Anti-death penalty activists, exonerated death row inmates march to Capitol

Nick Hadjigeorge

Hundreds of activists and 25 exonerated death row inmates demonstrated at the Texas Capitol and marched through downtown Austin Saturday afternoon as part of the 12th annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Kirsten Bokenkamp, communications coordinator of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas said several ACLU members participated in Saturday’s march, and a major priority of the organization is to end the death penalty.

“It’s a cruel and unusual process,” Bokenkamp said. “We find it inconsistent with American values.”

According to an ACLU press release, the U.S. executed 46 people in 2010, not far behind Yemen with 53 executions.

In 2010, Texas executed 17 people, more than any other state that year and 37 percent of the 46 total executions in the US, according to a report by the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

The cost of the average death penalty case is three times more than imprisoning someone in maximum security for 40 years, according to the report’s citation of a Dallas Morning News article.

Bokenkamp said the death penalty should be abolished because it increases the financial burden states face and has failed its purpose of deterring crime.

“Research has shown the death penalty hasn’t made our state safer, and it drains our public funds,” Bokenkamp said.

Since 1973, 12 people have been released from Texas’ death row based on evidence of wrongful conviction, and three others are believed to have been executed despite strong evidence showing their innocence, according to the Texas Coalition report.

Many marchers held signs reading “Perry/Willingham 2012” in reference to Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004 for the murder of his three children despite uncertainty about the forensic analysis used to convict him.

The group organizing the speeches of exonerated death row inmates, Witness to Innocence, brought its stories and opinions about the death penalty to the crowd of marchers.

David Keaton, exonerated former death row inmate and member of Witness to Innocence, said this year’s march is important because of Rick Perry’s death penalty history and his campaign for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

“The march today was fantastic,” Keaton said. “It will really give something for Rick Perry to think about while he’s campaigning.”

Delbert Tibbs, also an exonerated former death row inmate and member of Witness to Innocence, said he has been fighting against the death penalty since he was released from death row in 1977.

“I worry about the soul of the country,” Tibbs said. “I think we are going in the right direction, but it’s been very slow.”

Ron Keine, also an exonerated former death row inmate and member of Witness to Innocence, said the organization was created in 2005 and has been instrumental in abolishing the death penalty in Illinois, New Mexico, New Jersey and Wisconsin.

“We are making progress,” Keine said. “I think at a certain point the issue will begin to steamroll, and the death penalty will be abolished across the entire country.”