Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty works for restorative justice in the form of effective alternatives to the death penalty.
The Call for a Moratorium on Executions In Florida
F O R A L T E R N A T I V E S
TO THE DEATH PENALTY (FADP)
15 December 2000
CONTACT: Abe Bonowitz 800-973-6548
The Time for a Death Penalty Moratorium is Past Due!
By Abraham J. Bonowitz, Director of Floridians for
Alternatives to the Death Penalty (FADP).
News that Mr. Frank Lee Smith has been discovered to have been completely innocent of the crime for which he spent 14 years on Florida’s death row should not surprise anyone.
Why? Because Florida has the highest number of persons released from death row after evidence of innocence of a capital crime was discovered. Consider that nationwide, 89 individuals have been released from death row since 1973. Florida alone is responsible for nearly 25% of these miscarriages of justice. Conflicting standards puts the number of innocents released from death row at either 19 or 21. Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty considers Mr. Frank Lee Smith to be number 22. (See attached chart)
Frank Lee Smith died in prison last year after a long and painful bout with cancer. He still clung to his claim of innocence. If Smith were still alive, he would now be breathing the air of freedom for the first time in nearly 16 years. Number 20, or number 22, this is yet another mark of shame on our state.
While innocent people in Florida’s prisons is no revelation, what should surprise people is that for the first time in these 22 Florida cases, proof of innocence comes as a result of DNA testing. After much delay, Governor Jeb Bush is now seeking a mechanism to utilize DNA testing in every capital case where there is physical evidence to test.
Must we remind our Governor and the Florida legislature that DNA is not the remedy to the problem of wrongful imprisonment and the potential of wrongful execution? Florida’s legacy is filled with cases of mistaken identification by witnesses and prosecutorial misconduct, issues which underlie what happened in the Smith case.
State prosecutors now admit that there are other suspects in the Smith case who have never been fully investigated, despite the fact that Smith’s lawyers have been feeding them this information since 1989. Why were these suspects never considered? Because they were suggested by the defense team. So often, the state says, “We have our man,” and when confronted by the prospect of being wrong, prosecutors defend their mistake as if their own lives depend on it. Shouldn’t state officials be held responsible and accountable for their mistakes, just like the rest of us? Isn’t the refusal to rule out plausible suspects just to protect a questionable conviction tantamount to attempted murder? And often overlooked, when we lock up the wrong person, are we leaving the real killer free to harm other people?
Since 1979, the people of Florida have executed 50 prisoners and released 21. And there are serious questions about the guilt or innocence of some of those who have been killed. In August, Equal Justice USA released a damning report which raised reasonable doubts about the guilt of James Adams (executed in 1984), Jesse J. Tafero (1990), and Willie Jasper Darden, Jr. (1998). There are others still on Florida’s death row who can raise serious doubts about their guilt, notably Samuel Jason Derrick, Virginia Larzelere, Paul William Scott, and William Thomas Zeigler. Should we wait until it is too late to hear their claims?
DNA evidence or not, sentenced to death or to life, the law should provide these individuals and others the opportunity to have new evidence heard in court. But few Floridians are aware of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Herrera v. Collins, a Texas case in which the high court ruled that it is constitutional to execute a prisoner who may be innocent, provided they have had a “fair trial.” Frightening, but true. Florida’s rules for reviewing new evidence are not as strict as those in places like Texas or Virginia, but it is harder to do then it should be.
Smith died of cancer eleven months ago. Anyone who has ever been in the hospital knows the frustration of waiting for someone to come to your assistance. It can feel like prison. But imagine being in the hospital in prison. It’s hard enough to get an aspirin, so hospitalization in prison comes only when the need is obvious to a simple guard. Must I say more? The Smith case reminds us that we must question the availability of quality medical treatment in Florida’s prisons, not only for those facing deat
h but for all prisoners. Would Smith still be alive had he had better access to even basic medical attention? Would we be able to free him, apologize, and perhaps even compensate him financially for inconveniencing his life?
Frank Lee Smith had an execution date set in 1990. But he should never have been convicted. Today, he should be free. Who among us can have unflagging confidence in our criminal justice system? It is way past due for a ‘time out.’
Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty calls on Governor Jeb Bush to take the following steps:
#1 – Immediately issue a moratorium on executions in the State of Florida;
#2 – Issue a post-humous declaration of innocence to Frank Lee Smith;
#3 – Apologize on behalf of the state to Smith; and also to the family of Shandra Whitehead, whose killer has not been brought to justice;
#4 – Immediately grant access to complete medical attention for all Florida prisoners, and take other steps to make Florida’s death row and prisons in general more “livable.”
#5 – Appoint an unbiased, non-partisan review commission to determine if it is even possible to fix the problems with Florida’s capital punishment system;
#6 – Convene a special session of the State Legislature on the prevention of violent crime.
Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty will launch a statewide moratorium campaign on Monday, 18 December, 2000. Floridians may get more information by visiting www.fadp.org or by calling 800-973-6548.
The following list is from the Death Penalty Information Center
Year of Conviction
Year of Release
Years between sentence and release
Joseph Green Brown
Anthony Ray Peek
Bradley P. Scott
Joseph N. Green, Jr.
The St. Petersburg Times also counts the following two individuals:
Sonia “Sunny” Jacobs
Joseph Robert Spaziano
CLAIMS OF INNOCENCE
The following was sent as an informational update to the members of the CUADPUpdate e-mail list. To join that list, Click Here!
This issue focuses on MORATORIUM ORGANIZING
* Bloodbath on the way….
* Why Moratorium?
* Good news from the Philippines!
* Moratorium 2000 Events this coming SUNDAY & MONDAY
* Simultaneous events in FLORIDA, ROME, and elsewhere?
* State Moratorium Efforts
Yesterday was December 10, International Human Rights Day, the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Check out text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, available in 250 languages at <http://www.unhchr.ch/udhr/index.htm>.
And remember, EVERY DAY is HUMAN RIGHTS DAY!
* Bloodbath on the way….
On 12/11/2000, the NY Times wrote:
>84 prisoners have been executed in the United States this year, a 14 %
>decline from the 98 put to death in 1999, in what some experts believe is
>one sign of a new sense of caution and skepticism about the death penalty
>among both politicians and the public.
There is definitely skepticism growing among the public, but the dip in the number of executions is simply a blip. Sad to say, and I hope I am wrong, but get ready for the bloodbath. All one has to do to see what’s coming is look at the schedule for executions in January (the “s” indicates that the date is considered to be “serious”):
Number DATE NAME STATE 684 Jan. 4-s Robert Clayton Oklahoma 685 9-s Eddie Trice Oklahoma 686 9-s Jack Clark Texas 687 10-s Robert Glock II Florida 688 11-s Wanda Jean Allen Oklahoma (female) 689 16-s Floyd Medlock Oklahoma 690 17-s Kenneth Laird Arizona (juvenile) 691 18-s Dion Smallwood Oklahoma 692 18-s Alvin Goodwin Texas 693 19-s Bobby Harris North Carolina 694 22-s Steven Butler Texas 695 23-s Mark Fowler Oklahoma 696 25-s Billy Ray Fox Oklahoma 697 30-s Loyd Lefevers Oklahoma 698 31-s Philip Workman Tennessee
SOURCE: Rick Halperin’s web page – access by going to http://www.cuadp.org and click on “Execution Information.”
Oklahoma is only one state with an abundance of cases at or near to the end of the rope (pun intended). Expect Texas and Virginia to keep going, California to get going, Florida to speed up just as quick as Jeb! can manage it, and any number of other states with prisoners on the row longer than 10-12 years to crank it up too. Election season does not start again for a year, and while that gives license to politicians who wish to become *leaders* by discussing moratoria, it gives equal license to politicians to kill as many as they can before the growing “sense of caution and skepticism” catches up with them.
I hope I am wrong, but I fear not. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us all to ORGANIZE.
* Why Moratorium?
There are many many things individuals and groups can do to effectively further our collective work to stop the scourge of state sponsored prisoner killings. CUADP has outlined many of these on our web page – just visit <http://www.cuadp.org/dowhatu.html> for our “YOU ARE MAKING
A DIFFERENCE IF YOU…” listing.
One of the items listed is the suggestion to get involved in the campaign for a moratorium on the death penalty. It’s true, a moratorium is not abolition, but it is equally true that we must reach out to people where they are at, and for most people in this country, that means we must find common ground with their support for the death penalty. BOTH of CUADP’s co-founders used to support the death penalty. We changed our minds because we were given the opportunity to set aside the *concept,* and instead to look at the practice of our death penalty system. Looking at that, we knew that many problems must be corrected before we could say it is OK to continue killing prisoners. Of course, through many experiences and lessons, both George White and I came to the conclusion that even the concept of killing prisoners is repugnant. But we had to take baby steps to that conclusion, as do most people.
And that, my friends, is the beauty and the power of the moratorium movement. The common ground we can easily find with death penalty supporters is that we all want a system that is both accurate and fair. It is not that hard to get people to agree that the system is really screwed up. Hence, “let’s stop it for a while until we can “reform” the system. Let’s call for a moratorium.”
Several grassroots organizations are leading us in the moratorium campaign, both taking their cue from the American Bar Association’s call for a moratorium several years ago.
Moratorium 2000 <http://www.moratorium2000.org> was begun by, among others, Sr. Helen Prejean. M2000’s effort is focused on the gathering of individual signatures on a simple petition calling for a moratorium.
Equal Justice USA <http://www.quixote.org/ej/> has developed the Moratorium Now! campaign, which focuses on getting groups, organizations, and government bodies to pass a resolution calling for a moratorium.
CUADP endorses and participates in BOTH campaigns, and sees the value of implementing the projects in tandem. Please visit their web pages to learn more, to get FREE organizing materials, to contribute, and in the case of M2000, to sign the online petition.
* Good news from the Philippines!
The thing about working toward a moratorium is that it leads to positive developments like what is happening TODAY in the Philippines! Now, this does not happen easily or overnight. CUADP was pleased to be the US-based facilitator for the Philippines Journey of Hope …From Violence to Healing, which took place in the Spring of 1998. Together with anti-DP groups in the Philippines and the Philippines team at Amnesty International in London, CUADP organized several murder victims’ family
members, death row family members, and a prison chaplain/former corrections worker to go to the Philippines to invigorate local activists, appear in the media, make public presentations, and to meet with government officials, including President Estrada. MUCH work went into the follow up, which led to this Reuters headline and story:
Estrada commutes all death sentences in Philippines
BACOLOD, Philippines, Dec 10 (Reuters) – Philippine President Joseph Estrada, threatened with removal from office for alleged corruption, announced on Sunday he would commute to life terms all death sentences that have been imposed by local courts.
The presidential directive would affect more than 1,200 prisoners who have been sentenced to die by lethal injection since the country restored capital punishment in 1994.
“I will order tomorrow all those who are sentenced to death will all be commuted to life imprisonment,” Estrada said in remarks during mass in the central Philippine city of Bacolod on Negros island.
He made the remarks on International Human Rights Day.
The powerful Roman Catholic church in the largely Christian country has strongly opposed the restoration of the death penalty in the Philippines.
It has also been at the forefront of demands for the resignation of Estrada, who is undergoing an impeachment trial in the Senate for allegedly taking bribes from illegal gambling syndicates.
Copyright 2000 Reuters Limited. USED WITHOUT PERMISSION
My comment – How about that! Even under impeachment proceedings, that president is LEADING on a controversial issue like the death penalty!
CUADP invites you to join us in celebrating the following events. CUADP Director Abe Bonowitz will be in New York City for the Sunday event….
* Moratorium 2000 Events this coming SUNDAY & MONDAY
JOIN SR. HELEN PREJEAN AND MORATORIUM 2000
NEW YORK CITY DECEMBER 17 – 18, 2000
Sr. Helen will meet with Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations, on Monday, December 18, 2000. Together with representatives of the Sant’ Egidio Community of Italy and Amnesty International, Moratorium 2000 will present over 2.7 million petition signatures calling for an immediate moratorium on the death penalty.
In the United States, thousands of volunteers are spreading the word about Moratorium 2000. To honor their dedication and hard work, Moratorium 2000 will host a gathering on Sunday, December 17, 2000. You are invited to join this celebration!
Where: The Church Center for the United Nations
777 United Nations Plaza, New York City
The Plaza Room, 2nd Floor
When: Sunday December 17, 2000 1:30 PM – 3:30 PM
RSVP: Moratorium 2000 (504) 864-1071, or send email to
This is an event to celebrate successes and plan for the future! Moratorium 2000 will continue this work into 2001, gathering allies in the call for a moratorium on executions.
There will also be a rally outside the United Nations on Monday, December 18th, 11:30 AM – 1:00 PM when the signatures are being delivered in a private meeting with the Secretary General. We will gather at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, 47th and First Avenue in a show of international solidarity. Bring banners and signs! Sr. Helen and Susan Sarandon will address those gathered around noon.
If you cannot be in New York City, host a simultaneous event in your town to mark this historic event. A rally, a religious service, a candlelight vigil, a visit to your local legislator – the opportunities are endless. Please contact Moratorium 2000 with your plans and ideas.
For all the hard work you have done, Moratorium 2000 sends out thanks and blessings.
Moratorium 2000 * PO Box 13727 New Orleans, LA 70185 *
(504) 864-1071 * www.Moratorium2000.org
* Simultaneous event in FLORIDA and elsewhere?
In Florida, Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty will launch a “Florida Moratorium Campaign” with a press conference featuring former Florida Supreme Court Justice Gerald Kogan.
In Rome, we are told that the Colosseum will be lit.
Check out the picture at:
What’s happening in YOUR neighborhood?
* State Moratorium Efforts
Effective campaigns are being run in a number of states, including Illinois, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. CUADPUpdate will issue a follow up message to this Moratorium Organizing issue with a report on events in New York, Rome and Miami next week, as well as a run-down on state efforts that we are aware of.
IF you are involved in a state moratorium effort, please share with us your program and experiences and we will disseminate same in that follow-up message.
Wishing you and yours all the best this holiday season and in the new year,
Abraham J. Bonowitz
Citizens United for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (CUADP)
Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
2603 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Hwy
Gainesville, FL 32609