Protestors demand an end to death penalty


Photo by Abby Morris
More than 100 people marched on Capitol Hill in Nashville Friday afternoon to show their support for the abolition of the death penalty. After the march, protesters held a rally at the Legislative Plaza located in front of the capitol building.

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com
NASHVILLE - "Hey Hey! Ho Ho! The death penalty's got to go!" The sounds of that chant echoed through downtown Nashville as more than a hundred protesters marched on Capitol Hill Friday afternoon to show their support for the abolition of the death penalty.
The protest rally was a part of the annual conference of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty which was held in conjunction with the conference of the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing, which is the state affiliate of the national organization.
Protesters began the march on the steps of the Sheraton Downtown hotel, where the conference was being held, and continued on to the state capital building before gathering in the War Memorial Plaza in front of the capital.
Once gathered, protesters heard from various advocates from a diverse group of organizations that all support a single goal - the abolishment of the death penalty in the United States.
"If we stand together and work together then we will abolish the death penalty forever and ever and ever," Brian Roberts, the interim executive director of the NCADP said.
Some speakers at the rally addressed the crowd and told them that President George W. Bush and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft have plans to expand the federal death penalty program.
"President Bush wants to liberate and free the people of Afghanistan and Iraq. Well President Bush, have you not heard that charity begins at home?," said Dr. Charles Kimbro, a member of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Nashville.
"President Bush why don't you call Senator Lamar Alexander and why don't the two of you do something for Tennessee? Do something for Tennessee by abolishing the death penalty in America."
In recent years the controversy over capitol punishment has increased due to the advancements in DNA technology which have led to the exoneration of inmates who were convicted of a crime and then later were cleared of that crime due to DNA testing.
In addition to focusing on the national issue of the death penalty, a portion of the conference, as well as the rally, was aimed at the situation in the state of Tennessee. "Tennessee is the gateway to the New South and also is the gateway to abolition," Roberts said. "On the one hand Tennessee has demonstrated an ambivalence toward use of the death penalty that other southern states have not. On the other hand, the same problems exist with the death penalty system in Tennessee that exist with the death penalty system in Tennessee that exist in states such as Texas and Florida that carry out assembly line executions.
"Tennessee's system is marred by wrongful death penalty convictions, bias, lack of quality defense cousel and prosecutional misconduct. Many people who end up on Tennessee's death row get there because of ineffective assistance of counsel, prosecutional misconduct or because of convictions based on the perjured testimony of a jailhouse informant."
Those who gathered in the War Memorial Plaza also heard from a man who knows a lot about the death penalty and what life is like on death row because he spent 17 years on death row before being exonerated earlier this year.
Joseph Amrine, who told the crowd that Friday marked his 78th day out of jail, was the 111th inmate to be exonerated in the last 30 years. He was the ninth to be exonerated this year. Discovery of inaccurate testimony from witnesses helped free Amrine from a 1985 conviction for murder of a fellow inmate at a detention facility in Missouri.
"If you believe in the Constitution then how can you believe in the death penalty," Amrine said. "It don't make sense."
Amrine also told the crowd that the death penalty makes a victim out of society. "The person who is murdered is a victim and their family is a victim," he said. "And the person who receives the death penalty is a victim. Then their family becomes a victim and eventually we all become victims."