From Ferguson to Georgia- it’s all one struggle

posted Dec 2, 2014, 12:52 PM by GFADP staff

GFADP envisions a society in which whole communities are not strategically and systemically targeted for oppression. GFADP’s mission to end the death penalty in Georgia and throughout the U.S. fits within the larger movement to end criminal justice practices that target, disenfranchise, marginalize, and criminalize people of color and the poor. 

It is for that reason that we are deeply disappointed in the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s handling of the Darren Wilson grand jury, and the grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson for killing eighteen year old Michael Brown. The lack of indictment affirmed that there are two systems of justice in this country.

We have all been bombarded with a lot of rhetoric and, quite frankly, distractions. Michael Brown was shot by a police officer and laid on the cement for four hours before anything was done. Since his death, extensive efforts have been made to criticize the character of Brown, and cast doubt on the tragedy of his death.  In addition, the St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney’s Office took the unprecedented step of presenting substantial amounts of evidence favorable to Officer Darren Wilson during the grand jury proceedings, all but guaranteeing that the officer who killed an unarmed teen would not be indicted. This is not okay.   We as a society can do better than this. Doing better though, means that we must acknowledge the reality that we have a color-coded system of justice whereby if you’re a person of color or are poor you not afforded the same access to justice.

As members of GFADP, we are acutely aware of the racialized impact of the criminal justice system on our communities. Black men are statistically more likely than whites to be stopped by police, arrested, denied bail, and charged with serious crimes.  Additionally, the recent mass mobilizations of immigrants and Latinos, alongside the fact that Georgia experienced the nation's highest immigrant growth rate over the past 4 years, has resulted in increased targeting of Latinos by law enforcement.  The area of the criminal justice system in which the repercussions of this deep-seeded injustice is most starkly felt is undoubtedly in the context of the death penalty.

This same system will allow for the execution of Scott Panetti, a mentally ill man in Texas who is scheduled to be executed tomorrow, December 3. Mr. Panetti first showed signs of mental illness over 14 years before the offense for which he was sentenced to death. Doctors repeatedly diagnosed him with chronic schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder, and his condition continued to deteriorate.

During his trial, Mr. Panetti insisted on defending himself without counsel; attempted to subpoena the Pope, John F. Kennedy, and Jesus Christ; and raised an insanity defense. At one point, he cross-examined his own alter-ego, Sarge, answering his own questions on the stand, in a different voice.  Despite his obvious mental illness, Mr. Panetti was convicted and sentenced to death, and the State has done everything in its power to ensure his execution.

 What happened in Mr. Panetti’s case should not have happened. Safeguards in the system did not work and if Texas has its way, Mr. Panetti will be executed tomorrow.

Right here in Georgia, an execution date has been set for Robert Holsey a week from today on December 9, 2014.

Two years ago, the New York Times Editorial Board wrote a piece, “Ineffective Counsel in Georgia,” highlighting the many problems with Mr. Holsey’s trial counsel.  Attorney Andy Prince was a chronic alcoholic who stole more than $100,000 in client funds. During Mr. Holsey’s trial, Mr. Prince drank a quart of vodka each night – the equivalent of 21 shots. Shortly after Mr. Holsey was convicted and sentenced to death, Mr. Prince was disbarred and sentenced to 10 years (three in prison, seven on probation) for stealing client funds.

In addition to drinking a quart of vodka nightly throughout Mr. Holsey’s trial, Mr. Prince did not present evidence of Mr. Holsey’s intellectual disability and in fact, told the court that it wouldn’t be an issue. This was a stunning failure of representation: if Mr. Prince had shown that Mr. Holsey was intellectually disabled, his execution would be barred under Atkins v. Virginia (2002).

The night before the penalty phase of Mr. Holsey’s trial, Mr. Prince turned the case over to a less experienced attorney, who was unprepared to present mitigation evidence. Mr. Prince received $3,500 from the court to hire a mitigation specialist, but never did so and was unable to account for the money. Consequently, the jury never heard about the almost daily violence and abuse Mr. Holsey experienced in his childhood.

A Georgia habeas corpus judge found that Mr. Prince’s representation had been abysmal and ineffective, and cost Mr. Holsey a fair trial.  The habeas corpus judge also ordered a new sentencing trial. But the Georgia Supreme Court reversed the habeas judge’s decision, thus reinstating Mr. Holsey’s death sentence. If Mr. Holsey had been represented by anyone other than Mr. Prince, who went to prison shortly after Mr. Holsey did, he would most likely not be facing execution today.

This is a system that GFADP struggles to change.

From Ferguson to Texas to Georgia, GFADP says NO to color-coded justice. Though are hearts are heavy, our commitment has grown deeper to speaking out against this unjust system and standing up for those whose lives have been marginalized. We are so grateful you are joining us in this struggle.

In solidarity,