Starvin’ 4 Justice

27 years ago three activists gathered outside the Supreme Court for four days and three nights, Starvin’ 4 Justice

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48 years ago, on June 29, 1972 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Furman v. Georgia that the death penalty was unconstitutional in application, being “arbitrary and capricious.” However, the Court did not rule that the death penalty was “cruel and unusual,” leaving  states free to write new death penalty laws, which many states did as quickly as possible. By 1976, those new laws were being tested in the Supreme Court. Four years and three days later, on July 2, the Court upheld the new death penalty laws in Gregg v. Georgia. The death penalty was once again deemed constitutional. Starvin’ 4 Justice, an annual Fast & Vigil, takes place in front of the U.S. Supreme Court every year. The four days between these two historic anniversaries provide “a natural opportunity for a demonstration of conscience” on the issue of the death penalty.

In an interview with Starvin’ 4 Justice co-founder and renowned human rights activist Rick Halperin, delivered a powerful reminder: “this is not just a struggle to end the death penalty, this is a struggle for the heart and soul of you, your loved ones, your community, your states, your nation. This is a struggle for the fundamental values of this nation.” 

Rick has been an anti-death penalty activist for the greater part of his life, comitted to expanding and guaranteeing human rights to all. In discussing the breadth of human rights agendas, he believes  “the death penalty is not an issue, it is the issue. If human rights was a solar system, the death penalty would be the sun.” Over 70% of countries have already abolished the death penalty. The United States is one of a handful of high resource nations with the death penalty intact, at odds with all its allies and other democracies. Unsurprisingly, Starvin’ 4 Justice has received overwhelming support from around the globe, mounting banners sent to them from countless countries in countless languages. Most succinctly, Rick asserts, “you can put a flag around [the death penalty], an American flag or any other flag, but it doesn’t make it right it. It makes it what it is– immoral.”

While Starvin’ 4 Justice continues for its 27th year in 2020, we are called to action by its co-founder, Rick Halperin. “The only failure when it comes to the death penalty, is the failure to do nothing.”

PA Auditor General Cites Costly Death Penalty in Criminal Justice Report

June 9, 2020

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Kathleen Lucas, klucas@padp.org, 717-236-4840

Pa. Auditor General’s Criminal Justice Report Cites Costly Death Penalty

 

June 9, 2020 York, PA — Pa. Auditor General Eugene DePasquale issued a report this morning  indicating that the state’s death penalty has cost taxpayers close to $1.06 billion between 1978 and 2018. Of that amount, half was spent on persons later removed from death row because their sentences or convictions were overturned.

The report shows during that same 40-year period the state released six innocent men from death row and executed three men who had given up their rights to appeal. The cost of seeking a sentence of death after a jury returned a different sentence was $277 million, in Pennsylvania, nearly 24 percent of the total. In other states, including Maryland, Ohio, Kansas, Nebraska, and California, only about one-fourth of individual cost studies have consistently found that the costs of capital punishment are many times higher than seeking an alternative sentence.

In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Linell Patterson, whose father and stepmother were murdered in Lancaster County, said, “The death penalty is exponentially more expensive than imprisonment for life, and it has been proven that the current system does not deter any more murders than locking up prisoners for life.”

In a bipartisan push to end capital punishment in the state, both the Pennsylvania House and Senate have introduced bills. The AG’s Special Report on Criminal Justice includes recommendations for a series of reforms to improve lives and safety of commonwealth residents.

The death penalty represents our criminal justice system at its worst, according to Ben Waxman, former Director of Communications for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. “It wastes precious resources while doing nothing to promote public safety. We should abolish capital punishment and invest the massive savings back into our most vulnerable communities,” said Waxman.

Widener School of Law Professor Akin Adepoju said, “This report establishes that our death penalty system has been a failure. It is applied more often to people of color and those with mental disabilities, has wasted millions of taxpayer dollars that could instead go to crime victims and crime prevention measures such as mental health services, drug and alcohol treatment, and education-related and community-based programs.

Adepoju believes the death penalty has prevented us from being tough on crime and the causes of crime. He added, “The only thing it does well is waste money, prolong the agony of the victims’ families, and increase the risk of executing an innocent person.”

 

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Walter Ogrod Freed From Death Row After Nearly 30 Years

June 5, 2020

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Kathleen Lucas, klucas@padp.org, 717-236-4840

 

WALTER OGROD TO BE FREED TODAY FROM PENNSYLVANIA DEATH ROW AFTER ALMOST 30 YEARS

York, PA– Today, Walter Ogrod, who spent almost 30 years in prison, including 27 on death row, is being released after his conviction and sentence were overturned by Court of Common Please Judge Shelly Robins New. Following an investigation by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit, Walter Ogrod was deemed “likely innocent” of the murder of four-year-old Barbara Jean Horn. Ogrod is now set to become Pennsylvania’s eighth death row exoneree and the 169th nationwide.

This case bears a striking similarity to previous exonerations. Ogrod, who is intellectually disabled, is a victim of severe police and prosecutorial misconduct. In 1992, Ogrod was coerced into confessing to the 1988 murder of Barbara Jean Horn. After being interrogated for more than eight consecutive hours, Ogrod confessed to the crime.

Five people witnessed Barbara Jean’s killer on the day of her murder; they described a man who looked nothing like Ogrod. After a mistrial in 1993, prosecutors relied upon the perjured testimony of a serial jailhouse informant to convict him in the 1996 retrial. No forensic evidence tying Ogrod to the crime was presented at trial, and the jailhouse informant went on to receive asignificantly lenient sentence after testifying.

In 2018 the Philadelphia Conviction Integrity Unit found that there was no reliable evidence suggesting that Ogrod was guilty, leading the District Attorney’s Office to call for Ogrod’s release. The victim’s mother, Sharon Fahy, also called for Ogrod to be released.

“It was too easy to present false testimony. It was too easy to get away with prosecutorial misconduct. It was too easy for the state to convict an innocent man and then have him sentenced to death,” said Akin Adepoju, board president of Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. He continued, “what happened to Walter isn’t a thing of the past. It continues to happen. It is evident beyond the shadow of a doubt that we need to eliminate the death penalty.”

Ogrod’s conviction was set to be overturned in a hearing before a judge on March 27th, until the Covid-19 pandemic struck. With jails and prisons acting as a petri dish for the virus while withholding testing, Ogrod displayed all of the classic symptoms including a fever reaching 106 degrees. 

Senator Katie Muth, prime sponsor of the bill to abolish the state’s death penalty says, “The release of Mr. Ogrod has been unjustly delayed. His case is yet another example of how our flawed criminal justice system harms innocent people and often fails to provide true justice to victims and their families. I’m grateful for DA Krasner’s work and persistence in changing the outcome.”

Senator Sharif Street adds, “This travesty underscores my continued belief that the death penalty cannot be administered in a way that is efficient, just, and without error at all times. I urge my colleagues to join me as a co-sponsor of SB990 to end capital punishment in our commonwealth.”

PA Representative Chris Rabb, a prime co-sponsor of HB2211 demanded, “All the Walter Ogrods on death row should be released because they had no business being there in the first place!”

Kathleen Lucas, Executive Director of Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death penalty remarks, “The thought that the Commonwealth might have executed this innocent man is chilling.  I know our legislators are troubled by this broken system. Now is the time for them to join the bipartisan push to end our state’s use of capital punishment.”

The injustices in Walter Ogrod’s case remain glaring. Walter will never get back decades of his life, and Barbara’s family still does not have the closure they deserve. His case is a reminder that the death penalty is not justice.

 

Contact: Kathleen Lucas, klucas@padp.org, 717-236-4840

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PADP Statement Condemning Police Brutality and Racial Injustice

It is not easy or simple, but there is hope.

Akin Adepoju, President of PADP, joins with our community of civil rights organizations, advocates, organizers, and citizens in mourning the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police. We extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of George Floyd. We stand with the communities who are the targets of police violence and racism.

We demand justice. The nation has watched in horror as Mr. Floyd pleaded for his life to no avail as a white police officer knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. He told them, “I can’t breathe.” We are saddened and outraged by the senseless, but all too familiar, tragedy of George Floyd’s murder. As we watch our local and national responses to the unjust killing of George Floyd, we know we have been here too many times before. From Eric Garner to Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Jonathan Ferrell, Samuel DuBose, Freddie Gray, Laquan McDonald, and countless other African-Americans who have been killed by police. We have been here before; we cannot return to business as usual. Changes that simply pay lip service to justice and equality will not be accepted.

We speak today against America’s founding condition – racism – and its devastating impact on our lives. We also condemn the ongoing violence against protesters exercising their fundamental right to demand equal treatment and opportunity. Locally and nationally, we must address the persistent, undeniable racism in our communities. Minimizing and eliminating racism requires deliberate action; it requires addressing the legacy of segregation and discrimination, and the dismantling of systems that support racial inequities and injustices. We stand with those seeking legal accountability for all involved and all those ready to channel this moment into action, to break down the structures of oppression in our society.

In solidarity with the march for justice,

Akin