California: With state executions on hold, death penalty foes rethink ballot strategy

California advocates of abolishing the death penalty got a jolt of momentum in March, when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he would not allow any executions to take place while he was in office.
But after trying twice this decade to persuade voters to end capital punishment, they have no plans to go to the ballot again in 2020. Rather than seeking to build on Newsom’s temporary reprieve for Death Row inmates, activists are taking their own pause.
Grappling with the legacy of their two failed initiatives, advocates are reassessing their strategy and retooling their message. Natasha Minsker, a political consultant who has long been involved with abolition efforts, said the governor’s moratorium has given advocates the opportunity to do long-term planning.
“There’s this excitement and energy in our movement that we haven’t had in a long time,” Minsker said.
Newsom’s executive order caught many Californians by surprise. Although he supported the unsuccessful ballot measures to abolish t…

Chronicle of a Programmed Death - 1

Texas death row inmate Hank Skinner (left) is scheduled to be executed on February 24, 2010, on the first day of the World Congress Against the Death Penalty. His wife Sandrine Ageorges, the international representative for the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, writes a chronicle of his programmed death on Abolition.fr.

Those who accompany death row prisoners in Texas would probably chose different words to talk about their experience in the “modern” Wild West. When the mask of the “new world” falls to reveal the macabre grimace of a justice system that kills, words are vain and emotions are numerous.

The road to abolition is tortuous and painful when it deals with human beings and their survival in isolation waiting for their programmed deaths. What I learned on Texas death row, and through the life of those tied to it (families and friends of the condemned, victims’ families, attorneys and investigators, abolitionists and those who work on death row) has profoundly changed me and affected me.

To fight for abolition far away from death row is a noble and essential battle, but very different from the struggle on the ground. To assist a death row prisoner is not a casual choice, it requires a sincere and absolute commitment for life and for the truth.

Never before had I imagined that the issue of guilt could be nothing else but an exception. Nonetheless this justice exists and thrives; the justice of results and immediacy, politics using justice for electoral and populist purposes, a justice system that prides itself of an “infallible” procedure, disregarding the truth and human lives.

In Texas, this “justice” system sacrifices lives on the altar of politics and perpetuates the worst lie of all with total impunity. During the past decade, the situation has evolved substantially, for better and for worse. Progress, which appears too slow, is nonetheless tangible and encouraging.

It is this better and this worse I discovered when I met with a death row prisoner almost 14 years ago. Despite a compelling case of innocence, the state and federal courts have spent the past 14 years using procedural loopholes to ensure that exculpatory forensic evidence never be admissible in a court of law and that potentially exculpatory evidence never be tested at all.

After a long tunnel of sterile appeals, the perspective of his execution has materialized as his execution date has been set for February 24, 2010. How ironic, an execution date on the first day of the 4th International Congress against the Death Penalty…

It is the story of a long path shared with Hank Skinner on Texas death row.

Sandrine Ageorges, December 23, 2009

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