We are in a new year, but in what ways will this new year be different from last year? Who is it that will present us with a “new” vision so that we can move forward in this new year and accomplish some of the goals that we set out for ourselves as we try and end this death penalty?
Personally, I will always have goals that I have set out. These goals are both short-term and long-term. And in setting them out I do so with a mind-set that they can be accomplished. And I surround myself with like minded individuals who are also mentally disciplined and focused in trying to accomplish the same goals. A negative minded person is someone that I will not keep around me. Negativity is a cancer. It can spread and kill goals, ideals and movements. And the fact is, too many people are so used to failure that they begin to look for failure as opposed to working towards success and achievement, so as to move forward towards the next goal. In short, I see what I have. I appreciate it. I cherish it. I never look at what I don’t have. Never a downwards glance. Never a negative. Always positive, and always positively looking forward.
This past year the most significant event to me was the freedom from death row of my “lil bro”, Kenneth Foster. That in itself surprised many. But for me it is not a surprise. Why not? Because from the beginning everything about his case pointed to one thing – FREEDOM! Simply put, he should never have been on death row in the first place. The phase of his struggle is to now get OUT of prison. And that will be accomplished. Believe that!
This past year also has seen an impromptu moratorium initiated by the Supreme Court, so that they could look at the question of the constitutionality of the lethal injection protocol. Clearly, the protocol is NOT constitutional. And many states are anticipating it will be declared such. And if not, they are already hastily trying to modify their lethal injection protocol so that they will be able to continue their grisly business of state administered death. This year, as the courts weigh the lethal injection issue, we in the struggle to end the death penalty should be pro-active, and try as best we can to take advantage of this situation. On the face of the argument is this:
- Can states put people to death as long as it is in a humane manner?
- If states can in fact put people to death, what constitutes “humane”?
What a lot of people don’t realize is that the high court has said “yes” to the initial question and has deemed lethal injection the answer to the second, in the past. Further, it has stated that regardless, we – people on death row – are not entitled to a painless execution. So, in the face of this, where do we go? What is the way forward?
From what I see the ONLY way forward is to make the death penalty a less viable option for people – states – to utilize by:
1) making it a financially unattractive option of punishment
2) making it very hard for a prosecutor to seek a death sentence for a case in the first place
Now as far as how to make the death penalty a financially unattractive option, it’s simply about TAXES. Why should those who are against the death penalty and those who have family and loved ones on death row be forced to pay for their deaths with their tax dollars? At the last time I checked it cost more to take a capital case to trial than a non-capital trial. It also costs more to house a convicted capital defendant, who still has an automatic appeal process to go through. Years ago, pro-death penalty advocates realized this potential criticism of the death penalty being costly in terms of time, and so sought – successfully – to limit death row defendants’ appeals. Thus the average appeal went from 12 – 15 years, to 5 – 8 years, prior to an execution. At about 2.3 million dollars to house a death row inmate on average, the math is clear. MONEY MATTERS!
On the aspects of making it harder for prosecutors to seek the death penalty, the most obvious thing to do is to protect a suspect’s rights. This is something that has to go far beyond the basic Miranda rights, which many police pressure suspects into waiving. And even when it is revealed that this has been done illegally – absolutely against a suspect’s rights – a prosecutor will go on with trying to build a case against that person. Many people have seen TV shows in which law enforcement and prosecutors violate a person’s constitutional rights in an “end justifies the means” form of “justice”. Because people seem to be more desensitized to the realities of HOW people get convicted (ie. weak and circumstantial evidence), prosecutors receive more benefit of the doubt as opposed to the defendant. The standard of prosecution is low. A prosecutor should have to PROVE a person committed a crime. NOT that a person COULD have committed a crime. So what I am saying is, the standard of proof to convict a person of a capital crime should be higher, and not the same as it is to convict someone of car theft! When a person’s life is at stake, and with so much evidence that there have been wrongful convictions, the stakes are too high to afford a “mistake” in killing an innocent person by state administered death.
Also, when a person is subject to being charged with a capital crime, upon arrest they should be GUARANTEED that their constitutional rights are safeguarded. That being, a person should AUTOMATICALLY be given access to legal representation, regardless of if they request it or not, BEFORE any type of questioning or process takes place, such as a line-up, taped confession, etc… Waiver of this should not be an option because police over time can wear a person down with threats and intimidation. Case in point, Clyde Smith – a man executed by
There are many dimensions to the above examples. The main thing is to gather the support together and make these steps forward a reality. It can be done. It WILL be done. This is the way forward. This is the vision. Let’s make it happen!
In Strength and In Spirit!
Tony Egbuna Ford
In November 2005 as Tony was in the midst of his protest against his execution date only a few weeks away, he was interviewed by then KPFT reporter Renee Feltz.
Hear an excerpt of that interview:
A couple of years ago, on November 2, 2005, I stepped out of the visitation building – having just concluded a legal visit – and proceeded to sit down on the ground. The two escort officers who were accompanying me were puzzled as to “why” I would just sit on the ground, because as far as they knew they had caused me “no” problems. Nor, had they heard of any problems had been done to me… Sitting on the ground with the sun in its last throws of light before setting, Lt. Richie (who no longer works on the row) came walking up and asked “why” I was sitting on the ground. So, I told him, “I’m sitting here in a non-violent peaceful demonstration against my execution date next month…”
I don’t think anyone could have foretold of the events to come from that demonstration. No-one had ever heard of such a thing happening in the manner in which I’d decided to protest. I had started protesting my then December execution date a FULL month before, with non-violent, peacefull sit-ins, which the administration, under (then) Warden Massey, Warden Hirsch, and Major Nelson, responded to by leaving me confined in my cell without any property, NOT allowing me a shower, recreation, or visits… UNTIL support and pressure from the “outside” forced them to lift the restrictions against me. Yes, people HAVE protested their execution dates in the past. Such notable protests as those of Desmond “Lil Dez”
Sitting on the ground waiting for the “team” of guards to come and carry me back to my cell, Lt. Richie proceeded to tell me how he was “pro-death penalty”, and how he would be glad when I was executed, and how he felt that we all should be executed… He said with regards to my protest that NO ONE will know. NO ONE will hear. And NO ONE will care…. About the actions that I had initiated that day… Actions that would be followed up by brothers back here who supported my actions, like Rob Will, Gabriel Gonzales, Andre Simpson, Reginald Blanton, Robert Woodard, and Kenneth Foster. Not only were we protesting my then execution date, but ALL execution dates. Because, as we all stated and feel, the death penalty IS injustice. And OUR LIVES have worth.
Recently, an interview which I did with Court TV aired. And the level of support following the interview has been great. Of that I am TRULY grateful. Again, no one could have foreseen the events that would stem from that interview. But, my hope and feeling is that you, the people, have sensed and shared my feelings of injustice. And for your level of support for me and my interview, I TRULY thank you. And I also TRULY thank Court TV for interviewing me and simply allowing me to express myself. Again, I thank you.
One of the key components to the death penalty is the growing opposition against it. Yet, opposition cannot just be expressed in “words”. “Words” of opposition are the start. “Actions” that originate from those words of opposition are the result. And that is what I hope and pray come from the many welcomed words of support, actions which will not only help me gain my freedom, BUT also to end this death penalty. I could not in good conscience want for “me” freedom and not fight for the abolition of the death penalty. That when carried out against the innocent, is an all too final end from where there is NO coming back. So, while your support for me is greatly appreciated, I ask that you also turn your support to Kenneth Foster who has an impending execution date for August 30th. He is slated to be executed for a crime that NO ONE claims he committed!! It is a stated fact for the record that he sat in his car as a co-defendant got out and killed someone. Neither Kenneth, nor the other men in the car, killed, promoted or instigated killing anyone. The trigger-man in Kenneth’s case has already been executed. Kenneth’s other co-defendants are serving various sentences in the
Many people believe, as Lt. Richie did – that NO
In Strength and In Spirit!
Tony Egbuna Ford
When you’re young, you think that you have everything figured out. Your thoughts you figure, at best, are really on top of things. So much so that all you really want is the chance to be out on your own. That way you can “prove” to the “world” and all the “nay-sayers” who don’t believe you are quite ready for the “real world”. You don’t realize that you really don’t know it all until something happens to make “your world” come crashing in. And that is what happened to me the day I was arrested and charged with capital murder.
Another thing that you don’t realize when you’re young is HOW MUCH weight your actions, no matter how big or small, can affect people. As a grown man, matured by experience, I can recognize such thoughtless actions I had as NOT THINKING.
Today, I gave an interview to Court TV. I was interviewed by two ex-detectives,
Honestly, when I was arrested I had no idea that a murder had taken place. That is something that didn’t play a part in what later transpired that night of the crime, or the day after. You’d think that if someone had done such a thing then they would tell you. That they would let you know something like that had happened. Maybe he told Ken. I don’t know, but I wasn’t told. My only thoughts were that Van was stupid for running and kicking a door, and that it made such a noise, that people up the street seemed to be looking in at me while I was sitting in the truck waiting for him and his brother to come out. When you’re in a situation like that you immediately start thinking the police must be coming because someone would have surely called them… It’s HARD to put your mind around the actions of other people. And your thought process doesn’t take on a linear path. Everything happens so fast and you react. It is ONLY later, when you have time to sit back and reflect, that you see that you should have done something differently. I don’t think people look enough at the people they have around them – be they family, friends or associates. People don’t think “This person could have the potential to kill someone”. And if you do then the question is, what type of people do you have around you?
To find out that a murder had taken place, and not only that, but, that I was the one being charged with that murder…. it just sort of leaves you “blank”. Call it “shock” or whatever, but it is like looking at yourself from outside of your body… It just didn’t register that I was being accused of murder. You think, “There MUST be some mistake”. You think, “Murder? You mean a MURDER?!” And the whole time, while I am trying to grasp what is being said, and what I am being accused of, I am asking myself, “How could that have happened?” One of the things that wasn’t clear to me was just WHO it was I was supposed to have murdered. I was being hit with a “thousand” accusations all at once. It wasn’t until Van’s statement was thrust in front of me that I had some idea what had taken place the night prior had gone terribly wrong. Still, I was left blank. Why? Because it DIDN’T MAKE SENSE!! No one was supposed to be murdered. So, no, it didn’t make sense to me. And as I was grilled and accused of being the person who had committed the murder all I could do was try and make sense out of what was happening, while the bottom was rapidly falling out of life as I knew it. And trying to do so with events happening at the speed of light!
The going back to do something differently scenario… Well, fact is I DIDN’T know that anyone was shot and killed. So, I was still in the “dark” again no matter what “hindsight” of events I have now. Hindsight better prepares you for something similar that might occur in the future. Thus, you look back to hopefully learn something from past mistakes. Also, what has to be understood, is that the two detectives who were questioning me about the murder of Armando, ONLY wanted a confession. They were not asking me what I had done the last night, or the one prior to that. It wasn’t like, “What did you do last night? Where were you? Do you know you are being accused of murder by Van? Or that someone has picked you out of a photo line up?” Or, “This is your chance to lay things out for yourself…” It didn’t go like that. No. It was more like, “You bastard! We got you! We know you did it! So why don’t you do yourself a favour and confess! We got you! Your “buddy” says you did it, and we have an eyewitness who says you did it!!!” It was a verbal beat down by the detectives who charged me with murder. And anything less than a confession, they were NOT trying to hear. So, the question remains, with hindsight, would I have made a statement? I would have to say no. The whole situation was over my head. And without speaking to my mother or an attorney, then NO I wouldn’t have made a statement. Talking doesn’t help and neither does being quiet. It’s a catch-22. I really feel that if someone is charged with capital murder, then they should AUTOMATICALLY have an attorney presented to them. A charge of that nature is SO serious, that one should be there whether asked for or not. There are too many men here who have been scared or threatened into confessions which have later gotten them executed, and then down the road evidence comes out that someone else committed the crime for which they were executed. And video taping a confession doesn’t help because it doesn’t show what happened BEFORE a person made the confession – the threats and coercion to confess. A good friend of mine who was executed last year, Clyde Smith, was forced into making a confession because the police knew that he had a fresh bullet wound and wouldn’t allow him medical attention UNTIL he did. So, NO, I wouldn’t have given a statement. You don’t speak into a situation you know nothing about. And assumptions are often wrong. And that is what would have been expected of me. To assume what Van and Victor did or did not do in the Murillo home. Then there is the trust factor. And the thing is, I simply don’t trust cops. And being caught up in this system all this just reaffirms this belief. The poor are not treated with the same respect and dignity as those who have money. The assumption is, that if you are black, latino, or poor-white, then you are guilty. I know this from experience. Cops don’t believe that they can be wrong. EVEN WHEN THEY
The weight of the situation… I didn’t “get” it. Again, honestly I didn’t “get” it. When someone is accused of something that they didn’t do, that person would generally have some kind of “righteous indignation”. I felt like “C’mon, you’re joking right?”! Of course being accused of murder is NO JOKE! But again, I’m thinking, “well if you only KNEW me, then you’d know I couldn’t do what it is you’re accusing me of doing – murder”.
The WEIGHT of what I was being accused of didn’t hit me until I had seen the Murillos testifying about the horrible ordeal they had witnessed and been through. Further, them saying that I was the one who had caused them such loss, pain and hurt… No matter the facts of the case or my saying that I am innocent, they truly believe I committed a crime against them. Their hurt is genuine. Their loss is real. And their pain is apparent. And during the trial, and seeing the crime scene pictures, and hearing their testimony – I
I was asked during the interview, “Do you think you deserve to be in prison (on death row)?” And, “If the
I really don’t know what I deserve… That’s a selfish question to answer… And it is hard to answer such a question… Especially when I am surrounded by and know so many selfless people. And who have in turn taught me to be such. I wonder if Mr Reggie Britt and
Thank you Court TV. And thank you Mr Reggie Britt and
In Strength and In Spirit!
Tony Egbuna Ford
-Jan. 24, 07
Being here in this hell really affords me a lot of time to think. Some people think that I think too much. But, I can’t help it. I am introspective and I believe that this is the only way that I can grow and develop from the mistakes that I make in life. I don’t think that it is productive to keep repeating the same mistakes over and over. How do you grow doing that? Some things do need to be done in repetition, for the sake of perfection. But, if mistakes are repeated, does this mean that one becomes more perfect in their mistakes?
Well, a lot is going on here. But, that is to be expected when you live within a prison environment. Things happen and not all of it good. But, there are some good things going on that I believe are being missed by a lot of people who tend not to pay attention to death row or the things that go on here UNLESS they are happening to someone here who has a lot of outside support. Or someone who is supported by a certain group or organization. But, what of those who don’t have that type of support? The type of supporters who will take the things that that person does to fight against the death penalty and to fight for justice in their case, and publicize these things.
Anyway, good things are happening, and I look forward to more good things transpiring, such as the protest that has been going on periodically when someone has been unfortunate enough to have advanced to the point of that final day of life here on earth. The bad thing is – no one seems to be really paying attention. Not the news organizations – whether mainstream or underground independent media. Nor does it seem that those who supported those who have been slain by this state, have taken these men’s final stance and advanced it to the public view. So, in a sense, I am pissed. I am also disappointed. But, let me go back and explain what it is that I am first talking about ok?
Last year when I had a December 7th execution date, I started a passive non-violent protest against my execution. Even when my execution date was modified to March 14th of this year, I continued to protest. Now, please understand my doing this caused much distress. You see most people will just ride out their remaining time – eat as much as they can, have their last visits, etc… and try and make like everything is ok, not withstanding the fact that the state has it in their minds to murder them. All in the name of justice… In the name of the people… Well, for me, this has NEVER been “ok”. And it never will be. I cannot fathom anyone thinking that it would be “ok” to murder anyone. And, being here, especially for those who are innocent, how could anyone ever think they could make this “ok”??? To not resist? I am not talking violence. I am talking simple resistance against something that is so unjust. Something that is so wrong. And my view has always been this: Look I am not in some hospital bed. I am not dying of terminal cancer or some other incurable disease or illness. This state is saying that it will KILL me. And unless something positive happens, then they will. So what I need is people who will stand with and by me, as I struggle for my life. That has been my stance from day
I remember when I first heard about how people protested someone being killed by the state of
Then I, along with some other brothers here, namely Ponchai “Kamau” Wilkerson, Emerson “Young Lion” Rudd, and a few others thought, “Well MAYBE the struggle out there is not vocal and demonstrative because we back here are doing nothing!” So, we set about trying to do something to show that we are not just talking a good game. That we are dedicated to this struggle. And that we would lead by example. Well, after being beaten across the head, and having countless precious personal property items destroyed – humiliations worse that what already goes on… - we still didn’t garner the support we thought would come from our actions… I mean I have been run in on and beaten, along with the aforementioned brothers and countless others. I have seen Howard “L.D.” Guidry (who thank God is back on a retrial!) carried down the hall like a log for refusing to walk, while he was doing his share in protesting the abuse back on the Ellis unit. Seeing brother Shaka Sankofa (Gary Graham) have his property destroyed because he would dare to expose what was going on back here on death row. Seeing Willie McGinnis starve almost to death as he did his leg of the hunger strikes to protest inhumane conditions and executions. Brothers beaten and gassed for daring to take a stance and lead in those things that we felt would galvanise the people to the cause… Only, this had the opposite affect. Instead, we were abandoned wholesale. We were told to “chill”. To not “cause any trouble”. This despite the fact we were getting beaten and humiliated regardless!
BUT, we felt that peaceful non-violent protest would be something that was “safe”. It was also a way of protesting that we chose because we know we are not those monsters that we are portrayed to be. So, random acts of hurting other human beings were not even an option. The question was, and always has been, “WHAT could we do to gain the much needed support from the outside? To show you that we are with you, and hopefully you are with us, as we do
Well, the things that we have been doing down here in
Anyway, these are some of the things that have been going on down here…while you were sleeping.
Tony Egbuna Ford
Last year, shortly after arriving back at the Polunsky Unit – Texas Death Row – I made it known that I would protest my impending execution date, which was set for December 7th. Due to new developments in my case I am still here – alive and able to continue to fight for my life, and also fight for an end to the death penalty.
I made it known to a few people here on Death Row, of my plans to protest and they in solidarity rallied to support me – voluntarily sacrificing the few privileges and much looked forward to visits – all in a show of force, to state that we are against state sanctioned murder by the state of Texas. This protest took the form of timed “sit in’s” whenever we were outside our cells. When it came time to go back in, we would sit and announce loudly, “I am against state sanctioned murder…”, or something along those lines. Those who stood with me in this respect are: Robert Will, Gabriel Gonzales, Andre Simpson, Kenneth Foster, Reginald Blanton and Robert Woodard, And a couple of other brothers on their date of execution also laid it down in protest – namely Shannon “Big Tank” Thomas and Marion Dudley.
The sole purpose of this protest is not only to protest the injustice of the death penalty, both individually and collectively, but also to state that our lives have worth. And that I – we – will not just silently go to the slaughter, as if it is alright to kill us – especially those of us who are innocent.
Now protest against execution dates in Texas is not new. Those who came before me being: Desmond “Lil Dez” Jennings, Ponchai “Kamau” Wilkerson, Emerson “Young Lion” Rudd, Shaka Sankofa (Gary Graham), Todd Willingham and Marcus Cotton. The difference in this protest is that it started a month before my scheduled execution date, and also that others joined me in active – not just verbal – solidarity, to make such a stance.
Retaliation was swift. The protest was mocked by the administration. Threats were made. I was told “No one will know. No one will see. No one will care about your protest.” Yet, you the people helped to prove them wrong. Many of you rallied to sign my petition. Others helped to bombard the prison and ombudsman with calls to assure them that people were watching. That people did care. And thus, the administration had to back up off its retaliatory measures. This is because you the people rallied to aid us and support us in protest.
However, it is not over. As I write this I now have a March 14th execution date – this one more serious than the last because I have been turned down by the Supreme Court. But the fight is not over – and neither is the protest. So, I humbly ask that you continue to stand with us as we protest this Texas murder machine from within the belly of the beast. Stand with us and help us spread the word and give exposure to what we are doing. We cannot let this be in vain. Execution is not business as usual with me. I AM INNOCENT. And I plan to let my voice be heard from the mountain tops – and protest this injustice against me.
Where are our outside leaders to spear head a solidarity protest with us? There are none. Their attention to our plight is short. But we have emerging leaders now!! Ray Ramirez and The Welfare Poets have stood by me and helped rally you the people to the cause! The Coalition to End the Death Penalty, ALIVE and a few Texas based coalitions! It’s the small groups – the “unknowns” – who are making our voice be heard! Our disgust felt at seeing countless men and women put to death for no other reason than naked vengeance! This is not justice. This is murder.
Still, no matter what, our efforts down here in Texas, coupled with Ray’s and The Welfare Poets’ and you the people, is signalling the beginning of the end of the Death Penalty! No matter what – its end is near! Can you feel it?! Can you sense it?! As Sam Cooke sang “A change is gonna come.” Well, I tell you the change has come! The change is here! The change is us!
So, spread the word and continue to support our efforts of freedom. Not just for me. But to help end the Death Penalty period! We are the beginning of the end of the Death Penalty!
I thank you for your sincere efforts and support.
In Strength and In Spirit
Tony Egbuna Ford (February 3rd 2006)
“……Anyway, March 14th looms ever closer. This means, that without another modification of my execution date or a stay, I may be murdered by this state. If that is to be the case, I ask and appeal to the power of the people to not let this be a “normal” execution. I stand in opposition of state sanctioned murder. You – people of conscience – likewise do. But what good is protest if I don’t bring action? Protest is action geared. I’m not for violence. But people, I’ll tell you this. Unless anti death penalty activists turn to peaceful civil disobedience, we will have a death penalty for years to come in America. State sanctioned death is murder! It can be viewed no other way. But the problem I see is that so called national leaders are not directing their sole attention to ending this madness. Their politico party or organization may have an “anti death penalty” platform. But they are not active against the death penalty. And many anti death penalty groups, while meaning well, continue to play the “kick me” bag for death penalty proponents. What politico has paid a political price for supporting the death penalty? What prosecutor or police officer has been fired or jailed for sending innocent people to their deaths?
Ok, I will bring this to a close. But keep this in mind: Marion Dudley was killed yesterday by the state of Texas. He sat in protest and made them carry him to the van that was waiting to take him to the murder house in Huntsville. Is our protest in vain? Last year on November 16th, Shannon “Big Tank” Thomas likewise sat in protest on his execution date. I ask again. Was his protest in vain? Is our protest in vain? We are showing with our actions that we protest to the highest degree that we are not OK with this state saying they will kill us on a certain day at a certain time. It is not OK. Let the world know. If people don’t know then what we do down here will be as if our actions didn’t take place at all.
Don’t let our actions be in vain.
Always In Strength and In Spirit!
Tony Egbuna Ford”