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APRIL 2017

Dear friends,

April has been a tough month. During this month, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson attempted to push through eight executions in 10 days, his obscene haste due to the imminent expiration of one of the drugs used in the three-drug lethal injection cocktail. Meanwhile, in neighboring Oklahoma a bipartisan commission unanimously recommended that the state extend its current moratorium on the death penalty due to "the volume and seriousness of the flaws" in its capital punishment system, only to have its findings repudiated by Attorney General Mike Hunter who said the state would proceed with executions as soon as it had "a handle on the execution process."

April was also the month that saw Neil Gorsuch ascend to the bench of the Supreme Court. In his first decision, he gave the nod for the Arkansas executions to proceed, joining the new conservative majority.

In the face of such a commitment to death, it is vital that now, more than ever, we recommit ourselves to working tirelessly for life. That we move from horror and outrage and sorrow into renewed passion for justice and compassion for all. It's important we recognize that the work we do makes a difference. Governor Hutchinson may have succeeded in rushing three men to their deaths (and possibly a fourth - Kenneth Williams is scheduled to die tonight), but the passionate work of lawyers and the Fair Punishment Practice and drug manufacturers and activists like you and me has kept alive four men slated to die. Our work has also put a spotlight on Arkansas and Gov. Hutchinson and awakened the world to what's happening.

If you find it difficult to move into a space of compassion, I urge you to read the story of what one victim's family in Arkansas did for the family of the man who killed their love one. MADP's Griffin Hardy was there in Arkansas when this story unfolded and his account is below.

From the heart,

In the midst of a killing spree,
a profound act of love and compassion

(from MADP's Social Media Manager, Griffin Hardy, in Arkansas)

Arkansas plans to execute Kenneth Williams tonight. It will be the last in a spree of executions over the past two weeks.

In 1999, Kenneth escaped from prison, where he was serving a life sentence for murder, killed another man and stole his truck. He crashed that truck into Michael Greenwood, killing him instantly. Michael left behind a wife, daughter, and unborn twin sons.

When Michael’s family found out that Kenneth was set to be executed, they reached out to his daughter, Jasmine. After learning that Jasmine hadn’t seen her father in over 18 years and that Jasmine's daughter had never met her grandfather, Michael’s family paid for them to come to Arkansas and see Kenneth one last time. But that wasn’t all. Michael’s family drove from Missouri, met Jasmine and her daughter at the airport, drove them to the prison, and waited outside during the visit.

I have been here in Arkansas over the past week working with colleagues from across the anti-death penalty movement to organize and oppose the executions. We had the honor of meeting these families last night by pure chance because we were staying at the same hotel in Little Rock. All of the death in recent days has been hard on all of us, but this encounter made it all worthwhile for me.

It’s easy to forget that love and compassion can exist in the midst of pain and hurt. These two families show us the way forward: healing through forgiveness and kindness, not through more killing.

What I'm reading...

Symphony for the City of the Dead - Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad 
By M.T. Anderson

I heard a review of this book on NPR, ordered a copy that day and when it arrived plunged right in.

Here's Dmitri Shostakovich, a musical prodigy born into the turbulence of the Russian Revolution, coming to artistic maturity during Stalin's Terror, and then seeing his beloved home town of Leningrad besieged by Hitler's forces during the Second World War. That siege ground on for over 800 days, the longest siege in history, and the experiences of the starving population, described so well by Anderson, were grim beyond belief. It seems truly remarkable that anyone survived. Shostakovich, who had fled Leningrad with many others in a gruelling escape, was anguished by the pain of his beloved city and wrote a symphony, his fifth, dedicated to the spirit of Leningrad. It could be argued that this symphony marked a turning point in the siege.

I marvel at how a piece of music could have the power to give hope to thousands and break the spirit of the besiegers. This is a story of many things, but above all, it is the story of the power of art to bring about change.

Symphony for the City of the Dead is written for young adults and so although it weighs in at almost 500 pages, it's a remarkably easy read. I thoroughly recommend it!

Oklahoma: Death Penalty Commission calls for moratorium

Eight months after Oklahoma almost executed Richard Glossip with the wrong drug, a grand jury released a scathing report about the state's execution protocols. This week, a separate bipartisan Death Penalty Commission, which had been deliberating for a year, released an even more broad-ranging indictment of Oklahoma's capital punishment system.

The commission's report contained 46 recommendations needed to reform the death penalty in Oklahoma and address its plethora of flaws. The main recommendation:

In light of the extensive information gathered from this year-long, in-depth study, the Commission members unanimously recommend that the current moratorium on the death penalty be extended until significant reforms have been accomplished.  

Perhaps even more telling is this statement from the report's executive summary:

Many of the findings of the Commission’s year-long investigation were disturbing and led Commission members to question whether the death penalty can be administered in a way that ensures no innocent person is put to death. 

In coming months we'll be examining each of the recommendations and reporting on them here.


Upcoming Executions

27    AR    Kenneth Williams 
27    AR    Jason McGehee - STAYED

10    OH    Ronald R. Phillips
16    GA    J.W. Ledford
16    TX    Tilon Carter
17    OH    Donald Ketterer - STAYED
24    TX    Juan Castillo
25    AL    Thomas Arthur

08    AL    Robert Melson
13    OH   Gary Otte
28    TX    Steven Long



We’d love to hear from you.

Let us know what you’d like to see in future editions of Death Penalty Discourse, what tools and resources you’re using in your community, and how Dead Man Walking has impacted your life. Contact us by email and like us on Facebook for updates and current news.


Copyright © 2017 Ministry Against the Death Penalty, All rights reserved.

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