With the stroke of a pen the honorable Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois abolished the death penalty on Wednesday March 9th 2011, revealing his incontrovertible humanitarian moxie. This was the crescendo of thousands of man hours and years of dedicated hard work to abolish the controlled murder of inmates. The Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Death Penalty Focus and a host of other humanitarian organizations banded together to champion this noble cause and fortunately their diligence bore fruit. And I applaud their efforts.
Interestingly enough this came on the heels of Colorado Governor Bill Ritter’s posthumous pardon of Little Joe Arridy, a man with intellectual disabilities who was wrongfully convicted and executed for the murder of a little girl 72 years ago. Sadly, Joe Arridy’s case was nothing more than a darkly festive kangaroo court writhe with erroneous, fabricated evidence and testimony. The prejudice and heretic mentality of the day assured Joe a one way trip to the Gas Chamber in Colorado’s Territorial Prison at Canyon City. According to “Perske’s List: False Confessions from 75 Persons with Intellectual Disabilities” compiled by author and humanitarian *Robert Perske, people with intellectual disabilities were coerced into making false confessions for committing capital offences, 65 were exonerated, 29 were exonerated with DNA and 5 are headed to court thanks to the valiant efforts of the **Innocence Project Group. Joe Arridy and 4 other intellectually disabled human beings were marched to the gallows and killed only to be exonerated, posthumously.
About 267 inmates (17 from death row) were exonerated by DNA so far according to the Innocence Project group and it’s a sure bet more are to come provided they are not executed first. In a study by ***C. Ronald Huff, Author and Professor of Criminology and Law at the University of California at Irvine, it was estimated that 10,000 innocent people are convicted of crimes yearly throughout the country. False confessions, misidentification, flawed investigations/police work and bogus “snitch” testimonies are the leading causes of false convictions in both capital and other offences. Unscrupulous career minded prosecutors are another reason for such a high conviction rate of innocent people. By no means does this imply that all prosecutors are singularly career minded at the expense of jurisprudence. But there is a long road ahead since this is not a perfect world and unscrupularity within the judiciary still reigns in many courthouses. Thankfully organizations like the Innocence Project, Death Penalty Focus, Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and other advocacy groups are in the trenches correcting these travesties of justice.
Governor Pat Quinn showed his mettle when he abolished the death penalty and he was quoted as saying;
“I think if you abolish the death penalty in Illinois, we should abolish it for everyone”
That was a point well taken. Hopefully more governors will follow the lead of Governors Bill Ritter of Colorado and Pat Quinn of Illinois for these gentlemen have become nobility in the realm of humanity.
There isn’t enough I could say about Stefanie Faucher, Associate Director of Death Penalty Focus for she is royalty in the world of humanity as well. In fact she introduced me to both the Death Penalty Focus organization via the petition drive to garner the governor’s support in vanquishing the death penalty from Illinois. She is truly an angel of mercy who has dedicated her life to the cause of humanity and eliminating the death penalty from the face of the earth. Her pedigree and intellectual prowess earned her the Abolitionist of the Year Award in 2008 by the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. She also championed a myriad of other social causes ranging from AIDS awareness/prevention, ending homelessness, animal rescue, educating teenagers about STDS/birth control, and mentoring youth. Well versed and articulate she has spoken at Stanford University, Notre Dame and a host of other venues including radio and television about the death penalty. With all that said, I poised a question to her.
Buffalohair: “What was your first reaction or thoughts when you learned the governor quashed the death penalty?”
Stefanie: “I was ecstatic when I heard that Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a bill to abolish the death penalty today. Governor Quinn sought input on the issue from experts, legislators, victims’ families, and law enforcement, and discovered what we have known all along—that the death penalty is a broken and costly system. I am so grateful that the governor had the courage and wisdom to take action. It is no longer a question of whether the death penalty will be abolished, but rather, which state will act next.”
Then I decided to go to the Joe Arridy camp and garner an opinion about Governor Pat Quinn’s abolishing the death penalty since they were also watching this turn of events intently. As I mentioned earlier the Joe Arridy camp also accomplished the impossible by getting Little Joe a posthumous pardon from Gov. Bill Ritter of Colorado. Therefore I contacted author and screenwriter Daniel Sanchez Leonetti since he was intrinsically involved in the Joe Arridy story and wrote the screenplay “Woodpecker Waltz”. On a side bar, it was Daniel who was inspired to get Little Joe a pardon one day while at the grave site of Joe Arridy on Woodpecker Hill, the prison cemetery at the Territorial Prison in Canyon City Colorado. With the priceless assistance of Robert Perske and the determined and dedicated attorney David Martinez who placed the pardon papers on the governor’s desk the impossible was achieved and Joe was pardoned for a crime he did not commit but was executed for. So I asked the same question I asked Stefanie.
Buffalohair: “What was your first reaction or thoughts when you learned the governor quashed the death penalty?”
Daniel: “My first response was that our Little Joe made a difference in Governor Pat Quinn’s decision in Illinois. I’m sure the governor was aware of the Joe Arridy case, and in some way, I am hopeful that Joe inspired this decision and for new decisions to come in the future.”
Adding to that, I was quite moved by covering the Joe Arridy story and when Stephanie approached me about the petition drive for Gov. Quinn it was a no brainer for me to get involved in some way. All I did was to do a little write-up then send the story to the web sites that carry my work. There were many other humanitarians who did the same as I so my level of participation was not quite as dynamic as Stefanie’s or Dan’s. At the time I called the phenomenon where injustice was retried in the court of humanity “The Joe Arridy Effect”. The pardon and the abolishing of the death penalty have evolved a life of their own and I am curious to see where they go from here. Now that Gov. Pat Quinn eliminated the death penalty I am curious to see who will follow his example. Frankly I want to witness a domino effect were state after state succumbs to the Joe Arridy Effect and the death penalty becomes a piece of dark history.
Honestly it is time to address the failed penal system as well since prison has failed dismally to rehab anyone. On the contrary prisons have become gladiator schools where inmates hone their skills rather than regret them. Embittered by lengthy sentences for relatively minor offences people leave prisons in America with a major chip on their shoulders unlike inmates in European prisons where the term rehabilitation has a meaning with far less jail time by comparison. The innocent people who were tossed into the poky come out bitter since they know in their heart of hearts prosecutors, police and the system lied and betrayed them in the worse way imaginable. And we wonder why many ex cons simply don’t give a flying crappola about society. Institutionalization only achieves one thing and that is to train a person not to be fearful of jail since they grew to accept it. Whence they are outside ex cons have no fear of incarceration since they already know the ropes and in some cases they miss “home” and commit crimes just to get back inside, safe and secure. But that is another whole can of worms. Another point of contention for me is the private prison system since it turned inmates into lucrative commodities rather than people in need of true rehab. Prisoners mean money and the more time they serve the more the prison industry prospers.
In all fairness there was an army of caring human beings in a multitude of anti-death penalty groups who fought for the abolishing of the death penalty in Illinois. I just did not have the opportunity to chat with them all. They are champions of humanity as well and deserve just as many accolades as the people I mentioned in this article. But I wager there will be a next time since other states continue to enjoin in the festival of death called execution. In any event, I am reposting the press release from the Death Penalty Focus group since that was what I was going to do before I got on my rant about the joint.
Your Devil’s Advocate
For Immediate Release March 9, 2011 Contact: Stefanie Faucher, 415-243-0143 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Illinois Governor Signs bill to repeal the death penalty
Bipartisan action part of growing national trend away from the death penalty
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a bill today to repeal the death penalty and reallocate funds currently spent on defending individuals facing capital punishment to provide law enforcement with training and services to the families of homicide victims. This makes Illinois the fourth state in the country to repeal the death penalty since 2005, following New York, New Jersey, and New Mexico. A total of 16 states and the District of Columbia no longer use the death penalty.
The Illinois House passed the bill by a vote of 60-55 on January 6, and the Illinois Senate passed the bill 32-25 on January 11. Both votes were bipartisan.
Lance Lindsey, Executive Director of Death Penalty Focus said, “Illinois has had a moratorium on executions for ten years, created two study commissions, and passed dozens of reforms to try and make the death penalty work. But the system continued to make mistakes while costing millions of dollars and dragging victims’ families through an endless ordeal. Governor Quinn had the wisdom to recognize that the system could not be fixed.”
Illinois was the first state to impose a moratorium on executions in January 2000, sparking a new national conversation on the death penalty that has continued throughout the decade.
Former Alameda County prosecutor Darryl Stallworth said, “Today Governor Quinn set an example for the nation by affirming that the death penalty is failed public policy that hurts victims’ families and drains resources from more effective public safety programs. Governor Jerry Brown should follow his lead.” “California’s death penalty system is just as flawed as Illinois’ and it will cost taxpayers more than $1 billion over the next five years. Replacing the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole will save our state hundreds of millions of dollars each year and ensure that no innocent people are ever executed,” stated Stefanie Faucher, Associate Director of Death Penalty Focus. “Life without possibility of parole is a better
alternative that provides real justice. It allows us to punish criminals, protect our communities, and save hundreds of millions of dollars that we can invest in education for our children,” stated Natasha Minsker, Director of Death Penalty Policy for the ACLU of Northern California.