The Exoneree Band

One good thing happened Monday – The Exoneree Band played a benefit for Innocence Project Northwest at Century Ballroom for International Wrongful Conviction Day. Anytime you combine music and justice, it’s a good thing!

All the band members are former prisoners who were exonerated:

The music was great – mostly originals, like Only Freedom Matters:

Here the members of the band talk about their experience of being wrongfully convicted on New Day Northwest on KING 5:

The concert was part of a week of events by Innocence Project Northwest, Witness to Innocence and the Washington Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, including a Witness to Innocence Panel on Thursday night, October 5, 7-8:30 pm, Room 138 at the UW School of Law, featuring death row exonerees Sabrina Butler-Smith and Randal Padgett.




Troy Davis – Standing for Justice in the Rain

We had an inspiring and very wet rally in support of Troy Davis on Tuesday night, in spite of being off to a late start and having to do without a sound system.

We heard from Jeff Ellis for the Washington Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, who spoke about the injustice in Troy’s and other cases, and why the death penalty is wrong in all cases. 


James Bible of the NAACP spoke next about the importance of standing for justice, and bringing all our friends to stand with us.  He also introduced and highlighted the case of recently released Gerald Hankerson, who spoke of nearly giving up hopes for justice in his case. James Bible was brought back up later in the vigil to read a statement from Troy Davis in the now pouring rain (and spoke as well about a young man, 13 at the time of his crime facing the Life Without Parole).


Ours was one of many on what was a Global Day of Action for Troy around the world. 

I’ve posted more details on previous posts.  In bullet points from the AI Fact Sheet:

  • There is no physical evidence against Troy Davis
  • The weapon used in the crime was never found.
  • The case against him consisted entirely of witness testimony.
  • Seven of the nine non-police witnesses have recanted or contradicted their testimony.
  • Many of these witnesses have stated they were pressured or coerced by police.
  • One of the two witnesses who has not recanted or contradicted testimony is Sylvester Coles the principal alternative suspect.
  • Nine individuals have signed affidavits implicating Sylvester Coles.
  • Troy Davis has never had a hearing in federal court on the reliability of the witness testimony against him.

Take action online at:

Read the report “Where is the justice for me? The case of Troy Davis, facing execution in Georgia at:

Tues. Vigils for Troy Davis – Westlake & Around the World

Seattle will be holding a vigil for Georgia death row prisoner Troy Davis tomorrow night, Tuesday, May 19, 6–8 pm at Westlake Plaza as part of a Global Day of Action by Amnesty International members and friends throughout the US and around the world. Speakers at Seattle’s vigil include Jeff Ellis from the Washington Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and James Bible of the NAACP.


It’s shocking, when in this country, evidence of innocence can not be heard in a capitol punishment case.  Yet, as Amnesty International noted:

Restrictions on Federal appeals have prevented Troy Anthony Davis from having a hearing in federal court on the reliability of the witness testimony used against him, despite the fact that most of the witnesses have since recanted, many alleging they were pressured or coerced by police. Troy Davis remains on Georgia death row, and may be scheduled for execution in the near future.

Troy is currently just past his 30 day stay following an April 16 denial of Troy’s case by the 11th District Circuit Court of Appeals, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that he will file a last-ditch appeal to the Supreme Court on Tuesday. Amnesty International includes a link to the 11th District ruling online.

One thing that struck me about the ruling was, as commented on by the Atlanta Progressive News, the ruling quoted Democratic Senators’ political posturing as reasoning for why new evidence of innocence should not be considered, including then Senator (now VP) Biden, Senator Feinstein and Senator Kennedy, claiming they don’t want to go against the wishes of Congress:

“The vast majority of us… want to and have been trying for years to change the old system to limit the time in which a petition can be filed and to limit the number of petitions that can be filed. So essentially you get one bite out of the apple,” then-US Sen. Biden (D-DE) said, according to the 1995 Congressional Record.

“The proposal to limit inmates to one bite at the apple is sound in principle,” US Sen. Kennedy had said.

So, because we have Democrats jumping on the “tough on crime” band wagon, passing laws refusing to let proof of innocence be heard, that’s reason enough for the courts to abandon justice as well.

Indeed, it was during a Democratic administration that this damaging legislation was passed and signed into law by then President Clinton.

Enacted in 1996, the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act , among other things, placed limits on the grounds upon which someone on death row could request a new federal hearing.

The AEDPA “tightened these limits by requiring successive petitioners to show both cause — or diligence — as well as a fundamental miscarriage of justice — or actual innocence,” the majority judges noted.

As dissenting Judge Rosemary Barkett points out:

This case highlights the difficulties in navigating AEDPA’s thicket of procedural brambles,” Barkett wrote. “While we must deal with the thorny constitutional and statutory questions before us, we also cannot lose sight of the underlying issue in this case.” 
“Simply put, the issue is whether Troy Anthony Davis may be lawfully executed when no court has ever conducted a hearing to assess the reliability of the score of affidavits that, if reliable, would satisfy the threshold showing for a truly persuasive demonstration of actual innocence, thus entitling Davis to habeas relief.”
“To execute Davis, in the face of a significant amount of proffered evidence that may establish his actual innocence, is unconscionable and unconstitutional,” Barkett wrote.


Shouldn’t innocence matter?  Especially when the death penalty is involved?  Sorry, it’s too late to prove Troy’s innocence because the Federal Judges don’t want to offend Congress? Too late because we have Congress members and Judges who would rather kill an innocent man than not appear “tough on crime” by allowing him a chance to prove his innocence?



Learn more and take part in a vigil in your community or act online at:

A Vigil and a Stay – Does Innocence Matter?

On Thursday night, our local Amnesty International group and allies held a vigil for Troy Davis who was scheduled to be executed on Monday, October 27, after the Supreme Court had refused on October 14 to even consider his case and the question of whether it is a constitutional violation to execute a potentially innocent person.


On Friday, we received the welcome news that the 11th Circuit Court has issued a stay while they consider Troy’s case.  I find it disturbing, though, that apparently the same question as to whether he can be executed even if there is evidence of his innocence remains. 

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

The judges called the stay “conditional” and said they want to hear more from Davis’ lawyers and state attorneys.

Davis must clear two difficult legal hurdles to win a new round of appeals.

First, he must show that his lawyers could not have previously found the new evidence supporting his innocence no matter how diligently they looked for it. And he must show that the new testimony, viewed in light of all the evidence, is enough to prove “by clear and convincing evidence that…no reasonable fact finder would have found [him] guilty.”

The 11th Circuit added a twist. It asked the parties to address whether Davis can still be executed if he can establish innocence under the second standard but cannot satisfy his burden under the first, due-diligence question.

Does innocence matter?  That seems like it should be an easy to answer question, but apparently not to our courts.

Since Davis’ 1991 trial, seven of nine key prosecution witnesses have backed off their testimony. Others have come forward and implicated another man in the killing of 27-year-old Savannah Police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail.

Shouldn’t new evidence be considered?  What kind of justice is it to kill an innocent man?

At our vigil, on a world wide national day of action, we collected signatures on petitions to fax to the parole board.  According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a petition with 140,000 signatures was delivered to the State Board of Pardons and Paroles at a protest in Atlanta on Friday.

We were joined at our vigil by the Total Experience Gospel Choir, whose songs included Amazing Grace and Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand.


We were also joined by the UW’s Amnesty International group.  Stefanie Anderson, AI’s state Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator, organized the event, also sponsored by the Washington Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and spoke for AI.  AI’s Washington State Area Coordinator, Larry Ebersole, read a poem entitled “Appeal” he wrote for Troy.

   – For Troy Davis on death row, Georgia  (USA)
what can I say
the man
will be killed, years ago
the state, began preparations
not the first time,
knew what to do —
took many a life
before him,
took doctors
(until they refused)
to measure the dosage
for lethal injection,
took Governors,
statesmen to explain
the Why,
took willing guards
(many unwilling) 
in prisons,
to make a captive
suitable for sacrifice
what can I say
that has not been said,
argued in stately manners
at rally, legal briefs in courtrooms
before judges and executioners
what can I say
the authority of System
makes facts into strangers,
kills men in warfare and execution
starves families in ghetto liberty
what can I say:
this silence is death
and not yet death
– Let the man live !
– Halt his sacrifice !.
 (Laurence H. Ebersole, 10/24/08)
More updates to follow on Troy’s case as it develops.  You can check for updates on his Amnesty International page, and sign the petition online at:
I leave you with a video of the Total Experience Gospel Choir from Thursday’s vigil:

Nickelsville At Discovery Park

So, Mayor Nickels forced the homeless encampment, Nickelsville, to move again last Wednesday night.  This time the Nickelodeons (as they call themselves) moved to the grounds of Daybreak Star, the cultural center for the United Indians of All Tribes at Discovery Park.

Unfortunately, as the Seattle PI reported, it turned out that, while members of the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation were accepting of their new neighbors, the land for the center was leased from the city, who posted 72 hour notices by Thursday evening.  An update from the neighborhood blog, Magnolia Voice, reports that the campers now have until Wednesday to move, although the city is planning on fining Nickelsville $150 a day starting Monday night at 5 pm.

In spite of past intervention by the Governor (mentioned previously), and, Seattle area State Legislatures, according to the Seattle Weekly’s blog, the Nickels’ administration’s only interest in the situation seems to be punitive – send police, levy fines, and move the homeless off city land.  Claims of providing housing for everyone who needs it do not appear to be true. 

Personally, I think Mayor Nickels is like Senator McCain.  He just doesn’t get it, and, let’s face it, he’s working for the downtown business interests and those of the wealthy like Paul Allen.  While high price condos are going in and affordable housing destroyed, the Mayor is focusing on “workforce housing” for people who make over twice what I (and many others) do.  While I do think it’s important to keep housing for middle class workers (and it says a lot when even that is disappearing), where is there left for low income workers like myself (unless you’re lucky enough to have a below market unit), let alone the homeless?  Yes, there is money for subsidies, but it’s not enough to cover all the people who would need it; let alone the fact most people just want affordable housing, not charity.  There are plans to help the homeless, in the future, but more affordable housing is disappearing and where do they go meanwhile?

To Nickelsville, which is still looking for a permanent home!

Juan Melendez & The Case Against the Death Penalty

Death row exoneree Juan Roberto Melendez spoke tonight at the Seattle University School of Law, telling of his nearly 18 years on Florida’s death row for a murder he didn’t commit. Juan described a short trial, which the judge still complained was too long; with evidence including a confession from the real killer emerging years later.


Juan talked about his anger on death row, and other prisoners befriending him and teaching him to read and write English and more.  He described the deaths of many of his friends on death row itself, through suicide and a friend who died of a heart attack or stroke on the exercise area. His friend collapsed while playing basketball.  The guards called for the nurse, a white man who was chewing and spitting tobacco, just took his time getting there, then getting the oxygen, then saying that one was empty and he would need to go back for another one.  Juan asked why couldn’t mouth to mouth resuscitation be done.  The nurse responded with racial epithets why he wouldn’t help a black man.  Juan finally convinced them to let him try, but it was too late and his friend died in his arms.

Juan talked about considering suicide himself, and even bribing the guard for a plastic bag to tie up and hang himself with (as some of his friends had); but deciding to sleep on it and having a dream of his childhood in Puerto Rico involving swimming with dolphins and his mother smiling on the shore.  His rediscovered faith and his mothers and aunts got him through.

Eighteen years is a long time, but at least Juan was exonerated in time.  What if it was too late? Consider this – that he was the 99th death row prisoner exonerated since the death penalty was reinstated in the U.S. in 1976, and there are now 127.  That alone should be reason enough to reconsider and abolish it once more (as most civilized countries, including Canada, Mexico and the entire European Union have).  Truth is, it’s just revenge; but what if it turns out you took revenge on the wrong man (or woman, as has happened as well)?

For more information on the death penalty see:

Amnesty International:

National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty:

Washington Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty:

Nickelsville in Limbo

So, Mayor Nickels did send the police in Friday to clear out Nickelsville, as promised.  Fortunately, the Church Council of Greater Seattle was able to get Ron Judd from Governor Gregoire’s office to negotiate a temporary reprieve and 42 of the tents were moved to a parking lot on state land until Wednesday, according to accounts in the  Times and PI. Twenty two chose to be arrested to make their point while the police tore down the pink tents and wooden shanty town structures residents and their helpers were already constructing.

Where are the people to go, though?  According to the PI, “on Thursday night, about 140 people slept in Nickelsville”.  The Times claims that the city has offered shelter to all that want it and only 14 Nickelsville residents have taken them up on the offer. Thursday’s PI quotes the Mayor’s spokesperson, Karin Zaugg Black, as saying that “shelters beds were ‘available for everyone or anyone.’  ‘We’ve never had to turn anyone away’ from a shelter after removing him or her from a camp, she said.

But according to the Nickelsville website:

Mayor Nickels continues to argue that there are shelters available. Friday night after Nickelsville was evicted from City land, Operation Nightwatch was still unable to find shelters for all who asked despite the Mayor’s statement that 60-80 new beds would be opened that night.  They referred people to the now reduced in size Nickelsville operating in the nearby State of Washington DOT parking lot.

Also according to the Nickelsville site:

During the One Night Count of January 2008, it was found that 8439 people were homeless in King County. 5808 had shelter through existing programs but 2631 were without, a 15% increase over last year. 34 homeless people have died outside this year alone.

While I don’t like the idea of the return of shantytown “Hoovervilles” or a Nickelsville, where are these people supposed to go?  At the rate we’re going, both towards ever increasing rents as Seattle goes condo, and with the economy tanking (couldn’t we turn some of those condos into low income housing?), I fear I may end out on the street some day in the not to distant future.  A shanty would be more comfortable than sleeping outside or in a tent.  It’s becoming in America like it is in the so called third world, isn’t it?  There’s going to be the rich in their condos and gated communities, with a vanishing middle class, and the rest of us living in shanty slums.

Yet, consider this – the dignity and determination of those building Nickelsville, while the Mayor, sitting in his comfortable home and office, does nothing to help, only threatening to evict everyone, claiming to put them in shelter space that doesn’t exist.  Yet, Mayor Nickels always has time to help his friend Paul Allen build another stadium (ironically, where Hooverville in Seattle used to stand) or unneeded trolley to the neighborhood Paul and his friends are developing.

Have a heart, Mayor Nickels.  Let these people stay, or find them real shelter.


Does Innocence Matter?

Should innocence be considered as a reason not to execute someone?  That it should may seem self-evident.  Yet, apparently innocence is not considered a valid reason for a federal appeal for a death penalty case at the moment.

I was surprised to learn this when I received an e-mail from the regional office of Amnesty International about the Supreme Court’s stay of execution for Troy Davis an hour and a half before his scheduled execution in Georgia pending a ruling on whether to hear his case Monday. If the Supreme Court agrees to hear Troy’s case, it could affect many others.  If they refuse to hear it, he could be executed as soon as Monday evening. 


According to Amnesty International:

If the case is heard, it would likely be in October with a spring ruling.  The case potentially has huge ramifications.  Currently, the federal appeals process has been closed to Troy due to the ’96 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which only allows habeas petitions when there is a constitutional question.  Believe it or not, the courts have not ruled whether it is a constitutional violation to execute the innocent, although they did hint in this direction in a ’93 decision.  As a result, this case could carve out a constitutional right for the innocent and reopen federal appeals courts to capital cases.  It is very far-reaching, and it shows how important Troy’s case could become. 

Reading up more about Troy’s case on Amnesty’s death penalty page, I was struck when reading the report by the questions raised by a number of eye witnesses who have recanted their testimony or come forward since, saying Troy is innocent; some saying they were coerced by police, others frightened by the man they say did it.


I was also moved by the interview with Troy’s sister, Martina Davis-Correia, about the affect Troy’s arrest, trial and sentence to death has had on their family. 

“I know Troy is innocent,” she resolutely affirms. “Me and my brother are really, really close, where we can finish each others sentences and whether he was guilty or not I would stand by him, but the fact that he’s innocent and in this position, it’s like stabbing me in the chest.”


Her family was not allowed into the court during the trial until the sentencing phase, apparently a common technique in death penalty cases to make the jury believe the defendant has no one who supports him.  It was especially hard on their mother, and their father died within months of the verdict. 


Martina Davis, a long time Amnesty International member, is currently AI’s State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator (SDPAC) for Georgia and Chair of AIUSA’s Program to Abolish the Death Penalty Steering Committee. 


“I joined Amnesty when I was a teenager in the army when I was in Colorado Springs, I think I was like 19 years old,” she recalls. “That was 1986. I joined Amnesty never thinking that I’d be involved as far as death penalty work or have my brother involved in a death penalty case. I was in the library and I saw something about Amnesty International and how they work with the UN to help people around the world, so I signed up by mail.”


Currently, everyone is waiting for the Supreme Court’s decision on Monday. Amnesty International is asking people to take action through their web page on Troy’s case:


After consulting closely with Troy’s legal team, the best course of action will be to continue writing letters targeting the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, but have those letters delivered to Amnesty International’s Atlanta office, so that they can be hand delivered at the appropriate time if it becomes necessary. Please direct all such actions to our website – – so that we can keep an accurate count of all the letters that are written on behalf of Troy.


They also warn that some other actions may not be helpful:


Please direct all such actions in this way. More letters, phone calls, emails or faxes to the Board would not be helpful and could be counterproductive. Actions to other Georgia authorities, like the Governor or Attorney General, would also not be helpful. And, of course, actions directed at the U.S. Supreme Court would be counterproductive as well. So, please do NOT plan any rallies or demonstrations in front of the US Supreme Court as such actions have the potential to jeopardize a positive outcome in this case.

Also, if you know of any high profile figures (especially Conservatives) who would be willing to write an op.ed. regarding Troy’s case, please let us know ASAP.


Video from a rally in Georgia earlier this month:



Troy’s is not the only death row case where innocence is an issue. Death row exoneree Juan Roberto Melendez will be speaking at colleges in Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia next week.  Juan was released after nearly 18 years on death row in Florida for a crime he didn’t commit.  He was the 99th death row inmate in the U.S. to be exonerated and released.  There are currently 127.  How many who are innocent have been executed? That should be reason enough to abolish the death penalty.




Juan’s speaking schedule for the Puget Sound area:


October 1: Talk at University of Seattle School of Law, Sullivan Hall, at 6:00 p.m. -7:30 p.m.
October 2: Talk at University of Washington School of Law at 12:30 p.m.-1:30 p.m.
October 2: Talk at University of Pudget Sound at 7:00 p.m. -8:30 p.m.
October 3: Talk at St. Martin’s University, Lacey, WA at 4:00 p.m.-5:30 p.m.

Justice Delayed

It was a bittersweet weekend.  On Saturday, at a ceremony at Fort Lawton, the Army formally apologized to 28 black soldiers wrongly convicted at a court-martial nearly 64 years ago (or rather, apologized to their families who could make it).  Then early Sunday morning, Samuel Snow, one of the two remaining veterans, died in a Seattle hospital hours after happily receiving his honorable discharge after all these years.

Evidence was destroyed, at the order of the commanding officer, Colonel Harry Branson, at the scene the next morning following the August 14, 1944 riot at Fort Lawton involving (mostly) black soldiers against Italian Prisoners of War, which included the lynching of one Italian soldier, Guglielmo Olivotto. Prosecuting attorney, Leon Jaworski, withheld that fact and evidence of the involvement of white soldiers in stirring up the riot, and that a white MP (military policeman) was the probable murderer of Olivotto.

Journalist Jack Hamann and his wife were finally able to track down those details through recently declassified documents in 2002.  He published those details in his book, On American Soil, which inspired Representative Jim McDermott and (with, it turns out, a little help from Hamann’s mother) Rep. Jim Hunter to have the Army Board for Correction of Military Records review the convictions (and, indeed, they overturned the convictions).

So, after 64 years, with only two of the soldiers, at the time, remaining by last Saturday’s ceremony, finally justice.  One of the soldiers being finally able to hold his honorable discharge just hours before he died.

In a column last November, Robert Jamieson reported Samuel Snow was not bitter, and never bad mouthed the Army.

“Yes, I felt I had been served an injustice,” Sam Snow said when we caught up this week. “But I decided I wasn’t going to hold a grievance against nobody.”

Finally, this Saturday, Samuel Snow had justice restored

As reported in the Seattle PI:

When the moment Samuel Snow waited most of his life for finally came, he didn’t speak. He just took the plaque affirming his honorable discharge – an honor that had been stolen from him more than six decades ago – held it against his chest in a Seattle hospital bed, and smiled.

That moment Saturday, family said, made his life complete.

A few hours later, Snow died at age 83.

“My father went home,” son Ray Snow said, “to present his God his discharge papers from this life.”