[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----LA., N.J., ALA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Dec 14 12:23:00 CST 2005
The Road to Redemption----Commentary: A prisoner on death row finds that
social change comes in small, painful increments, starting with the self.
This essay was written for The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A
Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, edited by Paul Rogat Loeb.
Seven of my 40 years in Louisiana's prison system were spent on Angola's
death row, doing time for murder. In 1965, as a 20-year old punk looking
for fast money, I ordered a convenience store clerk to open the cash
register. He refused and chased me out of the store. Running toward my
car, I fired over my shoulder to frighten him. The last time I saw the
clerk, he was sitting on the sidewalk yelling for the police. He bled to
death. In 1972 the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the death penalty
nationwide in the case of Furman v. Georgia. I was re-sentenced to life
without parole. Apart from the time on death row, I spent 2 years in one
of Angola's maximum-security tiers in lockdown, an unspeakably violent
environment. One year was spent working in Angola's fields under slave
labor conditions, another in the office as a clerk. 9 were spent as a
prison journalist, working on The Angolite, the prison magazine. As a
result of my testimony in a bribery case, the rest of my years in the
prison system have been spent in protective custody away from Angola.
Battles against Louisiana's prison system are hard won. But they show that
the system is vulnerable. And small victories can fuel larger ones. Change
is a potent force behind bars that inspires desperate acts.
In February 1951, 31 inmates slashed their heel tendons to protest their
brutal treatment at Angola. Newspapers across the state headlined the
story. The public reeled in shock. The heel stringers succeeded in
improving conditions for a few years. But old ways died hard. It would
take repeated assaults to tame Angola.
While I was on the "row," I won the 1st prisoner rights lawsuit in the
history of Louisiana in 1971 with the help of a young VISTA attorney from
New York. Sinclair v. Henderson dramatically improved conditions on death
row. It was the first in a long string of jailhouse lawsuits I have
successfully filed against Louisiana's callous prison system. Other
prisoners followed my legal assault. In 1973, four black inmates filed
suit against Angola alleging discrimination. The suit charged that
conditions at the prison were "cruel and unusual punishment." The court
found that Angola "would shock the conscience of any right thinking
person." "Life," a militant black inmate from New Orleans, was my best
friend. He was a crusader against homosexual rape who was not afraid to
take on the criminal subculture. No brother, Life said, should take
another brother for a woman. A few years after the U.S. Supreme Court
decision that released me from death row, the U.S. Justice Department
demanded that the prison be integrated. Together Life and I went into the
most dangerous dormitories and cellblocks at Angola to argue for
integration. It came without violence.
But Life was knifed to death for his stand against sexual predators. In
1976, in an effort to quell violence at the prison, the administration
unshackled The Angolite, the prison magazine, written by inmates for
inmates. The Angolite was little more than a newsletter when it was set
free. A hard-nosed reformer, Warden Ross Maggio, appointed me to the
staff. My expertise as a jailhouse lawyer won me the spot. Administrators
felt that uncensored inmate voices would help decrease the level of
violence. The warden's gamble worked. But it had an unintended
consequence. The Angolite rose to national prominence. Stories that my
co-editor Wilbert Rideau wrote, and others that I wrote, won national
awards-the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Special Interest Journalism, the
Sidney Hillman Award and the George Polk Award, among others.
With the breeze of success in its sails, The Angolite journeyed into
uncharted waters for prison journalism. Rideau and I covered stories on
sexual violence, prison suicides, inmate killings and a host of other
issues. We were a black/white writing team in a southern prison, rife with
repressed racism and potential violence. Along with our awards, we became
the subjects of stories on television networks, in national magazines and
in the foreign press.
The Angolite's success lifted me out of a pit of despair in Angola's
fields and cellblocks. Rideau and I traveled the state on overnight
speaking trips to schools and civic groups. We could pick up the telephone
in The Angolite office and arrange for calls to journalists all over the
country. We had influence with the administration and the free world. We
were the envy of other prisoners.
I lost it all in 1986 when I turned down a ranking prison official's offer
to sell me a pardon. It was a ticket to freedom I felt that I had earned
after 20 years at Angola. I yearned to be free with every breath I took. I
was a lifer without benefit of parole. I would never leave Angola unless a
governor commuted my sentence. In 1986, the governor's mercy was in short
supply as the nation escalated its war on crime. Most lifers in Angola's
clutches knew they would die there.
In 1982, I had married Jodie Bell, a television reporter I met when she
came to the prison to do a series on the death penalty for the CBS
affiliate in Baton Rouge. The need to be with her shredded my days. Angola
did not allow conjugal visits. I lived and breathed sexual desire Craving
to be at home with my wife haunted me. I knew, as she knew, that turning
down the opportunity to buy a pardon in 1986 might leave me at Angola
forever. When I left death row in 1972, I carried its stigma with me. I
came to understand that the free world would always see me as a "convicted
murderer." But I could not accept that label. Seeds of decency waited to
sprout inside my soul, sowed by Sundays in fire-and-brimstone Southern
Baptist churches. But I never matured. Parental abuse, neglect and cruelty
crippled me as I grew up. Prison was the only place left in which I could
save my soul.
Change did not come with a glorious, religious awakening. It came in
painful increments, from education and the self-awareness that education
fosters. As I looked in the mirror every day, I began to see a killer. The
familiar contours of my flesh covered an animal's bones. I had to accept
responsibility for an undeserved death. But I could not accept a label
that placed me beyond the pale of human salvation.
I am not the only prisoner who has ever chosen that road. But each and
every one who takes it knows that it tempts a shank in the gut. The
rehabilitated inmate steps away from social acceptance and stands in
apposition to the natural order in his prison environment. He becomes a
target of inmate scorn-"riding the religious pony" or "sucking up to the
man" to get out of prison. Scorn easily escalates into violence. I walked
a fine line for 2 years before I was moved from a Big Yard dormitory,
where I lived with some of the most dangerous prisoners in Angola, to a
safer dormitory. The offer to sell a pardon confirmed rumors that I had
been hearing for months in 1986 about corruption in Governor Edwin
Edwards' third administration. (The four-time governor of Louisiana is now
doing 10 years in a federal penitentiary for selling state licenses to
build casinos.) In the late 1980s, his pardon board chairman sold pardons
for a golf cart, cash, gold jewelry, and sex with inmates' wives. He and
the prison official who offered to help me buy a pardon were convicted of
public bribery. The offer of an illegal pardon ignited a firestorm in my
brain. I had spent years changing myself. Now, I could reap the full
reward only if I dismantled the moral framework I had struggled to erect.
I could only be released if I committed the crime of bribery.
Whispers from my criminal past urged me to do it. The hard, practical side
of my nature agreed. But I could not. I was a prisoner of the moral man I
had become. The striving to see more than a "convicted murderer" in the
mirror drove me to reject the offer.
Neither could I betray my wife. My rehabilitation was the foundation of
our marriage. She is a Catholic who believes in forgiveness and
redemption. Her moral heritage - instilled by the nuns who taught her in
parochial schools - put her on a plane I revered. "My child," the nuns
would say, "Virtue is its own reward."
I could not involve my wife in an illegal act that would destroy her faith
in me and make her liable for a criminal charge. Jodie had the price of a
pardon-$15,000 in a bank account in Texas. She wrestled with her own
demons in rejecting the offer. She was a woman in her forties married to a
lifer. She ached to have me at home and knew how unlikely it was. Buying a
pardon might be the only way we would ever be together.
Had she decided to pay the bribe without telling me, I might not have
known until I was set free or we were charged with public bribery. But she
would not betray me. Instead, she contacted the FBI for me. Jodie
understood my struggle for self-respect.
Cooperation with the federal government doomed me to a life in protective
custody-one of the most restrictive environments in prison. Otherwise, I
would be killed as the "snitch" who slammed the door on freedom. Inmates
who bought pardons were released. Governor Edwards claimed he knew nothing
of the scheme.
In 1992, Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer commuted my life sentence to 90
years, making me eligible for parole.
On Sunday, June 8, 2003, my wife and I celebrated our 21st wedding
anniversary in the cellblock lobby with a cup of coffee that I was allowed
to bring to the table where we visit. I have nearly a decade left to serve
in prison. I have been denied parole 8 times since 1992. I will not be
discharged until 2011, after I have served half of a 90-year sentence. My
wife will be 72 years old when I finally go home, and I will be 66. God
knows how much life will be left to us. But I will leave prison knowing
that I am more than a "convicted murderer." I did not fail my wife or
myself. Striving for change saved my soul and left its marks on a prison
system without one.
>From The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in
a Time of Fear, edited by Paul Rogat Loeb www.theimpossible.org.
(source: Mother Jones - Billy Wayne Sinclair is the author of A Life in
the Balance: The Billy Wayne Sinclair Story (Arcade Books, 2002), a book
he wrote with his wife, Jodie.)
Bill would put death penalty on hold
With the nation engaged in debate over this week's execution of a
California inmate, New Jersey is inching closer to becoming the 3rd state
to declare a moratorium on its death penalty.
The state Senate is scheduled to vote on the suspension tomorrow, and a
key Assembly leader hopes the lower house will quickly follow suit.
The move would cap a years-long effort by death penalty foes, who contend
capital punishment is imperfect and life in prison without parole is a
The Senate vote comes 2 days after Stanley "Tookie" Williams, the
51-year-old founder of the Crips gang, was executed at San Quentin Prison
- even as he continued to profess his innocence - for the murders of 4
people in 2 1979 holdups.
"We know so much more today than we did when the death penalty was
reinstated (in New Jersey) in 1982, including about how often the system
makes mistakes," said Celeste Fitzgerald, director of New Jerseyans for
Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
New Jersey hasn't executed anyone since 1963, even though the death
penalty was reinstated. The state has 10 men on death row.
The bill the Senate will consider would create a death penalty study
commission to scrutinize the state's death penalty law, particularly
whether it is applied fairly, its costs, whether it is a deterrent to
crime and if it should be abolished. The commission would complete its
work by Nov. 15, 2006.
In the meantime, a moratorium would be imposed on all state executions
until at least 60 days after the commission finishes its work.
In November, the New Jersey Policy Perspective group said the state has
spent $253 million in the last 23 years on a death penalty that hasn't
been used, money that it said could have been better spent in other areas.
And earlier this month, Sister Helen Prejean of "Dead Man Walking" fame,
visited the State House with Fitzgerald's group and lobbied lawmakers to
eliminate the death penalty permanently.
The moratorium bill has taken a long road. It passed both houses in 2003,
only to be vetoed by then-Gov. James E. McGreevey.
But Kelley Heck, spokesman for state Senate president and acting Gov.
Richard J. Codey, said Codey would sign the bill set to be voted on
"In that sense, he will sign a moratorium," Heck said.
For it to reach Codey, the Assembly would have to approve the measure by
the Legislature's Jan. 10 reorganization or the bill would expire.
Assembly Majority Leader Joseph J. Roberts Jr., D-Camden, said yesterday
he couldn't be "presumptuous" and talk for Assembly Speaker Albio Sires,
D-West New York, but said the Assembly could take action.
"There's growing support for the life-without-parole alternative," said
Roberts, who will become Assembly speaker Jan. 10.
Roberts said a study commission and moratorium was a 1st step toward that
"I would be hopeful if it passes the Senate on Thursday that we'll deal
with it on Jan. 9," Roberts said.
That would allow Codey to sign the bill into law before he leaves office
as acting governor. But if the Assembly doesn't act by Jan. 9, Roberts
said he isn't too concerned.
No execution is imminent.
While it is not an official moratorium, the state, under a February 2004
appeals court ruling, cannot carry out the death penalty until it revises
procedures on how the penalty would be imposed.
Gov.-elect Jon Corzine is a death penalty opponent.
And the Legislature will continue to be controlled by Democrats after it
"I don't see the lame duck (session) as time imperative," Roberts said.
"I'm not persuaded by people who want to wrap up every issue just because
we're near the end of the term."
He said a death penalty moratorium, along with other issues, easily can be
reconsidered by the new Legislature after Jan. 10.
Fitzgerald said death penalty foes remain hopeful.
"It's not surprising that the Senate has decided to examine this issue
more closely, and common sense supports halting executions while the study
is being carried out," she said.
"The evidence has demonstrated time and time again that the system is
broken and should be replaced with life without parole, which has proven
to be fairer, stronger and more certain punishment."
Maryland and Illinois have instituted death penalty moratoriums to study
Since 1973, 107 people have been released from death row thanks to strong
evidence of their innocence, according to the American Bar Association.
But the moratorium proposal won't have complete support.
Assemblyman Michael P. Carroll, R-Morris Township, recently said he would
oppose a death penalty repeal.
"There are still some offenses where the guilt is clear and there is no
other alternative for society to express its disgust and outrage other
than this manner," Carroll said. NOTE: Contact State House bureau chief
Tom Hester Jr. at thester at njtimes.com or at (609) 777-4464.
(source: The Trenton Times)
Former Moore supporter reveals chilling prophesy
The woman who filed suit to reinstate Roy Moore as Alabama's Supreme Court
chief justice now fears his election as governor.
Whether Christian talk show host Kelly McGinley had a falling out with the
right wing of the Republican Party or saw a vision of the future, she's
saying some chilling things.
>From Mobile, Ms. McGinley said Mr. Moore and his followers want to
establish a theocracy, or a government by a person or persons who claims
to rule with divine authority.
She said they "wish to bring a government based on Old Testament law,
which would administer the death penalty for offenses ranging from
homosexuality to talking back to your parents."
She says his election could trigger a major showdown between state and
federal governments that could lead to violence.
She links the Republican Party, the Council for National Policy, the Rev.
Sun Myung Moon and Masons in a web of conspiracy to impose Biblical law.
"It is too extreme for the likes of me," she said. But it may be a case of
her being too extreme for Republicans, also. In 2004, the party blocked
her from running for the state school board because of her on-air support
for the Constitution Party, even though Mr. Moore appeared with the
party's presidential candidate last year.
Whether she's got it right or is wrong about Mr. Moores supporters, the
country's radical-right element wants to fundamentally change the nations
government. The Moore wing of the Republican Party is a roiling mass of
fearful people who haven't made the transition to the teachings in the New
As proof of that, Mr. Moore built his candidacy entirely on defying the
constitutional ban on mixing church and state.
(source: Editorial, Decatur Daily)
Authorities doubt Jeremy Jones killed hairdresser
Authorities now say they doubt that suspected serial killer Jeremy Jones
killed a Forsyth County hairdresser whose remains were found behind a
church in neighborhing Dawson County.
Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokesman John Bankhead tells an Atlanta
radio station (W-S-B) that it does NOT appear that Jones had any
involvement in Patrice Endres' disappearance or death. He says
investigators from the G-B-I and both counties are going back over files
to see if they can develop additional leads.
Jones told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week that he lied to
investigators about the hairdresser's disapperance to get better food and
extra telephone and visitation privileges.
Investigators were back at the church yesterday looking for more evidence.
Endres' remains were found December 6th in the area behind the church.
Jones was sentenced to death December 1st in Mobile for the murder of a
Turnerville woman. He also is charged in the deaths of a 16-year-old
Georgia girl and a 45-year-old New Orleans woman.
(source: Associated Press)
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