Arkansas’ execution spree highlights fallacy of our nation’s approach to violence.

Preparing to deliver petitionsThe nation’s eyes were on Arkansas as it executed four people in 10 days in April, including holding the nation’s first double execution in almost two decades. The schedule drew national outrage, including 250,000 petition signatures delivered to the governor, intervention by victims’ family members, and celebrity involvement.

Much of the attention has been on the timeline, the process, and specific problems with each case, including faulty forensics, bad lawyers, mental impairments, racial disparities, unexamined mitigation, etc. At least half of the men experienced unspeakable childhood trauma – one of many reasons to spare their lives.

But now that some of the dust has settled, it’s time to ask a deeper question than whether or not to execute. Buried in those horrific childhood histories is a more profound story that gets to the heart of our nation’s misdirected approach to violence prevention and public safety. A public health approach might very well have prevented many of these murders in the first place.

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More Exonerations – an update from CCATDP

In the past month, we’ve been confronted with our death penalty system’s dangers and flaws again. Rodricus Crawford was released from Louisiana’s death row in April and Ralph Daniel Wright Jr. from Florida’s death row just days ago because they had both been wrongly convicted and sentenced to die. Regrettably, this isn’t a rare occurrence. In fact, these exonerations bring the total number of wrongful capital convictions in the US since 1973 to 159, while others have been executed who might have been innocent.

The Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission concluded its year-long examination of the state’s capital punishment program, and their findings reflected what has been discovered in many other states. Oklahoma’s death penalty is dangerously flawed, has led to wrongful convictions, and it costs far more than life without parole.

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Racist hate mail a reminder of the death penalty’s true colors

Last month, an African American prosecutor in central Florida received an especially disturbing piece of hate mail: a racist note and a noose.

The prosecutor, State Attorney Aramis Ayala, made national news earlier this year when she announced she would not seek the death penalty in future cases. Her constituents broadly supported the decision, and a grassroots movement sprang up in support. But Florida’s Governor Rick Scott made the reactionary decision to transfer all her death penalty eligible cases to a neighboring prosecutor.

The specter of a white Governor stripping the state’s first black States Attorney of almost two-dozen cases for exercising her lawful discretion was discomfiting enough. But that battle is now buried in a thicket of legal arguments.

Lest the courtroom drama obscure the obvious racial implications of the entire saga, a noose in the mail brings them back into stark relief.

A noose is not just a threat; it’s a symbol of lynchings – which themselves were precursors to the modern death penalty.

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Constantly-changing situation over scheduled executions in Arkansas

Outside Ark State Prison - Scott Langley

Entrance to Cummins Unit, Arkansas Department of Corrections. Photo by: Scott Langley / deathpenaltyphoto.org

On Monday, Arkansas officials planned to start an assembly line of executions – 8 in 10 days. After dozens of court challenges and an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the first two executions were halted.

But the state still hopes to carry out up to 5 executions before the end of next week, in order to use its supply of a controversial execution drug, Midazolam, before it expires at the end of April.

With legal challenges coming from all sides, the situation is changing by the minute. As it currently stands, all executions – including two originally scheduled for tonight – are on hold. But all of that could change, and the state is preparing the two men originally scheduled for execution tonight as if their executions will go forward. Both men have been denied DNA testing that could prove their innocence.

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Will Virginia Execute an Innocent Man? – an update from CCATDP

On April 11, we released a letter that has received national attention. It was signed by 25 notable Virginia conservatives calling on Virginia Governor McAuliffe to halt the planned execution of Ivan Teleguz. His execution is scheduled for April 25, despite a complete lack of physical evidence and the fact that two of the three witnesses who originally linked him to the crime have since recanted their testimony. The third witness had incentive to lie because he received a lighter sentence in exchange for testifying against Teleguz.

Considering all of this, there is simply too much doubt to execute Teleguz, and there is reason to believe that he may actually be an innocent man. Thus, pro-life conservatives in Virginia signed the letter respectfully asking Gov. McAuliffe to commute Teleguz’s sentence. You can read it in its entirety and see the signatories here.

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All Arkansas executions on hold, for now – a report from Little Rock

Yesterday was quite a whirlwind.

The day started early with preparations for the rally and petition delivery at the Arkansas State Capitol and ended late in the evening with the announcement that all of the scheduled #8in10 executions had been put on hold.

I spent the morning with our coalition partners, preparing over 150,000 petition signatures for delivery. (Did you know that it takes over 10,000 pieces of paper to print out over 150,000 signatures?) Then we gathered – in fellowship and in a show of strength – on the stairs of the Arkansas Capitol, proclaiming that the death penalty is broken and needs to end. Continue Reading →

Civil rights leaders weigh-in against scheduled executions in Arkansas

Mona delivering sign-on lettersLocal and national civil rights and racial justice leaders signed a letter to Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, calling on him to halt the series of executions scheduled in the coming weeks. EJUSA Campaign Strategist Mona Cadena was on hand at the Capitol to deliver the letter (left), which outlined the concerns the group has with the death penalty’s racial bias and its disproportionate effect on communities of color.

“Racial bias in the criminal justice system, including the death penalty and its application, is undisputed,” the letter says. “From slavery to Jim Crow to the present day, the death penalty has long been a tool of injustice and discrimination in the USA and the State of Arkansas.”
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Stand strong with EJUSA

It’s outrageous.

As I write this, Arkansas is planning to carry out eight executions over ten days starting next week. The state plans to execute so many people so rapidly in order to use up nearly-expired (and dangerous) execution drugs.

EJUSA is standing strong against this extreme move, which goes against the national trend toward repeal. Thanks to you, EJUSA’s expert organizers are providing strategic assistance to our partners in Arkansas, and we are mobilizing diverse voices to speak out against this atrocity across the country.

If you are as outraged as I am, I urge you to help EJUSA stand strong against these executions with a gift of $25, $55, $75, or even $100.

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Prominent evangelical leaders urge Arkansas to halt scheduled executions

More than two dozen national Evangelical leaders called on Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson to stop the upcoming “assembly line of executions.”

Their letter, released today, described Easter as “a sacred day when Christians celebrate Christ’s triumph over death,” noting the “unfortunate timing” of the executions.

Notable signers of the letter include many of EJUSA’s longstanding Evangelical partners and allies, such as pastors of mega-church congregations, theological scholars, religious authors, and more.

“To allow a drug’s expiration date to dictate when an individual will die shows a troubling disregard for the sacredness of human life,” the letter says.

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Floridians rally in support of state attorney who won’t seek the death penalty

Christine speaking - photo credit Mark Elliott

Busloads of people from all corners of Florida descended on the state capitol in Tallahassee this morning for a “Rally in Tally” to show their support for State Attorney Aramis Ayala. Ayala announced earlier this month that she will not seek the death penalty during her tenure as the head prosecutor of Orange and Osceola Counties.

Following a rally on the capitol steps, leaders delivered over 130,000 petition signatures to the office of Governor Rick Scott. Scott filed for the removal of Alaya from a high profile murder case in Orlando, overstepping his authority and undermining her discretion as a prosecutor.

Ayala is fighting back, and people throughout Florida and around the country are standing with her.
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