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Seed Newsvine

In Illinois it takes 12 jurors to unanimously recommend the death penalty in order for that sentence to be imposed. One juror chose to spare the life of Juan Luna, convicted of multiple murder at a Brown’s Chicken store in the Chicagoland area.While we may never know the motives of the holdout, unless she decided to come forward, I want to applaud her conscious choice in withholding her vote to put this convicted killer to death.

Luna proclaims his innocence. He was convicted on circumstantial physical evidence. If there is one chance in 10,000 that the conviction is in error and Luna’s claims are, in fact, true then it is clear that life in prison is the proper course of punishment.

Every life, including that of the convicted, is sacred and worthy of being saved. To do otherwise, to sanction state murder, is not justice. It is vengeance. The death of the convicted murderer will not bring back the lives he took. It will not fill the hole left in the heart of the families of the victim. And, then there is the ever so slight possibility that we were wrong in convicting Juan Luna.

No, the proper punishment is to spend the rest of his life in prison, eating cardboard food, fearing for his safety around each and every corner, sleeping with lights on and guards staring at his every movement. He is 33 years old. He has a long time to think about what he did.

The families of the victims were split. The daughters of the slain owners of the Brown’s Chicken store took a strong stand against the imposition of death for Luna.

The Ehlenfeldt sisters, whose parents were both killed that night, had earlier taken a stand against the death penalty.

“We respect the decision,” said Jennifer Shilling, one of three daughters of restaurant owners Richard Ehlenfeldt, 50, and his wife, Lynn, 49. “At 33, Luna will spend the rest of his natural life in a maximum-security correctional facility where he will only know the sterile routine of a convicted felon.”

clipped from www.chicagotribune.com
Eleven of the jurors who convicted Juan Luna of the 1993 Brown’s Chicken massacre voted to sentence him to death Thursday, but his life was spared because of a lone holdout.
The 12-member jury spent just two hours deliberating, then voted overwhelmingly for the death penalty, according to Cook County prosecutors, defense attorneys and jurors who spoke to reporters after the sentencing.
Jurors said the holdout was the same woman who initially balked before the panel voted unanimously last week to convict Luna of murdering seven workers at the Palatine fast-food restaurant during a robbery. They declined to identify her.
“We didn’t gang up on her because that’s not right,” said juror Tim Beltran, 22, of Westchester. “You don’t want to force her into anything.”
Under Illinois law, a death sentence can be imposed only by a unanimous jury vote. The split vote left the jury to recommend a life sentence for Luna, 33.

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Seed Newsvine

More trouble for the Bush White House it seems. Apparently there is no absence of arrogance at the White House, lessons learned from the Nixon White House no doubt. As the scandals grow around this administration, Bush grows more determined to wallow in the disaster of Iraq, support his buddies Gonzales and Wolfowitz as they fall down the slippery slope, and even threatens to veto the hate crime bill that will soon come his way. How ironic. Bush’s actions are the actions of a president in deep trouble willing to risk the welfare of the nation to shore up his position.

I just returned from a brief visit to Canada. Just reading the newspapers in Montreal was enlightening. There is no pro-American, patriotic spin placed on the news outside the United States. Because of my distinct middlewestern accent I was easily recognized as being from the States. There was no holding back. I was expected to defend Bush–something I would not do. My refusal brought sighs of relief–not all Americans are that bad after all was the message sent and received. I had the same sense in Italy a year and a half ago and in Australia nearly three years ago. It is difficult to travel the world when the world thinks so little of you. I am hopeful, however, that this will change after the next election.

clipped from www.commondreams.org
The Bush administration has withheld a series of e-mails from Congress showing that senior White House and Justice Department officials worked together to conceal the role of Karl Rove in installing Timothy Griffin, a prot�g� of Rove’s, as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas.0510 08 1The withheld records show that D. Kyle Sampson, who was then-chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, consulted with White House officials in drafting two letters to Congress that appear to have misrepresented the circumstances of Griffin’s appointment as U.S. attorney and of Rove’s role in supporting Griffin.
In one of the letters that Sampson drafted, dated February 23, 2007, the Justice Department told four Senate Democrats it was not aware of any role played by senior White House adviser Rove in attempting to name Griffin to the U.S. attorney post.
The withheld e-mails show that Sampson’s draft was forwarded for review to Chris Oprison, an associate White House counsel,

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Seed Newsvine

Ray Lesniak, a New Jersey democrat and former supporter of the death penalty said:he changed his mind largely because of the risk of executing an innocent person.

The important point in considering the abolition of capital punishment is just this–to insure not putting an innocent person to death.

There are, of course, other reasons to not put a convicted felon to death that include issues of ethics and humanity, but I will leave those aside for the purposes of this post. Here, what is most important is that innocent people are sent to death row and are put to death by the state and that is simply unacceptable. The standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” is, in the case of capital crime, flawed. Replacing that standard with “beyond ANY doubt” might address the issue to a greater extent, but when a verdict depends on the presentation of a zealous prosecutor it is subject to being flawed.

Hooray for the courage of the New Jersey legislature. I can only hope that the Illinois General Assembly will follow suit.

clipped from www.reuters.com
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) – New Jersey lawmakers will consider abolishing the death penalty this week, starting a process that could see the liberal state become the first to scrap capital punishment since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated it in 1976.
On Thursday, the judiciary committee of the state Senate will consider two bills calling for New Jersey to replace execution with life imprisonment without parole. Capital punishment in the state is already suspended under a moratorium passed by legislators in late 2005.
Sen. Ray Lesniak, a Democrat and sponsor of one of the bills, said he was confident that a combined bill would be passed by the panel and, while its fate in the full Senate was less certain, it was likely that the legislation would become law some time this summer.
Lesniak, a former supporter of the death penalty, said he had changed his mind largely because of the risk of executing an innocent person.

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The Chicago Tribune finally addressed the issue of the Cary-Grove High School response to Allan Lee’s response to a senior English writing assignment. I add some additional quotes from the article below:

Involving the police struck Jim Barnabee as overkill. He is a creative-writing instructor at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire and, like most teachers, has been trained to alert counselors or administrators if he thinks students might harm themselves or others.

He referred a student to a school social worker this year after she turned in a poem about suicide. It was a poorly written “emotional spew” that paid little heed to the assignment—all hallmarks of potential trouble, he said.

He added that Lee’s essay, by contrast, seemed more like the product of an annoyed senior, deserving perhaps of school discipline but not police intervention.

“If you refer someone to the police, all you’re going to do is teach kids to hide their feelings, to shove it down and not let it out there,” he said. “And I don’t think that’s what we want to teach young writers.”

The point here is that the CGHS teacher and administrators over reacted rather than practice appropriate measures.

Mary Kay Albamonte, a 22 year veteran teacher said:

“There are some rights that stop at the schoolhouse door,” she said. “Kids can’t just say or do anything. We’re responsible for them, and we have to be vigilant about it. When it’s staring you in the face you have to take it seriously.”

She and other teachers talk about limits with their students at the beginning of their courses. But some say that with violence and sex pervading American pop culture, teens don’t always understand what’s appropriate.

The issue is not one of rights or the lack of rights. It is one of the appropriateness of adult behavior when faced with perhaps inappropriate behavior on the part of one or more students.

If a student is engaged in a criminal act it is fully appropriate to arrest that student and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law. When did completing a school assignment become criminal. My goodness, would that we could get more students to complete their assignments. What may have been inappropriate was the content of Lee’s essay which you can read for yourself by clicking on the link. The language of the essay is not, even in the wildest stretch of ones overactive imagination, criminal. Disturbing, perhaps, but criminal, not in a million years.

As an English teacher, I read the essay in the context of the assignment, and through the lens of adolescent pop-culture. I read the words of a senior about to graduate and get on with his life. I read words that reference music, events, and even conditions in the classroom. I read the words of a very typical free writing exercise, one that is neither intended to be finished work nor coherent and cohesive in form.

Lighten-up CGHS. Give this kid some rope.

clipped from www.chicagotribune.com
A high school writing exercise that ended with the arrest of a McHenry County student last week was a dramatic illustration of a dilemma faced by young authors and their teachers: Where is the line that separates provocative from alarming?
The answer, many say, depends on far more than the words on the page.
A student’s demeanor, disciplinary record and relationship with the teacher all relate to whether a bloody piece of work is viewed as a bold, boundary-pushing statement or a thinly veiled threat.
“Judgment calls are required on all of this,” said Chris Meade, an English teacher at Glenbard North with 30 years of experience. “Nothing happens outside of a context.”
Allen Lee, 18, a straight-A senior at Cary-Grove High in Cary, was charged with disorderly conduct after he turned in an assignment that had called for him to write continuously for 30 minutes without making corrections, and without judging or censoring what he produced.

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Seed Newsvine

The most recent Gallup Poll (done before VT) indicates that the majority of Americans favor a combination of new legislation and stricter enforcement of existing gun control laws. The poll also indicates that only a minority of American homes (43%) indicate gun ownership, the majority of those households are in the South or rural areas of the United States. But why should I speak when the clip does a better job…

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Seed Newsvine

Allen Lee, an 18 year old straight “A” student at Cary-Grove High School, was arrested for thinking violent thoughts and charged with two counts of disorderly conduct. Lee’s senior English teacher, after reading what Lee wrote in response to a “Free Writing” assignment was disturbed enough to report the incident to the school’s principal. The school then notified the Cary police and the decision was made to arrest Lee.In America we do not criminalize thinking. What is criminalized is action. One can think all kinds of evil thoughts so long as one does not act on those thoughts there is no crime. In America we do not arrest authors for writing violent passages, for writing bad poetry, for writing propaganda or any other authorial endeavor. There is no Gestapo, KGB, SS, or Secret Police; no thought police and no book burners.

As a teacher of writing and author of a book on teaching writing, I understand the “Free Writing” assignment and advocate two versions of the practice in my book Teaching Writing in the Inclusive Classroom: Strategies and Skills for All Students, Grades 6 – 12 (Jossey-Bass Teacher). I do not, however, advocate arresting a student for responding to an assignment irregardless of how inappropriate I believe the product of the assignment to be. There are appropriate measures such as referring the offending student to counseling services, psychiatric services or social services, parent, teacher student conferences, and the like. But in America we don’t call the cops for thinking and writing.

While I understand the concern the school had considering the horrendous events at Virginia Tech, there is no justification for over reacting to Lee’s writing. The message sent is irreversible, sending a chilling effect through the entire creative process. I would urge the school to reconsider charging Lee with this crime and pursue appropriate measures to try to understand what is going on here.

clipped from www.chicagotribune.com
A Cary-Grove High School student charged with disorderly conduct for writing a violently descriptive class essay had received an assignment that said: “Write whatever comes to your mind. Do not judge or censor what you are writing.”
Allen Lee, 18, responded with passages about “shooting everyone” and having “sex with the dead bodies,” according to a disorderly conduct complaint filed Thursday by McHenry County prosecutors, Tom Carroll, the first assistant state’s attorney, said.
Lee’s English teacher, Nora Capron, and school officials found the senior’s stream-of-consciousness writing so alarming that they turned it over to Cary police, who arrested him Tuesday morning while he was walking to school.
Emling provided a reporter with a copy of the class assignment, which was titled “Free Writing.” It advised students to “write non-stop for a set period of time. Do not make corrections as you write. Keep writing, even if you have to write something like, ‘I don’t know what to write.’ “

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Seed Newsvine

It is chilling to think how many potentially innocent people languish in US prisons falsely convicted of crimes. It is even more frightening ti think how many people who are falsely convicted face the ultimate penalty in the United States.This story tells the story of a man who spent 25 years of his life in prison in Illinois falsely convicted of the crime of rape and finally exonerated based on DNA evidence. Can you imagine spending that amount of time in prison knowing you were innocent?

Our system of justice is designed to protect the innocent even at the expense of letting some guilty go free to spare the falsely accused of facing punishment–even death.

I do not have a problem placing the guilty in prison. But I do have a problem with a system that ignores the facts in order to increase conviction rates. We must do a better job to insure that we are punishing the right people–NOT THE WRONG ONES.

clipped from www.reuters.com
CHICAGO (Reuters) – A man convicted of rape in 1982 was exonerated on Monday on the basis of DNA evidence, the 200th time in the United States that such technology has reversed a conviction, lawyers who worked for the man said.
“I want to get on with my life … have a life,” said Jerry Miller, 48, after an appearance in Cook County Circuit Court where a judge tossed out his conviction at the request of prosecutors.
The New York-based Innocence Project, which has pursued such cases, said it marked the 200th DNA exoneration since 1989. Miller, it said, served 24 years in jail before a parole. In all the 200 people exonerated by DNA evidence served 2,475 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit, it said.
“They are just the tip of the iceberg. Nobody truly knows how many innocent people are in prison. Only a small fraction of cases involve evidence that could be tested for DNA and even among those cases, evidence is often lost or destroyed before it can be tested,” the group said.

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