The Georgetown Campaign to End Death Penalty sponsored a Live From Death Row event to raise awareness about the death penalty. About 50 Georgetown students attended the event that was created seven years ago at Georgetown and is now a nationwide program that allows university students and community members to speak with death row inmates.

The audience spoke to two inmates on the telephone and also met a man pardoned from death row. Kenny Collins and John Booth spoke from Maryland’s Death Row about their respective lives and cases. Madison Hobley spoke face-to-face with the audience about his 16 years on death row and his current month as a free man after a last minute pardon from Illinois Governor Jim Ryan.

The event also featured more speakers from the other side of the bars. Death Penalty Representation Project members Robyn Maher and ike Lawler and defense attorney for Maryland death row inmate Stephen Okey, spoke along with D.C. and Baltimore area Campaign to End the Death penalty coordinator Mike Starr.

All speakers brought anti-death penalty sentiments of varying degrees to the talk. Starr was clear in his sympathy for those on death row.

“Pro-Death penalty officials want to convince you that these people are animals, which is not the case,” Starr said.

Starr prefaced the discussion with his sympathy for inmates and condemnation of pro-death penalty officials, and then turned the floor over to Maher. Maher offered her view on a number of death penalty issues, namely race.

“The racial prejudice that continues to infect death penalty proceedings is the civil rights issue of our time,” aher said.

Maher argued a number of other points, including the economics of the death penalty and the lack of competency shown by death penalty defense attorneys, before returning to race to make a more specific point.

“Death row inmates are predominately people of color,” Maher said. “Every inmate on death row in aryland is there for killing a white person, but twice as many blacks as whites are murdered in the state every year,” Maher said.

After outlining the inequities of the death penalty system, aher added her organization’s point of view of her organization.

“We will not tolerate a system that violates fundamental human rights,” Maher said. “We need to make our voices heard over those who speak to expand the death penalty.”

As Maher finished the phone rang and the audience received the first call, from Kenny Collins. Collins has been imprisoned for more than 10 years on 23-hour lockdown and is not allowed any contact with his family closer than the phone or the Plexiglas. As Collins studies his case and works through his appeal, new evidence is coming to light.

“One of only two witnesses who testified against me has come forward unsolicited and said that he lied,” Collins said.

Collins also gave evidence to Maher’s earlier arguments as he discussed his public defender.

“When he took my case my council was facing federal charges for tax evasion. A psychologist has since said that he had diminished capacity at the time of the case,” Collins said.

Mr. Hobley then gave Collins encouraging advice about how to handle his case and how to remain confident and positive, which Collins took to heart.

“I will fight my battle and continue to persevere,” Collins said.

The next phone call came from John Booth, now on death row for 20 years, who answered a similar question from the audience about his confidence despite difficult circumstances.

“I keep my positive attitude because I grew up with good people like all of you,” Booth said.

Mike Lawler then spoke of his client’s case and its effect on the state of the death penalty in Maryland. Oken’s case has been both effective and much discussed nationally.

“Because of Mr. Oken’s case there is essentially a de facto moratorium on the Death penalty in the state of aryland,” Lawler said.

Madison Hobley then concluded the discussion with his story. Hobley was pardoned after evidence proved that police had tampered with his case.

“By the grace of God and a governor with an open mind and a conscience, I am here today,” Hobley said.

The discussion then turned to current and local events. The sniper issue is a relevant concern to those not in favor of the death penalty. The overwhelmingly negative local and national sentiment toward the snipers motivate many to call for the death penalty, but Hobley disagrees.

“The snipers committed a horrendous crime, but life without parole is a worse punishment for those men then death,” Hobley said.

Hobley closed by telling the story of his release and relating his feelings as his life was saved.

“I feel amazing to have been so blessed. But I still feel sad that I can’t share this joy with the people that I left behind,” Hobley said.

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