florida has executed eighty-four people.


Kansas- The state legislature is considering a bill to expedite the appeals process for capital cases in Kansas, even though opponents fear innocent people might be executed if the bill becomes law. Senator Jeff King, the Senate sponsor of the bill, stated that Kansas had not executed anyone in the last twenty years because the appeals process was too lenient.


Massachusetts- Attorney General Eric Holder recommended that the government seek the death penalty for alleged "Boston Bomber" Tzkokhar Tsarnaev. The date for trial has not been set. The defense has not yet been allowed to review all the physical evidence, which includes almost 2,000 items still be analyzed by the FBI.