Chairman Ron Steiner reviews the many accomplishments of 2014. Honing winning campaign messages through polling and focus groups will require creativity, skilled professional guidance, and your support.
Washington Post: Maryland, Connecticut and New Mexico should commute the death sentences of those still lingering on the row after their states repeal prospectively.
Organizing for a Repeal Campaign
The 2014 election and political year has brought much good news and reason for optimism for supporters of repeal of Oregon’s death penalty. At long last, we can see our opportunity coming to bring this issue before the voters. The re-election of Governor John Kitzhaber means that there will be no executions in our state during the coming four years, and that our citizens are willing to consider his call to replace a failed, unfair, ineffective and costly criminal justice policy with one that will keep us safe and eliminate the risk of executing an innocent person.
In addition, supporters of repeal have been returned to the Oregon legislature, and issues that have consumed a great deal of political energy, such as same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization, have been resolved. Our turn is coming, and we are hopeful that the legislature will refer the issue of repeal to voters for either the 2016 or 2018 general election.
Over the past several months, OADP has been collaborating extensively with other like-minded organizations in a working group toward the formation of an actual campaign organization. While we have had supportive relationships with these groups in the past, other priorities have prevented a number of them from being able to devote the resources necessary to bring repeal to the voters. Now the decks are clearing. Our mutual goal is to make life without possibility of parole the most severe criminal penalty available for the crime of aggravated murder.
An important decision made by the working group during the fall is the selection of a locally based and nationally recognized political consulting firm. Our campaign messaging will be informed by the polling and research to be done by this firm in the next few months. Each working group organization is determining its ability to fund this essential research. OADP’s share of the cost is an important reason for OADP members and supporters to step up and donate at this time.
We haven’t been this close to possible repeal of the death penalty since 1964. We are excited about the creation of the working group and the forward steps we are taking with our partners. As OADP Chair Ron Steiner explains in his letter below, now is the time to build this larger organization and now is the time for OADP members and supporters to commit in a serious way to funding this important endeavor.
ACLU of Oregon - An advocacy organization dedicated to preserving and advancing civil liberties and civil rights. It is organized as a private, non-profit, membership organization with more than 10,000 members and a staff of eight. It has an office in Portland and a chapter in Lane County.
Amnesty International – A Nobel Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with over one million members worldwide. It is dedicated to freeing prisoners of conscience, gaining fair trials for prisoners, ending torture and abolishing the death penalty. There are chapters in Portland, Bend, Corvallis and Southern Oregon.
Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon (EMO) - A statewide association of Christian denominations, congregations, ecumenical organizations and interfaith partners working together to improve the lives of Oregonians through community ministry programs, ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, environmental ministry and public policy advocacy.
Oregon Capital Resource Center – Funded by the Office of Public Defense Services, the Center provides assistance to attorneys representing defendants in capital murder cases.
Oregon Justice Resource Center Assists with trial and appellate litigation on behalf of indigent, prisoner, and low-income clients in federal and state courts on a range of civil liberties and civil rights matters, including but not limited to the death penalty, immigrant rights, and unfair procedural barriers to the courts.
Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty is an organization of criminal justice activists joined in a concerted effort to increase the effectiveness of Oregon's response to violent interpersonal crime and to repeal of the Oregon death penalty. Members include victims' survivors, attorneys, religious leaders, teachers and over 2,000 concerned citizens. OADP is supported by over 100 secular and faith-based organizations.
As we come to the end of another year in the journey to repeal the Oregon death penalty, let me first thank all of the members and supporters who have donated and made other contributions to our campaign.
With the re-election of Governor John Kitzhaber, Oregon is safe from any executions as the moratorium that he declared in 2011 remains in place. This is good news in many ways. Without the pressure of impending executions, the educational effort that OADP has been pursuing can continue in a measured and orderly fashion.
During 2014, throughout the state, there were scores of OADP outreach opportunities when repeal and replacement of the death penalty were discussed. In schools, libraries, churches, service club meetings, town halls and public events, OADP provided information that allowed for open sharing. In every instance, those with opposing views were respected and allowed to feel “safe” to express opposition or raise serious questions.
In our experience, when reasonable people learn the real facts about the death penalty, it is a very difficult law to defend.
Added to OADP’s aggressive efforts to educate the public, there have been many national news stories that pointed out the flaws of the death penalty system. Botched executions in Ohio, Oklahoma and Arizona shocked the public and traumatized members of the teams of public employees deployed to conduct the executions.
Three more men have been exonerated from death row during 2014. The exonerations of Glenn Ford in Louisiana, Henry McCollum in North Carolina, and Carl Dausch in Florida took the national total to 147 since 1973. Ford and McCollum had served over 30 years before their convictions were overturned. These cases again point out the many mistakes made in murder trials and sentencing.
Additionally, U.S. District Justice Cormac J. Carney, a George Bush appointee, declared the California death penalty unconstitutional in the case of Ernest Dewayne Jones.
These national stories have been repeatedly featured in Oregon media and undoubtedly are adding to the mountain of information that the death penalty is fatally flawed. Our contact with Oregon citizens leads us to believe that public opinion is moving in our direction. But anecdotal evidence is not a sufficient basis for action.
As discussed in our lead article, it is now time to do additional polling and opinion research to determine which of our messages will best resonate with likely voters. Favorable polling data can be critical to convince legislators to put the issue on the ballot by means of a legislative referral. Favorable polling data is also necessary to attract campaign funding from national foundations and funding organizations.
Our share of the cost of this polling and opinion research is substantial. We need your contribution—if possible at a substantially increased level—to fund this effort and at the same time continue our public educational programs. We’re confident that the consulting firm engaged by our working group will provide us with the highest quality messaging research and advice. It is a good investment of your donation and a necessary one.
If you are considering a year-end donation, please make it today. If you can’t, please send us a brief note with your pledge to donate as soon as possible, preferably before the end of 2014, so that we know we can count on your support. If you’d like to donate monthly by automatic draft from your bank account or credit card, that is possible on the Donate page of our website.
Send checks or pledges to P.O. Box 2765, Salem, OR. 97308. Or, go to www.oadp.org and donate using your credit card or through PayPal by automatic deduction from your checking account. We thank you for your consideration and support.
Support from Oregon legislators, both House and Senate, is important to our repeal campaign. First of all, they are leaders in their communities with extensive communication networks. Their position on repeal will influence their constituents. Second, a likely way that repeal will get on the ballot in an upcoming election is by legislative referral. If both houses of the legislature agree on a proposed ballot measure, it is automatically on the ballot. The alternative is an initiative petition, which requires us to collect over 100,000 signatures at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars. While we have not ruled out going the initiative petition route, the cost advantage of a legislative referral is clear.
So the campaign to repeal Oregon’s death penalty will need the support of legislators. You can help our campaign by getting to know your state representative and state senator. Once the legislative session gets started in January, we’ll be asking you to contact them to talk about a death penalty repeal measure. For now, a short, congratulatory message to those just elected or re-elected will help open the door to later communications.
All state House representatives and half of all state senators have just been newly elected or re-elected. You can tell whether your state senator was up for re-election this year at http://gov.oregonlive.com/election/2012/Legislature. In a congratulatory message, it would be helpful if you know what their campaign messages were, and if you agree with any priorities they have outlined or commitments they have made, let them know you appreciate and support their position. They are more likely to listen to your position on the death penalty if they know you are a supporter of things that are important to them. You can find out what they value by looking at any campaign literature you may still have around the house, or by googling their name and reviewing their campaign website.
If you’re not sure who your state representative and state senator are, go to the Oregon Legislature website, www.oregonlegislature.gov. At the bottom of the home page is a box entitled “Find My Legislators.” Just type in your address and it will tell you who they are. Every legislator has a page on the Legislature’s website that includes their contact information. Email is an easy and effective way to communicate with them. The state web site will be updated with the new legislative members in the next few weeks.
In an attempt to create a sustaining base for the funding of repeal work in Oregon, OADP will launch a new campaign starting in January of 2015. Titled Circles of Eight, the plan is designed to establish an affordable way for many people to participate in a meaningful way.
The design is simple…… one person who cares deeply about repeal of the death penalty, takes on the role of a “Circle Leader”. That Leader then identifies seven other people who are like-minded and want better alternatives for dealing with crime, violence and murder in our communities. Those eight people then form a circle of support.
Each circle establishes a level of financial support that is affordable to each of its members. The metrics for success are very simple. As an example, if circle members determine that each member can afford to make a pledge to donate $10 each month to help sustain the vital work of OADP, that circle would provide $960 over the subsequent 12 months.
If the pledges are $5, the 12-month total is still significant at $480. Whether the level is $5, or $10 or $20 or more, the main idea is to make it affordable and sustaining.
To get the ball rolling OADP is planning on hosting a series of free breakfast meetings throughout the state to kick off local campaigns. We would hope to have a large number of circles throughout the state. This plan can work for neighborhoods in large cities like Portland, Eugene, Salem, Hillsboro, Medford and in the smallest of towns across the state. We just need one person to initiate the circle and off we go.
The individual pledges need not all be the same. We want the plan to be as flexible as possible to encourage the greatest number of participants. Payments will be handled by automatic monthly withdrawals from a bank account or credit card through Pay Pal on our oadp.org web site. Our OADP volunteers can help you get it set up. For those who do not use internet, OADP will provide you with a set of pre-addressed envelopes that can be used to mail in checks.
As we establish a schedule of the free breakfasts to be staged starting in January we seek volunteers to help us locate a venue and start to create some buzz among friends, neighbors, congregations, service clubs, families, classes, book clubs….. any group that wants to repeal the Oregon death penalty.
You can name your Circle, and OADP will assign a number so that we can all keep track of progress on our web site. If you’re interested in signing up as a Circle Leader, call Ron Steiner, at (503) 990-7060. Stay tuned for a breakfast announcement coming your way soon.
Frank Thompson, former Oregon State Penitentiary superintendent, and Aba Gayle, a Silverton Oregon mother who lost a daughter to murder, are both influencing the national debate on the repeal of the death penalty. Both Oregonians serve on the board of directors for Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (OADP) and are often called upon to share their stories as to why the death penalty should be repealed.
Aba Gayle was the keynote speaker at the Annual Meeting of the Washington Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (WCADP) on October 18 in Bellevue, Washington. Aba Gayle speaks throughout the country and in many foreign countries, sharing her journey from being an emotional prisoner of revenge and anger to a place of reconciliation and forgiveness following the family tragedy of losing a loved one to murder. As well as being a member of the board of directors of Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, she serves on the board of Murder Victim Families for Human Rights, an international advocacy group seeking repeal and replacement of the death penalty with policies that provide support and services to families of murder victims.
Aba Gayle lost her daughter to homicide in 1980. After spending several years in what she calls her “time of darkness,” she decided it was necessary, for her own health and well-being, to forgive her daughter’s murderer. She began her path toward healing, which led her to San Quentin, where she met the man who took her daughter from her. “When I left San Quentin that day, after only one visit, I knew that I would never stop spreading the word that these men were human beings and not monsters. I knew that I would be a political and social advocate on their behalf. And, I knew that if the State of California ever executes Douglas Mickey, they would be killing my friend.”
Frank Thompson, who was the featured speaker at recent events in Nebraska and Illinois, was the superintendent at the Oregon State Penitentiary and oversaw the only two Oregon executions in the past 50 years. Mr. Thompson serves on the OADP board of directors and is a member of a group of former prison superintendents and wardens from across the country that speak against the death penalty as a “failed public policy,” one that places employees of the state in the difficult position of aiding in the taking of another human being’s life. “It is wrong to ask good, loyal, hardworking men and women to participate in the task of executions. The immediate and long-term effects can be extremely harmful. The death penalty is not necessary, when there are alternatives for punishing offenders and keeping the public safe,” states Mr. Thompson.
A veteran of over 35 years of service in the military, law enforcement and corrections, Thompson was a featured panelist on November 6 at Wheaton College (IL), in a Round Table Discussion on the death penalty along with Wheaton College professor Vince Bacote, theologians Gabriel Salguero and David Gushee, and death row exoneree Kirk Bloodsworth. He was the keynote speaker for the Annual Meeting of Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty on November 10 at Creighton University, in Omaha, NE.
The experiences that both Aba Gayle and Frank Thompson have had are unique and important messages to share when a discussion on the death penalty takes place. The Oregon activists are well respected and sought after by organizations and universities holding forums to discuss this national issue of importance.
Pope Francis Takes Strong Stand against Death Penalty
In an address to a group from the International Association of Criminal Law, Pope Francis last month called on all men and women of good will to fight for the abolition of the death penalty in “all of its forms.” He was apparently referring not only to judicially sanctioned capital punishment as a response to crime, but also to “extrajudicial or extralegal” killing promulgated by other branches of governments for political and security reasons.
In what Vatican Radio called “a dense and impassioned discourse,” Pope Francis stressed “that the enforcement of legal penalties must always respect human dignity.” He decried the impulse to respond to crime with severe punishment rather than by pursuing social justice. In his talk, the Pontiff denounced a wide range of injustices, in addition to the death penalty, from public corruption and acquiescence in human trafficking to detention without trial, extraordinary rendition, and torture.
With respect specifically to judicially sanctioned executions, he referenced the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states that "the traditional teaching of the church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor." The pope’s unequivocal comment on this teaching to the group before him was that, "It is impossible to imagine that states today cannot make use of another means than capital punishment to defend peoples' lives from an unjust aggressor."
Calling the death penalty “a blight on our state,” Archbishop Alexander K. Sample of the Archdiocese of Portland has said, “I stand with all of you to do whatever we can to oppose and rid our state of it.” After listing the numerous secular reasons that the death penalty is unjust and fails to protect us, he referred to the “consistent ethic of life” in Catholic theology—“our conviction that all human life has a dignity and a value that must be respected.” He called on Catholics “to share our convictions with courage and clarity” and to “reach out to those in our parishes to be advocates for change.” The Archbishop’s full remarks can be viewed at oadp.org/supporters/religious-leaders.
OADP calls on all Catholics to recognize both the religious and the secular reasons to oppose Oregon’s death penalty and to work actively for its repeal.
Washington State is Spending Tens of Millions on Death Penalty
Three capital cases in one county have already cost Washington almost $10 million, and have barely begun. For the trial of Christopher Monfort, King County has already spent over $4 million, and it is still in the jury selection phase. Two other capital cases in the county have cost a combined $4.9 million, and the trials have not started. The capital case of serial killer Gary Ridgway, which is believed to be the most expensive case in Washington's history, cost about $12 million and resulted in a sentence of life without parole. In February, Governor Jay Inslee instituted a moratorium on executions in Washington, highlighting both the costs and the arbitrariness of the death penalty, noting, "Equal justice under the law is the state's primary responsibility. And in death penalty cases, I'm not convinced equal justice is being served. The use of the death penalty in this state is unequally applied, sometimes dependent on the budget of the county where the crime occurred." Defense attorney Mark Larrañaga said, "It is a complete waste of resources and time. We've had five executions in 40 years. Seventy-five to 80 percent of these cases are reversed."
Cuyahoga County, Ohio prosecutors have filed a motion to drop murder charges against Ricky Jackson and his co-defendants, Wiley Bridgeman and Kwame Ajamu (pictured, formerly known as Ronnie Bridgeman). The three men were convicted of murder in 1975 on the testimony of a 12-year-old boy who has since recanted and said he did not witness the crime. All three were sentenced to death. Bridgeman once came within three weeks of execution, but his and Ajamu's death sentences were struck down when Ohio's death penalty was found unconstitutional in 1978. Ajamu had been released from prison in 2003, but Jackson and Bridgeman had spent 39 years in prison. Both were released after a judge officially dismissed their charges on November 21. When he was released, Jackson said, "The English language doesn’t even fit what I’m feeling. I’m on an emotional high. You sit in prison for so long and think about this day but when it actually comes you don’t know what you’re going to do, you just want to do something.” Judge Richard McMonagle, who dismissed the charges against Jackson, said, “Life is filled with small victories, and this is a big one.”
Washington Post Reports on Marshall Project Report: Death by Deadline
Part I: An investigation by The Marshall Project showed that since Congress put strict time restrictions on federal appeals in 1996, lawyers for death row inmates missed the deadline at least 80 times, including 16 in which the prisoners have since been executed. The most recent of such cases occurred on Nov. 13, when Chadwick Banks was put to death in Florida with no review in federal court. This final part of a death penalty appeal, also called habeas corpus, has been a lifesaver for inmates whose cases were marked with mistakes ignored by state courts. The Project's report, Death by Deadline, noted, "Some of the lawyers' mistakes can be traced to their misunderstandings of federal habeas law and the notoriously complex procedures that have grown up around it. Just as often, though, the errors have exposed the lack of care and resources that have long plagued the patchwork system by which indigent death-row prisoners are provided with legal help." One Alabama lawyer who missed the deadline was addicted to methamphetamine and was on probation for public intoxication. An attorney in Texas who filed too late had been reprimanded for misconduct, while another Texas lawyer had been put on probation twice by the state bar. Two weeks after being appointed in the death penalty case, he was put on probation again.
Part II: Part Two of its investigation into the federal review of state death penalty cases, Death by Deadline, The Marshall Project found that in almost every case where lawyers missed crtiical filing deadlines for federal appeals, the only person sanctioned was the death row prisoner. Often the inmate's entire federal review was forfeited. The report highlighted the disparity between the 17 federal judicial districts where government-funded attorneys carefully monitor capital cases to ensure deadlines are met, and the other 77 districts, where appeals lawyers are appointed by judges and receive little oversight. In Florida, which produced 37 of the 80 missed deadline cases, appeals lawyers are selected from a state registry that includes lawyers who have previously missed deadlines in several capital cases. U.S. District Court judge Timothy Corrigan chastised one attorney who filed after the cutoff in three separate cases, saying, "I would be remiss if I did not share my deep concern that in these cases our federal system of justice fell short in the very situation where the stakes could not be higher.” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently commented on the strict deadlines in capital cases, saying, “When you’re talking about the state taking someone’s life, there has to be a great deal of flexibility within the system to deal with things like deadlines. If you rely on process to deny what could be a substantive claim, I worry about where that will lead us.”
In a recent editorial, the Washington Post urged Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley to commute the sentences of the four men remaining on the state's death row, saying, "To carry out executions post-repeal would be both cruel, because the legislation underpinning the sentence has been scrapped, and unusual, because doing so would be historically unprecedented." Maryland is one of three states that have repealed the death penalty prospectively but still have inmates on death row. The others are Connecticut and New Mexico. O'Malley, who is leaving office in January, was a supporter of repeal. Maryland attorney Douglas Gansler, who opposed repeal, recently said that carrying out an execution in Maryland is, "illegal and factually impossible." The editorial concluded, "In signing the abolition of capital punishment into law last year, [O'Malley] was unequivocal: 'It’s wasteful. It’s ineffective. It doesn’t work to reduce violent crime.' Having made the moral case for abolition so eloquently, he should have no trouble making the practical case for commutation to life without parole for the four remaining condemned men. And he should act without further delay."
Capital punishment is legal in the U.S. state of Oregon. The first execution under the territorial government was in 1851. Capital punishment was made explicitly legal by statute in 1864, and executions have been carried out exclusively at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem since 1904. The death penalty was outlawed between 1914 and 1920, again between 1964 and 1978, and then again between a 1981 Oregon Supreme Court ruling and a 1984 ballot measure. Since 1904, about 60 individuals have been executed in Oregon. Aggravated murder is the only crime subject to the penalty of death under Oregon law.