Thursday, March 17, 2016

Death Penalty Update!

At CPAC, Pro–Criminal Justice Reform and Anti–Death Penalty Activists Make Their Case Conservatives are no longer monolithic on these issues. The GOP is no longer monolithically the tough-on-crime party many think of it as being. As the debate rages on over whether or not we're living through a "libertarian moment," it's worth noting that conversations around criminal justice reform are featuring prominently this weekend at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland.

Groups like Right on Crime and Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty (CCATDP), once viewed mostly as novelties within the movement, are now fixtures of CPAC. What's more, they're making the case for rethinking the party line on criminal justice issues in decidedly conservative terms.

"The first year we got a lot of weird looks," CCATDP's advocacy coordinator, Marc Hyden, says. "But since we keep coming back, we're accepted as just another part of the umbrella of conservatism. Nobody questions whether I'm a conservative or not—I'm talking about pro-life policies, fiscal responsibility, and limited government, and the death penalty just doesn't work with that."

Right on Crime Deputy Director Derek Cohen also has a playbook for reaching his fellow conservatives—and different messages work for different groups, he says. When talking to fiscal conservatives, he likes to point out that the same government that runs the post office runs the prison system. "Not exactly a model of efficiency," he says. In Texas, where Right on Crime is based, a move toward giving low-level offenders probation or parole instead of prison time has allowed the state to forgo spending $2 billion on new prison infrastructure.

Social conservatives, on the other hand, "tend to appreciate the human value" and the "redemptive quality" of in-facility programs that help people—including people who have made serious mistakes—better themselves. "Even for serious crimes, even for violent crimes, when we send someone away for a long time, their life is fundamentally altered," Cohen says. "That could be altered for the better, but that's only if we're putting in the rehabilitational elements that reduce recidivism."

He conjures the example of a father and husband who gets caught with a little bit of heroin. His prison sentence under the old scheme would likely be just long enough to cause him to lose his job and experience problems at home. For social conservatives genuinely nervous about the decline of the family, that's clearly a sub-optimal outcome. If instead people like that get intensive probation, "they're at work. They're at their kids' ballgames."

There's some evidence policy is moving in tandem with the increased support among conservatives. Houston's district attorney recently introduced guidelines whereby most first-time low-level drug offenders are diverted into community programs instead of locked up, for example.

We're seeing progress on capital punishment as well. Just yesterday Florida's legislature passed an overhaul to make it less likely that offenders will end up on death row. On the same day a judge ruled that Alabama's execution system, like Florida's before it, is unconstitutional. Last year Nebraska abolished its death penalty, and on Wednesday of this week the Utah state senate voted to do the same. "Now it's heading over to the [Utah state] House," Hyden says, "and the speaker of the House is against the death penalty! So we may get another red state to repeal the death penalty, which proves that Nebraska wasn't an anomaly."

The piecemeal nature of these victories can also be used to appeal to conservatives, he says. "I look at it through a Tenth Amendment framework—change should be done at the state level. If it's not expressly mentioned in the Constitution, it should be done by the states."


Reason TV caught up with CCATDP's Hyden at CPAC last year. See what he had to say below.
An Innocent Man Could Be Put to Death.
“The State of California May Be About To Execute An Innocent Man.” Judge William A. Fletcher- Ninth Circuit Court (Read full text).

In 1983, a family was brutally murdered, slashed over 144 times in 4 minutes. The only survivor was their 8-year-old son, who was left with his throat cut. According to 5 federal judges and many experts, the wrong man will be executed for these murders. Kevin Cooper, an African American man, was convicted of the killings despite two witnesses who said they saw white men driving away from the home in the family’s stolen car (See:video#1, video#2, video#3). Even the surviving child told the police that it was three white or Latino men who killed his family. 

Cooper’s only hope is Gov. Jerry Brown. Unless Gov. Brown intervenes and commutes his death sentence, Kevin Cooper will be put to death. The facts of the case make it clear that a great injustice has occurred and must be corrected. We ask Governor Jerry Brown to exercise his constitutionally mandated power to grant clemency.  After the murders, a local woman went to police with the belief that her estranged husband, a convicted killer, was responsible for these murders. She said his hatchet was missing and turned over a pair of bloody overalls she found that night (See CNN's investigative report). 

The police never tested the overalls. Instead, they threw them in a dumpster.  Eleven years later, in 2004, the Ninth Circuit Court halted Cooper’s execution only hours before it was to occur, ruling that some evidence used against him had been flawed and illegal: bloody shoe prints that couldn’t have belonged to Cooper, the destruction of the overalls, and other issues with the investigation. It was also discovered that the blood at the crime scene that the prosecution had said was Cooper’s actually had the DNA of two different people in it, a strong indication of lab error or deliberate tampering. Still, the California Supreme Court upheld Cooper’s conviction, and he could get his new execution date any day now. There is no doubt justice hasn’t been served. When it comes to the death penalty, we should be 100% certain of the person’s guilt. 

Even some of the jurors that sent Cooper to death row regretted. "I let the police misconduct go and sentenced Mr. Cooper to death," one wrote in 2004. "I now regret that decision."  The evidence surrounding these murders, and the actions of the prosecution make it clear that Kevin Cooper should not be put to death due to overwhelming doubt.

On April 29, 2011, Cooper's attorneys Norman C. Hile and Katie C. De Witt of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP (a global law firm that represented Cooper for decades on pro bono basis) filed petition and request for precautionary measure with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ("IACHR"). There's no doubt that Kevin is deprived of fair trial and due process of law- a corner stone of every functioning society. After four years of deliberation and thorough investigation of Kevin Cooper's petition, on September 12, 2015, the IACHR concluded in its 32-page report that Cooper's right to due process (substantive and procedural) had been violated. The Commission recommended: (a) review of Cooper's trial in accordance with the guarantees of due process and fair trial, (b) Cooper be tried in accordance with the rights enshrined under the American Declaration- as it applies to people accused of capital crimes (Read: Full text of IACHR report). 

Regardless of IACHR's findings, the five Federal Judges' well-reasoned dissent, overwhelming doubt, evidence tampering, pre-trial publicity of the case by the San Bernardino County Sheriffs, Kevin Cooper is slated to die. 

                          Thank you!                                   

                          Esayas  G.

Photo Credit: Kevin Cooper's attorneys 
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ABC News: Virginia OK's Electric Chair

Virginia lawmakers just don’t get it.

The Death Penalty doesn’t work. We don’t need backups, we need a better system -- we deserve justice that works.

We’re fighting every day to replace the Death Penalty throughout the U.S. But we need your help building an organization that can take on pro-death opponents in every state -- those who’d rather have a backup than a better system.

The Death Penalty is broken. If you believe there’s a better way, then pitch in $5 today and help us replace the Death Penalty:

Studies show that at least 4% of current U.S. death row inmates are likely innocent.

 Imagine if just one of these inmates happened to be in Virginia. With the flip of a switch, they could lose their chance to prove their innocence.

The risks associated with the Death Penalty are far too high, and backups won’t solve the problem. Help us fight for a better system: