Petitions Signed

Fighting to End the Other Death Sentence: Life Without Parole

TRUTHOUT

By Jean Troustine

When incarcerated people in 17 states initiated a 19-day prison strike last month, one of their 10 demands was that all “imprisoned humans have [the] possibility of rehabilitation and parole.” This includes the opportunity for early release, allowing prisoners both to exit before the end of their sentence and to serve their remaining time in the community.

The Lady Lifers at SCI Muncy sing, "This Is Not My Home" at TEDx in 2014.
The Lady Lifers at SCI Muncy sing, “This Is Not My Home” at TEDx in 2014.
COURTESY OF ELLEN MELCHIONDO AND NAOMI BLOUNT

 

 

It also means an end to the harsh sentencing practice known as life without the possibility of parole (LWOP). In an August 26 interview with MSNBC, formerly incarcerated activist Darren Mack described LWOP as “death by incarceration,” explaining, “You will not leave prison until you die.”

Noted political scientist and author Marie Gottschalk has called life without parole “death in slow motion.” Pope Francis deemed it “a death penalty in disguise.” Kenneth Hartman, who served more than 37 years in prison before California governor Jerry Brown commuted his sentence, was the first to label it “the other death penalty.” When he was still behind bars, Hartman wrote for The Marshall Project that life without parole is “the sense of being dead while you’re still alive, the feeling of being dumped into a deep well struggling to tread water until, some 40 or 50 years later, you drown.”

Across the country, activists inside and outside prison are making headway in organizing to end this harsh sentencing practice. They say more and more people are realizing that the US is an outlier in extreme sentencing. Jonathan Simon, writing in Life Without Parole: America’s New Death Penalty by Charles Ogletree and Austin Serat, Jr., explains that the United States, unlike Europe, rejects the role of “dignity” in its sentencing practices. Joseph Dole, currently serving life without parole at Stateville Correctional Center in Illinois, and the author of numerous articles (several published in Truthout) discussed progress against harsh sentencing in a letter: “There has finally been an acknowledgment that long sentences are the main driver of mass incarceration, that people age out of crime and are thus less of a threat when they are older, and that longer sentences don’t deter or reduce crime.”

 

Read the rest at Truthout.org

Report wants life without parole abolished

ABC NEWS

By Kevin Johnson and USA Today

A record 140,610 inmates in state and federal prisons are serving life sentences and nearly one-third of those have no possibility of parole, according to a criminal justice research group that supports alternatives to incarceration.

The Sentencing Project, whose reports are regularly cited in academic and government reviews examining criminal justice policy, concluded that the number of inmates sentenced to life without parole has more than tripled to 41,095 since 1992. The report, citing in part the rising cost of incarceration, urges that life without parole be abolished.

The recommendation was met with strong opposition from some law enforcement officials who said life sentences, including life without parole, help drive down violent crime.

Joseph Cassilly, past president of the National District Attorneys Association, acknowledged that long prison terms are a “huge drain on resources.”

Read more at ABC News

Inmate paroled with Joe Hunt’s help

With the help of Joe Hunt, William Baldwin of Contra Costa County was released on September 8, 2018 from the California Health Care Facility at Stockton.

Joe met William, nicknamed “D,” at Pleasant Valley State Penitentiary, and the two became friends. In 2014, William received a copy of a letter sent by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to his trial judge demanding an increase in his sentence. In the letter, corrections officials took the position that there had been a sentencing error in William’s case, and they believed the law required William’s trial judge to increase his sentence by two years.

William came to Joe for help, and Joe filed a brief in opposition to CDCR’s request for resentencing on William’s behalf. After reviewing Joe’s filing, William’s trial judge did the exact opposite of what the corrections department had recommended: he reduced William’s sentence by two and a half years.

“Any time I have an opportunity to help someone in need, I am grateful,” Joe said. “It’s deeply gratifying to know that I had a role obtaining justice, and ultimately, freedom, for a friend.”

A 1987 Los Angeles Times story described the “crusty” judge who presided over Joe Hunt’s trial as one who “has been known to rule before hearing the evidence,” with an “unorthodox judicial style.”

LOS ANGELES TIMES

Laurence J. Rittenband, 81, Shows an Unorthodox Style: Crusty Judge Rules His Court With Iron Hand

April 13, 1987

Lois Timnick
Times Staff Writer

He has been known to rule before hearing the evidence and to show his disdain for a written motion by tossing it in the wastebasket.

He makes–and sustains–his own objections. He grills witnesses when he thinks they have not been thoroughly questioned.

He sometimes tells lawyers appearing before him to “shut up” or “get on with it.” He frequently evicts a defense attorney he dislikes from his Santa Monica courtroom. And he once berated jurors who voted to acquit a defendant, saying that the verdict was “the most horrible miscarriage of justice” he had ever witnessed.

Unorthodox Judicial Style

Now a crusty 81, Superior Court Judge Laurence J. Rittenband is believed to be the oldest full-time judge on the bench in California. While presiding over the murder trial of Billionaire Boys Club leader Joe Hunt–which is scheduled to go to the jury this week after 2 1/2 months of testimony–he has astonished courtroom observers with an unorthodox judicial style that some call “refreshing” and others “reprehensible.”

The short, stocky judge leaves no doubt as to what he thinks of the participants–a tendency which occasionally results in the prosecutor’s siding with the defense against him.

“I am gravely concerned with the course that the court is taking,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Frederick Nathan Wapner told Rittenband during an in-chambers discussion about his refusal to permit Hunt’s second defense attorney to question witnesses.

“I will take my chances,” the judge snapped back, according to a transcript. “I know that you have an obsession about any kind of error. . . . I am running this trial, not you nor they.”

Read the rest at LATimes.com

California considering end to felony murder rule

ABA JOURNAL

The Marshall Project reported last week that the California State Assembly’s Public Safety Committee had recommended the approval of a bill to limit murder prosecutions to people who intended to kill, actually killed or behaved with reckless indifference to human life. The bill has already been passed by the California State Senate.

Read more at ABA Journal

2008 Daily Journal story notes that “Even the prosecutor fretted that Hunt’s rights were at risk” during trial

“Billionaire Boys Club” Revisited

DAILY JOURNAL

Lawyer says backroom deal led to celebrated murder conviction for client 21 years ago

Nov. 21, 2008

By John Roemer
Daily Journal Staff Writer

Tales of the felonious preppies who ran the “Billionaire Boys Club” riveted Los Angeles in the 1980s and involved murder conspiracies, trials and convictions, two books and a TV movie.

The saga’s latest installment features the club’s imprisoned leader, Joe Hunt, who has a conspiracy theory of his own. An illicit backroom deal between a Los Angeles trial judge and a lawyer for Hunt should erase Hunt’s 1987 murder conviction and life-without-parole sentence and spring him from state prison, Hunt’s new lawyer contends.

A federal habeas corpus appeal ongoing in the Central District of California argues that the late Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Laurence J. Rittenband drove a lawyer he disliked off Hunt’s defense team, depriving him of the right to counsel and fatally flawing his trial. Hunt v. Kernen, 98-5280.

State prosecutors defending Hunt’s conviction countered that a California appeal court has already authoritatively dismissed Hunt’s claims. Hunt’s attorney retorted that the state court’s reasoning is irreconcilable with the Constitution.

More…

Free Joe Hunt

If you believe in hope, justice, and rehabilitation, join our cause, and give hope not only to Joe Hunt, but to prisoners everywhere sentenced to life without parole -- "the other death penalty."