Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Death Row Exoneree Urges Time Out

Nashville: Shujaa Graham knows full well the dangers inherent in capital
punishment. In 1976, Mr. Graham was sentenced to death in California. He
spent over three years on death row, and more than eight in prison,
enduring four trials, before his conviction was finally overturned and
his innocence proved. Mr. Graham is one of over 120 people released from
America's death rows after evidence of their innocence came to light,
roughly one exoneration for every nine executions over the same period.


Today, Mr. Graham will address the Legislative Black Caucus of the
Tennessee General Assembly, which meets every Tuesday afternoon at 4:30,
to urge support for legislation in Tennessee to halt executions for two
years and conduct a complete study of Tennessee's death penalty system.
Mr. Graham was invited to speak by Deputy Speaker Larry Turner who is
sponsoring the moratorium legislation, House Bill 1357/ Senate Bill 635.

"I am living, breathing proof that the death penalty system cannot be
trusted," said Mr. Graham. "I was nearly executed for a crime that I did
not commit, and I was blessed by a number of wonderful people believing
in me and supporting me. What if I hadn't been so lucky?"

Mr. Graham, an African-American man, was sentenced to death by an all
white jury, after the District Attorney methodically eliminated all
people of color from the jury pool. Critics of Tennessee's capital
punishment procedures maintain that Tennessee's death penalty similarly
fails to meet basic standards of fairness and accuracy. Along with the
frightening prospect of innocent people facing executions, one in four
African-American men sentenced to death in Tennessee have been sentenced
by all white juries and almost none of Tennessee's 102 death row inmates
could afford a lawyer.

"If Tennessee is going to have a death penalty, we deserve to know that
it can be trusted," said Alex Wiesendanger, Associate Director of the
Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing. "Executing even one
innocent person is unacceptable, and Shujaa's visit is a frightening
reminder of just how prone to error our capital punishment system is."

During his two-day visit to Tennessee, Mr. Graham has spoken to students
at Middle Tennessee State University, Tennessee State University, and
American Baptist College as well as addressing the Tennessee Chapter of
the National Association of Social Workers' Legislative Conference and
the Black Caucus.

"We cannot afford to forget the risks of our capital punishment system,"
said Mr. Graham. "I am an innocent man who was sentenced to death, and
there are over 100 others like me."

Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing
P.O. Box 120552 . Nashville, Tennessee . 37212 . 615-256-3906
e-mail: tcask@tcask.org

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