Return To Michael Ross' Homepage
                          MICHAEL ROSS
       Collection Of  Other Writings

                                                From THE WORD AMONG US
                Awaiting the End of Time    by Michael B. Ross
 

                     But according to his promise we await new
                     heavens and a new earth in which
                     righteousness dwells.
                     (2 Peter 3:13)

                     The end time. The end of all things and all life
                     as we know it. A terrible time. A very frightening
                     time. A time when “the heavens will pass away
                     with a terrible noise and heavenly bodies will
                     disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on
                     it will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10).

                     But as fearsome as that time promises to be, it
                     also promises to be the most glorious of times. A
                     terrible and painful transformation from the
                     limited experience that we have now to what God
                     promises we will have with him. It is the time of
                     the final judgment, when all people will be
                     gathered before God. Judgment day, when the
                     righteous and just will be separated from the
                     unrighteous and unjust. The time when the
                     ungodly will be cast into damnation, while the
                     godly inherit “a new earth in which righteousness
                     dwells.”

                     What Is God Waiting For? The righteous are
                     sometimes very impatient, secure in their
                     knowledge of salvation, eager to reap the
                     rewards promised by God, and just as eager to
                     see all sinners punished. “We deserve salvation,”
                     they cry. “They deserve damnation. What is God
                     waiting for?”

                     God is love. And one way that he shows this love
                     is through his infinite patience, not just for the
                     righteous, but for the transgressors as well. If
                     God only cared about the righteous, the end time
                     would have come centuries ago. But God cares
                     for all of us, even the greatest of sinners. God
                     loves all of us. He wants all of us to find our way
                     home to him. He doesn’t want to leave anyone
                     behind. “The Lord is not slow to do what he has
                     promised, as some think. Instead, he is patient
                     with you, because he does not want anyone to
                     be destroyed, but wants all to turn away from
                     their sins” (2 Peter 3:9).

                     I am one of the greatest of sinners. I have
                     murdered eight women in a horrible way. Many
                     believe that I have no place in heaven, and that
                     instead I should be condemned to hell. Not too
                     long ago, I would have agreed with them. I had
                     given up on myself. I couldn’t see beyond my
                     bloodstained hands. I couldn’t see beyond the
                     anger and hatred in my heart. I was consumed
                     by an evil sickness that made me less than
                     human. And I believed that I was beyond
                     redemption. I couldn’t believe in myself; I
                     couldn’t forgive myself; I couldn’t love myself.
                     And if I couldn’t do these things, how could I
                     expect God to love me?

                     God Is Love. But God loves me. I can’t say that
                     I fully understand why he would love someone
                     such as I--one of the greatest of all sinners--but
                     he does. This is exactly what God’s love is. It
                     isn’t a love that is saved for the righteous alone.
                     It isn’t a love that is saved only for the
                     deserving. It is an unconditional love that is
                     offered to everyone--even to someone such as
                     myself.

                     God wants all of us to come home to him. That’s
                     why he sent Jesus to us. Remember in Matthew,
                     when Jesus ate at the tax collector’s home with
                     a variety of sinners and outcasts? Remember his
                     words to the Pharisees who were outraged that
                     he would associate with such sinners? “People
                     who are well do not need a doctor, but those
                     who are sick. . . . I have not come to
                     respectable people, but outcasts” (Matthew
                     9:12,13).

                     God loves us all. And he is reaching out to us all.
                     His greatest wish is that we all return to him. It’s
                     easy to welcome the righteous, and it’s easy to
                     reject the sinners. That’s what we all tend to do.
                     As one theologian put it, “We are quick to
                     moralize, and slow to love. We have been
                     forgiven much and embraced by a compassionate
                     God, but are too slow, if not totally unwilling, to
                     be accepting, forgiving, compassionate, and
                     loving.”

                     God doesn’t take the easy way out. He doesn’t
                     turn away from us. We may turn away from him,
                     but God will never turn away from us. And he
                     doesn’t give up on us, even when we have given
                     up on ourselves. He works to transform sinners.
                     This isn’t easy, and it takes time. But God is
                     merciful enough to give us that time.

                     Transformation takes time, and is quite often
                     painful. Sinners such as myself understand this all
                     too well. My personal transformation took years.
                     It was a long, painful process of self-realization
                     and growth, and I’m not finished yet. Even Paul
                     recognized personal transformation as an ongoing
                     process when he wrote, “I don’t mean to say
                     that I am perfect. I haven’t learned all I should
                     even yet, but I keep working toward that day
                     when I will finally be all that Christ saved me for
                     and wants me to be” (Philippians 3:12).

                     God Rolled Up His Sleeves. God got his hands
                     dirty with me. I was as sinful as they come. I
                     didn’t deserve his help. I didn’t deserve his love.
                     Yet as filthy and repulsive as I was, God wasn’t
                     afraid to roll up his sleeves and reach down into
                     that dark, dank pit of evil to give me--the
                     greatest of sinners--a hand up to the light. It
                     didn’t happen overnight. There is no such thing
                     as an instant victory over sin. It is a long, ugly,
                     painful process. And it only happens because God
                     is patient and loves us enough to give us the
                     time we need.

                     It took a lot of work before the Holy Spirit began
                     to influence who I was. It took a lot of time and
                     effort--not just on my part, but on the part of
                     God who didn’t give up on me and touched me
                     with the Holy Spirit, and on the part of a very
                     special priest, who, like God, refused to give up
                     on me.

                     There are a lot of others out there like me,
                     sinners whom the righteous have given up on.
                     But God hasn’t given up on them. The day of “a
                     new earth in which righteousness dwells” will
                     come. Perhaps not as soon as some might wish,
                     but it will come as promised. It’s just that God is
                     in no hurry. And he is giving every opportunity
                     possible for even the greatest of sinners to
                     repent and transform their lives.

                     Editor’s note: Michael B. Ross has been on
                     death row since June of 1987. He is currently
                     under a stay of execution pending the resolution
                     of the appeals process.



Published in THE NEW TIMES http://www.newtimes.org/issue/0012/capital.htm
     
America Does Not Need Capital Punishment - by Michael B. Ross

  "When we abolished the punishment for treason that you should be hanged and then
  cut down while still alive, then disemboweled while still alive, and then quartered, we
  did not abolish that punishment because we sympathized with traitors, but because
  we took the view that this was a punishment no longer consistent with our
  self-respect."

  These words, spoken by Lord Chancellor Gardiner during the 1965 death penalty
  abolition debates in the British Parliament, illustrate the feeling of most individuals
  opposed to capital punishment. It's not sympathy toward the murderer that we feel;
  indeed, most of us feel a great deal of anger and revulsion toward all murderers and
  their actions. Our objection is that the death penalty is a complete renunciation of all
  that is embodied in our concept of humanity. More simply put, executions degrade us
  all.

  In today's society, the execution process is far removed from most individual citizens.
  We may, or more likely may not, be aware of the criminal acts that put an individual on
  death row — and if we are, it is usually only through sensationalized press accounts
  — but very few of us know of the human being whom society has condemned to
  death. Even fewer of us have witnessed, or ever will witness, an actual execution.
  They are carried out in the middle of the night, in the dark, away from us all, to hide
  what they really are: a barbaric punishment symbolic of our less civilized past.

  The public is kept as far away as possible from the whole process to keep them from
  seeing that human beings — real flesh and blood, real people — are being put to
  death. This deliberate dehumanization of the entire process makes it easier for us to
  distance ourselves from capital punishment and to accept it as "something
  government does," which in turn allows us to avoid accepting individual responsibility
  for the consequences of such actions. But we are in fact responsible, for our state and
  federal government are killing people in our names.

  There are acceptable alternatives to capital punishment that are more in line with the
  values of our supposedly enlightened and humanistic society. The state is supposed
  to be the pillar of our ideals, and its institutions should emulate the best values of our
  society. Are not the greatest of these values our compassion, our concern for human
  rights, and our capacity for mercy? By continuing to conduct executions, aren't we
  undermining the very foundations of our greatness?

  As Zimbabwe poet Chenjerai Hove wrote, "The death sentence is abominable, as
  abominable as the crime itself. Our society must be based on love, not hatred and
  victimization. Our penal code must be based on rehabilitation rather than
  annihilation." For so long as the spirit of vengeance maintains the slightest vestige of
  respectability, so long as it pervades the public mind and infuses its evil upon the
  statute books of law, we will make no headway toward the control of crime in our
  society.

  There are suitable alternatives. Individuals who are a danger to society must be
  removed from society. Society has the right to protect itself; there is no disputing that.
  If rehabilitation is not possible, or is not a consideration, then that removal must be
  made permanent, but that permanent removal need not take the form of the death
  penalty.

  Those who favor the abolition of capital punishment do not advocate releasing
  convicted murderers into society. The choice is not between the death penalty and
  unconditional release, but between the death penalty and meaningful long-term
  sentences. Life without the possibility of parole, or a natural life sentence, meets the
  necessary requirements of society without being excessively brutal or barbaric.

  Feelings of retribution, vengeance, blood atonement, and the like are difficult to
  suppress. Perhaps there are some individuals who, in some sense, "deserve" to be
  executed. But the real question that needs to be asked is, Do we really need the
  death penalty? In light of such suitable alternatives as natural life sentences, is society
  in general paying too high a price when it executes its own citizens? The late United
  States Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall once wrote, "I cannot agree that the
  American people have been so hardened, so embittered that they want to take the life
  of one who performs even the basest criminal act knowing that the execution is
  nothing more than bloodlust."

  It is time for us to acknowledge the death penalty for what it really is — barbaric
  savagery, pure and simple — and abolish it nationwide by replacing it with natural life
  sentences. By rejecting the seemingly simple solutions that compromise our values
  and undermine the fundamental principles of society, we maintain the greatness of
  our country. It is certainly true that by giving in to our basest emotions, we lower
  ourselves to the very level of the persons whom we wish to execute, and in the
  process weaken the moral fibers that bind and protect our society.

  While it is admittedly difficult at times, when we recognize the humanity of even the
  vilest criminal — when we acknowledge them as fellow human beings rather than as
  objects to be discarded — we pay ourselves the highest of tributes and celebrate our
  own humanity.

  What can you do? You can get involved, for no justice is done if everyone leaves the
  work of justice to others. There are numerous local, state, and national organizations
  working hard to rid this country of capital punishment. They need your help and
  support. For a list of these groups send $3 for The Abolitionist's Directory to The
  National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty; 1436 "U" Street NW, Suite #104;
  Washington, DC 20009, or call (202) 387-3890. And please tell them that Michael
  Ross sent you. Together we can make a difference.

  Michael Ross is a condemned man on Connecticut's death row. He has been on
  death row since June 1987, and is currently under a stay of execution pending the
  resolution of the appeals process. 



From Truth Seeker  http://www.banned-books.com/truth-seeker/1994archive/121_5/ts215k.html

            Unmasking The Face of Death - by Michael Ross

               "When we abolished the punishment for treason that you should be
               hanged and then cut down while still alive, then disemboweled while
               still alive, and then quartered, we did not abolish that punishment
               because we sympathized with traitors, but because we took the view
               that this was a punishment no longer consistent with our self-respect."

          These words, spoken by Lord Chancellor Gardiner during the 1965 death penalty
          abolition debates in the British Parliament, illustrate the feeling felt by most
          individuals opposed to capital punishment. It's not sympathy towards the murderer
          that we feel; indeed, most of us feel a great deal of anger and revulsion towards all
          murderers and their actions. Our objection is that it is a complete renunciation of all
          that is embodied in our concept of humanity. Or, simply put, executions degrade us
          all.

          In today's society, the execution process is far removed from most individual
          citizens. We may or may not be aware of the criminal acts that put an individual on
          death row-and even then usually only through sensationalized press accounts-but
          very few of us know of the human being whom society has condemned to death.
          And even fewer of us have ever witnessed, or will ever witness, an actual
          execution. This deliberate dehumanization of the whole process makes it much
          easier for us to distance ourselves from capital punishment and to accept it "as
          something government does," which allows us not to be individually responsible for
          the consequences of such actions.

          But we are responsible, for our state and federal governments are killing people in
          our names. And we should be made aware of the human side of these executions.
          To do so I would like to share with you an extract from an affidavit by David
          Bruce, an attorney who stayed with a condemned man, Terry Roach, during the
          last hours before his execution and actually witnessed the execution.

          I assisted with Terry Roach's defense during the last month before his execution,
          and I spent the last four hours with Terry Roach in his cell when he was
          electrocuted on January 10, 1986.

          Although I have known Terry slightly for several years, meeting him in the course
          of visits to see other inmates on South Carolina's death row, my first long
          conversation with Terry occurred less than a month before his death. An execution
          date had already been set, and he seemed frightened and very nervous. I was
          struck at that time by how obviously mentally retarded Terry was . . . I had known
          from following his case through the courts that he had been diagnosed as mildly
          mentally retarded, but I was still surprised at his slack-jawed and slow way of
          speaking, and at the evident lack of understanding of much of what we were telling
          him about the efforts that were underway to persuade Governor Riley to grant
          clemency.

          The next time that I would see Terry was on the night of his execution. The lawyers
          who had worked on his case for the past eight years were at the Supreme Court in
          Washington, so I had decided to look in on Terry that night after his family had had
          to leave for the last time, to see if I could help him with anything or just keep him
          company. When I arrived, he had decided to ask me to stay with him through the
          night and accompany him when he was taken to the chair. So along with Marie
          Deans, a paralegal and counselor who works with condemned prisoners in
          Virginia, I stayed.

          Although Terry was twenty-five years old by the time of his death, he seemed very
          childlike. In general, his demeanor and his reactions to the people around him
          appeared to me to comport with the finding, made at his last psychological
          evaluation, that his IQ was 70-a score that placed his intellectual functioning at
          about the level of a twelve-year-old child. When his family minister showed him
          some prayers from the Bible that they would read together, Terry asked him which
          ones he thought would be especially likely to help him into heaven; his questions
          about this seemed based on the childish assumption that one prayer was likely to
          "work" better than another, and that he just needed some advice about which ones
          would work best. Later in the night, he asked me to read him a long letter about
          reincarnation that a man from California had sent to him just that day; he listened to
          the letter with wonder, like a small child at bedtime, trusting and uncritical. Both
          Marie and I were struck by how calmed Terry seemed by the sound of a voice
          reading to him in the resonant cell, and we spent much of the remaining time
          reading to him while he listened, gazing at the reader with rapt attention.

          He had a final statement which his girlfriend had helped him write. When I arrived
          that night, the statement was on three small scraps of paper, in his girlfriend's
          handwriting. I copied it out for him, and got him to read it out loud a few times. No
          matter how many times he tried, the word "enemies" came out "emenies." He kept
          practicing it, but pronouncing the written word just seemed beyond his capabilities.
          Still, he seemed to like the rehearsal: like everything we did that night, it filled the
          time and acknowledged that he was doing something very difficult.

          Terry was a very passive young man, and that showed all through the night.
          Although he was obviously frightened, he was as cooperative as possible with the
          guards, and he tried to pretend that all of the ritual preparation-the shaving of his
          head and right leg, the prolonged rubbing in of electrical conducting gel-was all a
          normal sort of thing to have happen. He wanted the approval of those around him,
          and he seemed well aware that this night he could gain everyone's approval by
          being brave and keeping his fear at bay.

          Still, when the warden appeared in the cell door at 5:00 a.m. and read the death
          warrant, while Terry stood, each wrist immobilized in a manacle known as the
          "claw," his left leg began to shake in large, involuntary movements. After that
          everything happened quickly. I walked to the chair with him, and talked to him as
          much as I could. He wanted me to read his statement, but I told him that he ought
          to try and I'd read it if he couldn't. His voice was only a little shaky, and he
          managed quite well, except for "emenies." After he had repeated the name of a
          friend of mine who had recently died, and whom he had offered to look up for me
          when he got to heaven, I left him and walked to the witness area, where I gave him
          a "thumbs-up" sign. He signaled back with his fingers, as much as the straps
          permitted. We signaled to each other once more just before the mask was pulled
          down over his face.

          A few seconds later the current hit. Terry's body snapped back and held frozen for
          the whole time that the current ran through his body. After a few seconds, steam
          began to rise from his body, and the skin on his thighs just above the electrode
          began to distend and blister. His fists were clenched and very white. His body
          slumped when the power was turned off, and jerked erect again when it resumed.
          When he was declared dead, several guards wrestled his body out of the chair and
          onto a stretcher, while taking care to conceal his face (no longer covered by the
          mask) from the view of the witnesses and me by covering it with a sheet. I left the
          death house at about this time in the company of the warden. As we stepped out of
          the building, I heard the whoops of a crowd of about 150 or 200 demonstrators
          who had apparently come to celebrate the execution, and who were yelling and
          cheering outside the prison gates.

          Executions degrade us all. They are held in the middle of the night, in the dark,
          away from us all, to hide what they really are. The men who are condemned to
          death are dehumanized by the state and by the press, to make it easier to carry out
          their executions. The public is kept as far away as possible from the whole process
          to keep them from seeing that human beings, real flesh and blood, real people, are
          being put to death. That is the only way that any state or government can continue
          with executions without the public demanding their eradication.

          Our politicians often leap at the chance that the death penalty gives them to sound
          tough on crime. But what they are really doing is playing on the strong feelings of
          anxiety, frustration and anger that most people feel towards the seemingly
          uncontrollable plague of crime that our country is currently experiencing. However,
          such rhetoric in reality detracts from the real work at hand of developing genuine
          programs of crime prevention and control. As such, the death penalty becomes the
          perfect political red herring-a program that sounds tough on crime and helps to
          create a false sense of security, but one that in all reality saps our already limited
          resources.

          There are acceptable alternatives to capital punishment that are more in line with
          the values of our supposedly enlightened and humanistic society. The state is
          supposed to be the pillar of our ideals, and its institutions should emulate the best
          values of our society. And are not the greatest of these values our compassion, our
          concern for human rights, and our capacity for mercy? By continuing to conduct
          executions, aren't we undermining the very foundations of our greatness? As
          Zimbabwe Poet Chenjerai Hove wrote: "The death sentence is abominable, as
          abominable as the crime itself. Our state must be based on love, not hatred and
          victimization. Our penal code must be based on rehabilitation rather than
          annihilation." For no legal order can sustain itself unless it reflects an underlying
          moral order of society.

          There are suitable alternatives. Individuals who are a danger to society must be
          removed from society. Society has the right to protect itself, there is no question
          about that. If rehabilita-tion is not possible or is not a consideration, then that
          removal must be made permanent. But it need not be excessive.

          Those who favor the abolition of the death penalty do not advocate releasing
          convicted murderers into society. The choice is not between the death penalty and
          unconditional release, but between the death penalty and a meaningful life sentence.
          Life without the possibility of parole, or natural life sentences, meet the necessary
          requirements of society.

          Feelings of retribution, vengeance, blood atonement, and the like are difficult
          feelings to suppress. Perhaps some individuals "deserve" to die. But in light of
          suitable alternatives, such as natural life sentences, is society in general paying too
          high a price when it executes its own citizens? Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice
          Thurgood Marshall once wrote: "I cannot agree that the American people have
          been so hardened, so embittered that they want to take the life of one who
          performs even the basest criminal act knowing that the execution is nothing more
          than bloodlust."

          It is time for us to acknow-ledge the death penalty for what it really is rather than
          for what we wish it to be. By rejecting the simple solutions that compromise our
          values and undermine the fundamental principles of our society, we maintain the
          greatness of our country. For it is certainly true that by giving in to our basest
          emotions we lower ourselves to the level of the very persons that we wish to
          execute, and in the process weaken the moral fibers that bind and protect our
          society.

          And while it is admittedly difficult at times, when we recognize the humanity of even
          the vilest criminals, when we acknowledge them as fellow human beings rather than
          as objects to be discarded, we pay ourselves the highest of tributes and celebrate
          our own humanity.

          What can you do to help? There are several organizations working diligently to
          abolish capital punishment in America. They need your help and support. Please
          contact one of the following groups:

          Amnesty International USA (Campaign to Abolish the Death Penalty) 322 Eighth
          Ave.; New York, NY 10001 Telephone 212-807-8400

          American Civil Liberties Union (Capital Punishment Project) 122 Maryland Ave,
          NE Washington, DC 20002 Telephone 202-675-2319

          National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty 918 "F" Street, NW, 6th Floor
          Washington, DC 20004 Telephone 202-347-2510

          Catholics Against Capital Punishment P.O. Box #3125; Arlington, VA 22203
          Telephone 703-522-5014

          Murder Victims Families For Reconciliation 2093 Willow Creek Road; Portage,
          IN 46368 Telephone 219-763-2170

          Michael Ross is a condemned man on Connecticut's death row. He has been on
          death row since June 1987. He is currently under a stay of execution pending the
          resolution of the appeal process. Michael Ross #127404, Death Row - Somers
          Prison, P.O. Box 100, Somers, CT 06071



from THE QUAKER ABOLITIONIST Summer 1997                comments?   email: fcadp@aol.com

              Fatal Mistakes and the Criminal 'Injustice' System
                                By Michael Ross and Kurt Rosenberg

"Nothing could be more contrary to contemporary standards of decency or more shocking to
the conscience than to execute a person who is actually innocent. That comes perilously close
to simple murder." Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun

Generally, Americans know very little about who is executed and why. And they are blissfully
unaware of the potential dangers of executing an innocent person. Our judicial system relies on a
burden of proof called "beyond a reasonable doubt," which is intended to protect the innocent.

But it is not foolproof. As the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall once wrote: "No
matter how careful the courts are, the possibility of perjured testimony, mistaken honest testimony
and human error remain too real. We have no way of judging how many innocent persons have been
executed, but we can be certain that there are some."

Perhaps no aspect of the death penalty troubles the public more than the possible execution of
someone who is innocent. A poll found that fifty-eight percent of Americans are disturbed by the fact
that the death penalty might result in the execution of someone who is innocent. The most conclusive
evidence that innocent persons have been condemned to death comes from examining the large
number of cases of people who were sentenced to die and lucky enough to eventually prove their
innocence and gain release from death row. And, according to a new report by the Death Penalty
Information Center, the danger of an innocent person being put to death is growing.

Since 1973, sixty-nine people, more than one percent of all death-row prisoners, have been released
from death row after evidence of their innocence surfaced. Seventeen of these condemned prisoners,
including seven from Illinois alone, have been released since 1993. And the pace at which innocent
people have been released over the past three-and-a-half years is almost double the rate from
1973-93, according to the Center. For those quick to credit the criminal justice system for "working"
because these individuals were not executed, it's important to take a close look at such cases. In
many instances, innocence was discovered not because of the normal appeals process but as a result
of new scientific techniques, investigations by journalists, and the tireless work of dedicated
attorneys. None of these resources are available to most death-row prisoners. In Illinois last
summer, murder charges against four men -- two of whom received death sentences -- were
dropped when it was discovered that the wrong men had been convicted.

The investigation was conducted by three journalism students who had been assigned the case in
class. The increasing number of innocent defendants turning up on death rows across America is a
clear sign that the system is fraught with fundamental errors -- errors which cannot be remedied once
an execution occurs. Says Richard Deiter, the Death Penalty Information Center's executive director,
"The current emphasis on faster executions, less resources for the defense, and an expansion in the
number of death cases mean that the execution of innocent people is inevitable."

The political climate has caused a dramatic narrowing in death-row prisoners' ability to file appeals
and to raise newly discovered evidence of innocence. Meanwhile, federal funding of legal resource
centers, which helped vindicate some of those who were innocent, has been completely withdrawn.
Some courts have actually said it is permissible for executions to go forward despite serious doubt
about the defendant's guilt.

The DPIC report, which highlights these issues, is "a serious indictment of the American capital
punishment system," says Alabama lawyer Bryan Stevenson, one of the nation's leading anti-death
penalty attorneys. No one knows the perils of the system better than Stevenson. He was the lawyer
for Walter McMillian, who was released in 1993 after spending nearly six years on Alabama's death
row because of perjured testimony and withheld evidence. McMillian was convicted of the shooting
death of a storekeeper despite the fact that on the day of the murder he was at a fish fry with friends
and relatives, many of whom testified on his behalf. No physical evidence linked him to the crime but
three people who testified at the trial connected him to the murder. All three witnesses received
favors from the state for their incriminating testimony. After listening to a recording of a key witness's
testimony, a volunteer lawyer flipped the tape over to find out if anything was on the other side.
What he heard was complaints from the same witness that he was being pressured to frame Walter
McMillian. With that fortuitous break, the entire case against McMillian began to crumble. Every
element of the prosecution's case has since been discredited, and all three of its witnesses recanted
their testimony.

If the imposition of capital punishment under any circumstances is a disgrace to a country that
considers itself the standard bearer for human rights, it becomes even more appalling when death
sentences are handed out to those who are innocent. The details of such cases can be lurid and
nightmarish, recalling a time when frontier justice was the rule. Of course, in some places it still is.

In 1980, when the Conroe, Texas, police department needed a conviction in the case of a white,
16-year-old high school student who was raped and murdered, it chose Clarence Brandley, an
African-American janitor. During an interview of two suspects, a police officer warned, "One of you
is gonna hang for this," then turned to Brandley and said, "Since you're the nigger, you're elected."
After spending a decade on death row and coming within six days of being executed, Brandley was
freed when it was shown the prosecution had suppressed exculpatory evidence and perjured
testimony by its witnesses.

Cases such as Brandley's support the contention of Samuel Gross, a noted author and researcher at
the University of Michigan Law School who argues that mistakes are actually more likely to occur in
capital cases. When a child is brutally raped and murdered or a police officer is killed, the public
watches day after day until a suspect is produced. Working under tremendous pressure, police and
prosecutors will at times go to any lengths to "solve" a community's most notorious murders. And
when there are no eyewitnesses to a murder, says Gross, the state relies on such unreliable sources
of evidence as accomplices, jailhouse snitches and pressured confessions from the defendant.

Contrary to what the public -- and most juries -- may believe, a defendant's confession is not a
dependable indicator of guilt. Intense police coercion, or a defendant's mental handicap can easily
lead an innocent suspect to be overly cooperative and to supply information the police want to hear,
information that may well result in a death sentence at trial.

The heinousness of the facts in a typical death-penalty case can also lead a jury to return a guilty
verdict, according to Gross. Releasing a defendant who is probably guilty (but not guilty beyond a
reasonable doubt) of a brutal slaying is far more difficult than releasing someone who is probably
guilty of a simple misdemeanor. "The steady stream of errors that we see in capital cases in which
defendants are sentenced to death," says Gross, "is a predictable consequence of our system of
investigating and prosecuting capital murder."

Once an innocent defendant has been convicted and sentenced to death, his chances of eventual
exoneration are poor. After the initial trial, the presumption of innocence is shed and replaced with a
presumption of guilt. The burden falls on the defendant to prove he or she is not guilty, and it is no
longer enough to raise a reasonable doubt. To overturn a conviction, the defendant must produce
"clear and convincing" proof of innocence. The ever-shortening appeals process is not generally
concerned with whether or not the jury made a mistake in the verdict. Instead, it focuses on the legal
procedures during the trial leading up to that verdict.

Almost every death-penalty state employs stringent time limits on presenting the court with new
evidence of one's innocence. For example, in Virginia a defendant must present new evidence of
innocence within a mere 21 days of his or her conviction for that evidence to be considered by an
appeals court. Any first-year law student will tell you that this is an absurdly small window of time for
even the finest attorney to bring new evidence to light. Of course, like so many condemned
prisoners, Roger Coleman had anything but the finest attorneys, both at trial and for his initial appeal.
On appeal, his new attorneys misread the Virginia statute regarding the time limit for appeals and
filed their appeal one day late. The courts held that the late filing was the same as not filing and
refused to review Coleman's case, despite substantial evidence of his innocence. And the U.S.
Supreme Court ruled that he could not complain that his attorney had erred, because he was not
legally entitled to an attorney after his initial trial. Roger Coleman was executed in 1992, his claims of
innocence ignored. As former Virginia Attorney General Mary Sue Terry so succinctly put it:
"Evidence of innocence is irrelevant."

A year later, the Supreme Court virtually echoed Terry's shocking but true statement in the Texas
case of Leonel Herrera. Despite compelling evidence that it was not he but his brother Raul who had
killed two police officers, Herrera fell victim to Texas' "30-day rule" for introducing new evidence.
The Supreme Court denied his motion for a new trial, ruling that Herrera's claim of "actual
innocence" was not a constitutional claim, and that the Constitution does not forbid the execution of
an innocent person as long as the original trial was fair. Leonel Herrera's execution on May 12, 1993
makes one wonder what protection the United States Constitution can genuinely offer us if it allows
the execution of someone who is innocent.

Clearly, today's draconian standards for proving one's innocence are irrelevant if one has a
thoroughly incompetent lawyer . . . or no lawyer at all. When Exzavious Gibson recently appeared
before a Georgia court reviewing his capital conviction, he faced a team of experienced prosecutors
-- by himself. Gibson repeatedly told the judge that he did not know the law and had no attorney to
represent him. Nevertheless, the judge proceeded with the hearing and denied Gibson's appeal. In
the past, Gibson might have been represented by the federally funded Georgia Resource Center. But
last year, federal funding for all 20 death penalty legal resource centers, which provided prisoners
with dedicated attorneys, and helped discover and vindicate a number of innocent people on the
row, was completely withdrawn by Congress.

As a result, the likelihood that those who are innocent will be executed has increased dramatically.
The estimate that one percent of death-row prisoners is innocent is undoubtedly conservative. Given
the extraordinary resources needed to discover and ultimately free an innocent person from death
row -- which most prisoners do not have access to -- the rate may be considerably higher. And the
well-know study by Hugo Bedau and Michael Radelet revealing 416 cases of mistaken convictions
in potentially capital cases since 1900, including 23 executions of innocent people, in all likelihood
also underestimates the pervasiveness of the problem. Stevenson, the Alabama lawyer, says that
"possibly hundreds" of innocent people may be among the more than 3,300 men and women on
death rows across the United States. S

till, says Deiter of the Death Penalty Information Center, the fact that even one out of 100 death-row
prisoners may be innocent is a disturbing figure, proof that the death-penalty system is, quite literally,
plagued with fatal flaws. "Certainly," he says, "such a record would be totally unacceptable for a car
company whose cars were so defective that they caused fatal crashes in one out of 100 vehicles."
But as long as capital punishment remains a part of our "justice" system, innocent persons will
continue to be executed. It is inevitable. The abolition of the death penalty is the only guaranteed
protection against this tragedy.

-Michael Ross has been on Connecticut's death row for almost a decade and plans to waive
his appeals. Kurt Rosenberg is national coordinator of the Friends Committee to Abolish the
Death Penalty.



     REFLECTIONS ON FORGIVENESS      from Signs of The Times.

     His name Is Michael Ross, and his address is DEATH ROW. He writes: "I am the
     worst of the worst on my unit. I have killed more people by my hand than the rest of
     the prisoners here on Death Row combined. Yet, by God’s grace, today I experience
     more peace of mind and more true freedom than all these men. I'm not talking about
     physical freedom. My freedom transcends the physical world. It is a freedom that few
     understand; in fact, many here mock me when I speak about it. The freedom that I
     have experienced can only be achieved through the grace of God. I am grateful that
     God has forgiven the crimes I have committed against humanity. Whether the families of
     my victims will ever forgive me I do not know, though I pray they can. I do know that
     God has taught me to forgive those who injured me, and therein lies much of the
     freedom I have experienced.

     An unwanted child. My mother was pregnant at 16 and abortion was not an option. So
     she married a man she did not love and bore a child she did not want. She had been
     abused as a child and as is so common, became an abuser. I was the brunt of her
     abuse. Later, in prison, I slowly came to realize that the anger I was harboring toward
     my mother was destroying my soul. We can find inner peace only when we realize that
     we must change ourselves rather than the people who have hurt us. I wish that I could
     tell you the process of forgiving was easy, that because I wanted to forgive, magically I
     was able to forgive. The anger and pain I was carrying along with bitterness, despair,
     and self hate.
 
 
            Return To Michael Ross' Homepage

              The CCADP offers free webpages to over 500 Death Row Prisoners
                                               Contact us for more information.
                                                 info@ccadp.org
            The Eyes Of The World Are Watching Now
                                                       "The Eyes Of The World Are Watching Now"


This page was last updated April 15, 2001       Canadian Coalition Against the Death Penalty
info@ccadp.org          This page is maintained and updated by Dave Parkinson and Tracy Lamourie