My name is Anne Coleman. I am the Delaware State Abolition Coordinator for Amnesty International. I have to tell you that Delaware is the number one per capita in the U.S. in executions. We have executed eight people in the last four years, three of them this year.
I came to be Amnesty's death penalty coordinator quite by accident. But I think I'd best start by telling you that I am not a bleeding heart liberal. I believe in accountability. I believe you have to be responsible for your actions. I also oppose the death penalty. I always have and I always will, except for one day in my life.
It was September 22, 1985. I was living in Buffalo, NY. My three children, all in their early twenties, had gone off on their own. Unfortunately, Tim had to return home after developing a brain tumor while serving in the Army. He was undergoing radiation therapy. My husband, Claude, was recovering from cancer surgery. My youngest, Daniel, was a sergeant in the Army, stationed in Hawaii. My daughter, Frances, was working as an occupational therapist in Los Angeles.
The phone rang
in the afternoon, and I picked it up. It was my niece, who said,
"Frances is dead. She has been shot." I don't remember screaming,
but I know I did. I do remember saying, "Where is Summer? Is
Summer all right?" Summer is my daughter's child, who was two years
old at the time. Since both my husband and my son were sick, I had
to make my way to Los Angeles by myself, and I can tell you, sitting on
that plane, I was thinking "When I get there, if I can find out who killed
daughter, I am going to kill them myself." That was how angry and how frustrated I was. It was the
loneliest time of my life. But that was not the normal me. That was me, the mother, the one who was full of rage, waiting to wake up because I was positive that this was only a dream.
Daniel met me when
I landed in Los Angeles. he had been put on emergency leave from
the Army. Together we went to the 77th district station. I
asked the detectives what happened to my daughter. We were told that
it was none of our business. They said they don't discuss crimes
with third parties, which includes family members of the victim.
I was told that I wasn't allowed to ask any questions. They were
the people in charge of asking questions. I was lucky that I had
a violent crimes coordinator assigned to my case. She told me exactly
what it would be like. "If someone hasn't been arrested in four days,
most likely, unless there is a snitch or they pick up some finger prints,
will never know who killed your daughter." Sadly, to this day, that is still the case. I don't know who killed her.
We went home
from the police station to my niece's house, and about five hours later
the police arrived. They had been to the autopsy and they had brought
her purse and car keys. They threw them across the room at me and
said I'd better pick up the car: "It's costing you money." I wish
I had never picked up that car. I wish I had never seen it again.
My daughter was shot in the car. She bled to death - the bullet going
through her lungs, her heart, and her aorta. She drowned in her own
blood. The car had been towed to the police pound; it was September
and quite hot, and it smelled
really, really bad. My son Daniel said that he never, ever could forget that smell. In fact, the smell of that car and the attitude of the police, being too busy to find out who killed my daughter, had made my son very, very angry, and he wanted revenge.
After six days of
taking care of business, I managed to get back to Buffalo. My daughter's
body was already there, and the wake was the very same day. We went
about our business, burying my daughter. But Daniel became angrier
and angrier. He wanted to kill the people who murdered his sister.
My son, who had made E5 sergeant in three years, started to become a non-functional
member of society. Over the next two years and nine months, his need,
his desire for revenge really took over his life. He thought at one
time that he would go buy an Uzi and go to the Coliseum in Los Angeles
and mow down as many people as he could because he thought he might be able to get
the person that killed Frances. And the other people really didn't matter because he might have killed that person. But you know we can't do things like that, even though the Constitution says we
have the right to bear arms; we certainly don't have the right to go around killing people.
Two years and
nine months after my daughter was buried, I was back at the very same cemetery
to bury my son, Daniel. He had finally gotten the revenge that he
needed, but the only person he could take revenge on was himself.
He had nowhere else to channel his feelings about a need for justice.
Although the death certificate says, "cause undetermined," in my heart
I know that he took an overdose of antidepressants deliberately.
So I had to bury two children from one bullet. But I also saw how
revenge can be.
After my daughter's death, I inherited my daughter's child, Summer. She is now 13. Seven years to the day after my daughter died, her father died of "natural causes." He had always refused to answer any questions about what happened to Frances. We were now free to adopt Summer and could leave the state of New York. It also meant that Summer has to live the rest of her life with the fact that both of her parents died on the same date.
We moved to Delaware. One of the things that happened soon after our moving was that there was an execution scheduled. I had never lived in a state where they had executions. New York had not had them all the time I lived there, so it was a new experience for me. At first I thought, "I'll just leave the State while they are doing this."
But the "We the People" in me said, "No, it's wrong. I can't tolerate this." So I called the newspaper and asked where the demonstrations would be held. They said, "There aren't any here in Dover. You could go to Wilmington, which is more liberal."
This was surprising
since Dover is the state capital. So Summer and I went down to the
office building by ourselves, and we demonstrated that afternoon with home made signs. Through going there that one time, I met many people who opposed the death penalty. A couple of weeks later, I went to an assemblyman's hearing on capital punishment. The Ku Klux Klan were there as well as clergymen, lawyers, and this one small black woman, a lady called Barbara. She got up and she said, "I'm in so much pain. It hurts me so much. My son is on death row and I can't stand it, because it is not just my son that is being punished -- it's my grandchildren, it's my children, it's me. We have
nightmares every night about when they are going to kill my son. I'm non-functional, and I don't know how to work anymore."
I know what that feels like from losing my own two children. I also realized that I couldn't live with what she was going through. I think I would go crazy and probably take matters into my own hands. Sadly, there are over 3000 families in this country in the same situation as Barbara. She went on to say, "I wish I could give the daughter of my son's victim a hug." I walked over to her after the meeting and said, "I have a daughter who needs a hug. You can give her a hug."
I have become very, very good friends. She and I go on The Journey
of Hope, which is the annual journey of Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation.
We go all over the country speaking about the death penalty. At one
point she asked me if I would go with her to see her son on death row.
I agreed to go to the Delaware Correctional Center to see Robert.
his question to us was, "Just what are you going to do for all the other
families of death row inmates that are hurting just
like my mother and our family?" She and I thought about his question for a while and we made
appointments to see every other person on death row in the state. At that time there were 14 of them. I have to tell you that some of these people are pretty nice people who made a terrible,
terrible mistake; others I wouldn't want to be around -- but I've met them all.
One of the people
I went to visit was a man called Billy Bailey. He was one of 23 children,
from a very poor family -- sharecroppers. Billy's mother died when
he was six months old. Billy's father remarried almost immediately
and it turned out that the stepmother had absolutely no use for the children.
She beat them severely. The younger ones raised the very smallest
ones. Billy learned to steal like the other kids did -- food from
people's houses, food out of people's fields -- in order to
survive. When Billy was ten, his father died at the age of 75. Billy was abandoned in the cemetery by his stepmother, along with his sister who was two years older. He was brought to Wilmington, Delaware where the abuse continued. In the records, the State says that he was socially deprived and socially retarded. They didn't say that he was mentally retarded -- just socially. He thought that he had to steal everything that he wanted. And I'm not talking about gold jewelry. If he needed food, he would go into store and take it. That was his way of life. It continued to be his way of life into adulthood.
Delaware has long had a "three strikes and you're out" law. When he got his third strike, they said they were going to put him in prison for the rest of his life. He went on a drunken rampage and killed an elderly couple.
I believe you
have to be accountable for your actions, and I have no problem with Billy
Bailey having to spend the rest of his life in prison. In fact, prison
was the first real home Billy ever had. The Billy Bailey that was
sentenced to death in 1980 was not a nice person. When I first went
to meet him, I was really very frightened because I thought I was going
to meet Hannibal Lecter. The newspapers had made him out to be such
a person. In fact, what I found was a little man, 5'3", walking through
the door with his eyes downcast, wondering if I had come to assassinate
him. As I went
in, the sergeant at the gate was incredulous. He said, "You are going to visit Billy? He hasn't had a visitor in over ten years."
Over the next two years Billy and I became pretty good friends. We
used to talk a lot, and he really couldn't believe that the State of Delaware
was going to kill him. After all, the first nine years of his incarceration,
he had said he wanted to die. They said, "No you can't."
Then seven years ago something changed his mind and he started fighting
to stay alive. By that time the State began to try to execute him.
Billy had been the foreman of the woodwork shop at the prison for over
six years. He produced over $15,000 of work a month in labor for
which he was paid thirty-five cents/hour. He
was fully rehabilitated. He never expected to leave the prison, but he wanted to work and was
contributing to his upkeep. As I said, I am not a bleeding heart. I agree that he should have stayed in prison for the rest of his life.
On the 12th of December, I was in court with Billy when the judge said, "You'll hang by the neck until you are dead, and may God have mercy on your soul." He also read an execution order for lethal injection, and the State of Delaware tried very hard to make Billy go along with lethal injection, because that is absolutely routine now. Billy would not. He said, "I will not participate in my own execution. The sentenced me to hang. They have to hang me."
Billy was housed in the maximum security unit. In maximum security they are locked away 23 hours and 20 minutes a day in a single cell with a door and a hole under the door where they push the food in. There are no bars. It is a big metal door. If you want to speak to someone across the hall, you have to lie down on the floor and shout through the hole. You are not allowed a TV but you can have a radio and books. You are out of your cell for 40 minutes a day. You are permitted one 45 minute visit and one phone call a month. The state of Delaware has executed four people who were what they call consentual in their executions, because they just couldn't stand living like that anymore. They wanted to die rather than to spend the rest of their lives in maximum security. For those who think prison is like a country club, funded by their tax money, I can only say that I wouldn't want to be a member of that club.
I had an appointment to see Billy on the 13th of December. When I arrived, Billy told me, "They are not going to let you visit me any more. The warden says he doesn't want you to come again." It took me seven weeks to get permission to visit Billy another time, and only through intervention by the governor's counsel, who was able to convince the warden to allow me one visit. I had to keep my hands flat on the table the whole time. I was with him when his attorney called on the 20th of January to say that the Supreme Court had refused to grant a stay, and that he would, indeed, be hanged.
He was hanged
just after midnight on the 25th of January. He was standing on top
of the gallows out on the prison farm when the witnesses arrived at ten
minutes to twelve. The wind was howling so hard that my son got a wind
burn. That's how cold it was that night. So I have always wondered
how he managed to stand on those gallows without trembling. The two
guards at either side of him were wearing masks, the kind of mask that
the assassins wore at the 1972 Olympics, kind of tight over the
face. They stood beside Billy. One hand was tied behind his back; the other in front of him. At 12:01 the execution order was read. Billy was asked if he had any last words. He said, "No, sir." A hood was placed over his head, and the knot of the rope was placed behind his left ear. He was dropped down at 12:04 and was pronounced dead at 12:15. The witnesses saw him twirl six times in one direction and a couple times in the other. Then a curtain dropped down, and no one knew what happened after that. It took eleven minutes hanging there for him to die, which, to me, seems like cruel and unusual punishment.
Six days later we were back for another execution, this time by lethal injection. I didn't feel that I could deal with another right then, and I was going to stay home. But I went to my mailbox that day and there was a letter from the next candidate for execution, thanking me for being his friend and for helping his family. So I had to go back again.
David is another
person sentenced to death in Delaware. Four years ago this man stabbed
his wife. Then, with his wife, his two children and two of his neighbor's
children inside, he set fire to the house. He was found not guilty
of stabbing his wife and killing her. He was found guilty of killing
the three children that burned in the fire. Undoubtedly, he has to
be punished for the rest of his life. But Delaware has a thing called
jury override, and the jury override means that when a person is convicted
of a crime, and the jury has said that they are guilty, they also get to
decide the penalty; if the penalty is supposed to be death, it used to
be that 12 people had to agree to that punishment. Now it is jury
override -- the judge can override the jury and determine the penalty.
At the penalty hearing, the man's surviving seven year old son said to
the judge, "I love my daddy. I need him. Please don't kill
my daddy. I need him." Now if that 7 year old child, who was
the victim, the only surviving victim, can forgive his father, even though
he knows that his father has to spend the rest of his life in prison, what
are we saying to that little boy when we "know" better than he does what he needs, and that we
have to have justice for the victims. His father must be killed. This boy is certainly the victim, yet no
one is listening to him. Marcus is now 11. he still lives every moment with the fact that his father is going to be killed. I sometimes take him to prison for his monthly visit, and Marcus sits there talking to him just like any other child would talk to his father. He loves him. He has forgiven him. He knows that his dad has to spend the rest of his life in prison. But who are we going to punish if we execute David? David will be dead, but Marcus will be paying for that for the rest of his life, and Marcus'
children will certainly be paying for it, too.
Jim Clark, was executed April 19, 1996. He had asked me to be a witness.
I had been his only visitor in the year that he was awaiting his death
order. Sadly, the State told the judge that my known association
with anti-death penalty groups made me a security risk. They said
I might expose his execution team. James was alone on the day of
his execution. His case might make you think a lot about what the
State is really accomplishing when it executes someone. He had consented
to his execution, and right before he died he shouted to his lawyer, "Jerry,
hey, I'm free. I
have no more pain." The State simply succeeded in carrying out his own suicide for him.
Now the State of Delaware has a law that came about after a fourteen year old killed a ten year old child. The fourteen year old was charged with 1st degree murder and was tried as an adult. The State Supreme Court ruled that the State had made an error and that he would have to be released when he was eighteen. He was released at that time. Immediately, the Assembly went into emergency session and passed a law which states that if anyone fourteen or younger is killed by someone four years older, the accused is subject to capital murder charges.
was on the Geraldo show. With me on the program was a woman who had
been in California at the execution of her son's killer. It was now
two months later. She said, "I am so angry. They promised me
I would feel better. I waited 15 years for this man to die, and now
I have no one else to hate. I have no one to hate and I am so angry."
It turned out that everything she had been able to blame on
her son's killer no longer had an outlet. I had a nice talk with
her, and I have a friend who is contact with her on a regular basis.
She feels she was cheated by the prosecution because they told her she
would feel better after this man's execution, and she really doesn't.
She feels she could have put the tragedy behind her a long, long time ago
if he had been sentenced to life in prison. She would have known
he was going to spend the rest of his life in prison, and she
could have gone about getting her life together.
The other people
I would like to speak about are all the family members of people
on death row. I have met so many of them all over the country.
Can you imagine how your parents would feel if somebody walked up
to them and said, "On the 9th of July I am going to kill your child, and
there is nothing you can do about it." How would you feel? This is
what family member of death row inmates go through on a daily basis.
I have to tell you that my feeling upon losing my daughter was pain, and
I have come to learn over the last few years that pain is pain, and it
doesn't matter where the pain is coming from because we can't weigh it.
The mother of a death row inmate has as much right to feel
pain as the mother of the victim, and I know she feels as much pain as I do.
Finally, I want
you to think of these statistics. There are approximately twenty-
five thousand homicides a year in this country. About 1%, or 250,
of these homicides get prosecuted as capital crimes, punishable by death
in states that have the death penalty. Out of the 250 people convicted
we execute approximately 50, or 20-30% a year. So of 25,000 people
murdered each year, executing 50 doesn't make any sense, because we are
picking and choosing who we think are most vulnerable -- not who committed
the most heinous crime. My daughter was just as precious to me as
you are to
your mother, and that, I think has to be the factor -- that every human life is precious. We have to consider that "We the People" are the ones who are losing when we execute someone. We the
People, not the execution team that is killing someone. Every time a State executes someone it is in my name, and I object strenuously to that.
Anne Coleman. Delaware State Abolition Coordinator for Amnesty