Friday, July 03, 2015

Help Texas Death Row Survivor Alfred Dewayne Brown

After more than ten years on Texas death row for a crime he did not commit, Alfred Dewayne Brown walked free and into the loving arms of his family and friends on June 8, 2015. "I went in an innocent man and I came out an innocent man," said Brown. Now, he needs your help so that he can rebuild his life. Every donation makes a difference. Will you please help him?


Dewayne's life changed forever on April 3, 2003. It was on that day that Dewayne was falsely accused of a horrible crime which resulted in two deaths. Despite the fact that Dewayne tried to tell the Houston, Texas police that he was at home during the incident, they chose to believe two men who did not want to turn in their buddy, so they "fingered" Dewayne. A series of events took place that Dewayne could not control. He told anyone and everyone that he was home and the landline phone records would prove it because he had called his then girlfriend at work when the news came on. It was these phone records that would be the pivotal point in the release of Dewayne. The Grand Jury argued with Dewayne and threatened his girlfriend with jail time and with taking her children away from her if she did not change her story. She buckled, the DA hid the phone records and Dewayne was sent to Death Row.

Despite the fact he kept telling his trial attorney he was innocent and the phone records would prove it, nothing was presented at trial. It was only after the conviction of the two actual defendants and Dewayne ending up on the infamous Texas Death Row, that several people came forward, admitting to lying and telling the DA that Dewayne was not even aware of the crime.

Nothing impressed the Harris County DA and Dewayne was left with the thought of lethal injection for a crime he had nothing to do with. Appeals were filed and in 2007, the law firm of K&L Gates took the case, honing in on the lost phone records. It took the attorneys six years to find them - IN THE GARAGE OF AN INVESTIGATOR. The DA in 2007 stated that failure to disclose the records "was inadvertent and not in bad faith. It was one piece of paper". The trial judge signed orders for a new trial, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals threw out the conviction and ordered a new trial in November 2014.

Lisa Falkenberg, a columnist for the Houston Chronicle, took notice of Dewayne and wrote a series of articles concerning his case and the Grand Jury. Making waves around the world and winning the coveted Pulitzer Prize for her series, Ms. Falkenberg has shed light on the barbaric Grand Jury system in Harris County, from threatening witnesses to using ex-cops to serve as foreman (on nine juries). It took the new DA, Devon Anderson, seven months and two days, to announce that Harris County has no evidence to bring charges against Dewayne and he should be set free.

Dewayne spent 12 years, 2 months and 5 days behind bars for something he had no part in. That is 4,449 days or 106,776 hours of his life that was stolen from him. Nearly every one of those days were spent in solitary in a cell no larger that a small bathroom. Living with the fact that he could be executed any day. Torn away from his family, not being able to be a father to his daughter. For this, the State of Texas needs to compensate Dewayne. But, because of the "clever" wording in the paperwork when Devon Anderson declared that Harris County has no evidence against Dewayne, it will be an uphill battle to win compensation. A battle that will not be won any time soon.

This is where the people of the world come in. Dewayne needs your help now to get on his feet. He needs to rebuild his life that Harris County and the State of Texas stripped from him. Going straight from solitary to the "free world" is no easy task. He needs time to adjust being able to make decisions on his own, at a pace that is comfortable to him. We can never give these years back to Dewayne. But, we can help him manage more comfortably. Please give what you can. Everything makes a difference.

Read more about the day Dewayne was released here.

This fundraiser is being conducted with the consent of Dewayne Brown, who will receive all funds raised, minus the 3 percent charged by the credit card processing company. We have also obtained consent from Dewayne's legal team. While Indiegogo Life doesn’t charge a fee, payments are handled by third-party processors who charge a 3% transaction fee.

At the end of the 30 day campaign, the donations will be transferred directly from the system to a bank account set up by Dewayne's legal team for his exclusive benefit.

The fundraiser organizers are a group of Texas death penalty abolitionists who want to help Dewayne. Organizers include Pat Hartwell, Scott Cobb, Hooman Hedayati, Gloria Rubac, and Delia Perez Meyer, as well as the organizations Texas Moratorium Network, Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, Campaign to End the Death Penalty, and others to be listed as they endorse the fundraiser.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Historic Texas Senate Bill Filed to Abolish Death Penalty in Texas

11-Eddie-Lucio-MUG_1176019a (1) 
Texas State Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr has filed legislation to abolish the death penalty in Texas. This is the first time a state senator has ever filed legislation to abolish the death penalty in Texas. It happened because organizations in Texas held the Statewide Texas Lobby Day to Abolish the Death Penalty on March 3 and death row survivors Ron Keine and Sabrina Butler from Witness to Innocence and Scott Cobb of Texas Moratorium Network met with Senator Lucio's general counsel and requested that the Senator file abolition legislation. 
Here is a report from the Austin American-Statesman on our successful lobby day, which was widely covered in the media, including the Dallas Morning News, potentially reaching hundreds of thousands of people in Texas with our message. 
Last summer, Senator Lucio attended the Democrats Against the Death Penalty caucus at the Texas Democratic Party state convention. The caucus has been held every year since 2004 when it was started by Scott Cobb. The caucus has proven to be an effective method for persuading Texas Democrats to make abolishing the death penalty a higher priority among both elected officials and ordinary people in the Texas Democratic Party. 
In the coming weeks, we will be working with Senator Lucio's staff as well as staff of the House sponsor of the abolition bill, to prepare for committee hearings on the abolition bills. When a hearing is held in the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, it will be the first time ever for a hearing on abolishing the death penalty in Texas. It will be up to the chair of the committee to decide if a hearing is scheduled.
Here are links to the two pieces of legislation filed by Senator Lucio. One is a regular bill (SB 1661) and the other is a proposed constitutional amendment (SJR 54).
Thank you to all the groups and people from across Texas who participated in the lobby day, including Texas Moratorium NetworkTexas Death Penalty Abolition MovementCampaign to End the Death PenaltyStudents Against the Death Penalty, and Witness to Innocence.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Conversation with Sandra and Rodrick Reed

Rodney Reed’s family has been at the forefront of a 17 year struggle to prove his innocence and win his freedom from Texas’ death row. Recently, Rodney’s mother Sandra, and brother Rodrick, sat down to talk with Lily Hughes about their disappointment in the courts, the need for DNA testing, and the pain of facing an execution date.
THERE'S A clemency process that's already started, and we hope that you will have an opportunity to meet with the new governor, Greg Abbott, or perhaps members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles, to talk to them about why they should grant clemency. What you would say to the governor if you did get a chance to meet with him face to face? 
Sandra: What we've been saying all along! Rodney is an innocent man. He was wrongfully convicted. He didn't get a fair trial, and they used Jim Crow tactics to convict him. It's not that they use Jim Crow tactics with every trial, but they used it with him.
We just want the new DNA testing. We want the truth. That's all we're asking. The only evidence that was presented was his DNA, and it was old. And you have nothing else--I mean nothing to link him to this case. How is it that you have enough merit to take a life--over old DNA? He was dating her!
There was a box of evidence that Judge Towslee ordered sealed--locked away. We never knew what that was until recently. Now, at this last hearing, there were two boxes when there should have been one, and they both were unsealed. That, to me, spells corruption. All I'm asking for is fairness. Give my son a fair shake. He never had a fair shake in the beginning. That's all we're asking.
And from my point of view, no matter what, you still shouldn't take a life. Thou shalt not kill. What happened to the Ten Commandments? That's all I have to say. 
Rodrick: I would say to him that we just want to be treated the way he would want his own treated. We want the same thing he would expect if he were in our shoes. Fairness. Equality. We're not asking for anything special. We're not asking for anything out of the ordinary. We're just asking for what's right.
Sandra: And if you have thousands of people out here who believe in him, what does that say? There is a shadow of a doubt...Twelve jurors were deceived. I still don't know how they thought they had enough to do what they did, but I do believe they were deceived. 
RECENTLY, AT a hearing here in Bastrop in front of the trial judge, he denied important DNA testing. And of course, there's been a string of denials from the courts over the years, whether it's the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals or the Fifth U.S. Circuit of Appeals and, more recently, the U.S. Supreme Court. How has that affected your view of the court system and the way the criminal justice system operates? 
Sandra: I've told people over the years that I was very naïve as far as the justice system is concerned. I thought that if anything went wrong, all we had to do was take it to court, because that's what the United States stands for: fairness without a shadow of a doubt.
But when it came down to my son's case and the hearing and the way the trial went, it just went plumb Jim Crow.
There were witnesses waiting to testify, but never called. They made me a possible witness for the prosecution and never called me. The judge denied the alibi witness from testifying. And sitting there during that process, there was nothing I could do. I had no knowledge of the law itself, I didn't have the funds, and I was denied the ability to testify for my son.
It felt like I was chained and bound. There was nothing I could do but stand there and watch them railroad my son. Over these last years--17 or 18 years of fighting--I have to say: Thank god for the Campaign to End the Death Penalty. Because you guys know what's going on and what happened to me.
You wouldn't have known what happened to Rodney if you hadn't been concerned about right and wrong, and what did happen. And I am a proud member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty.
Traveling over the years, and speaking and meeting exonerees from death row and other family members speaking out--that encouraged me to keep right on fighting for my son. This proved to me that the United States has defrauded all of us.
They painted this so-called justice system with rose colors and made us think that we would get a fair shake. And being Black, you have that mark against you. Looking back at Martin Luther King and how he fought for our rights, I thought, well, we have our rights now. But I realize we don't. We never had equality. 
AND THE courts have completely failed us.
Sandra: The courts have completely failed us. Right. Absolutely. 
SO WOULD you say that winning justice from the system requires taking MLK's route? 
Sandra: It's a hard row to hoe, especially when racism is still rampant. Things are better on the surface, but within, it's still there, and it still hurts. It still affects people.
It's undercover slavery. That's what I feel. The government is building all of these prisons. Why? And most of the people are minorities. The justice they're carrying out is legalized murder. Murder is murder.
Yet we're willing to sacrifice our young men and boys to go over and fight for somebody else's rights. And we don't have our own backyard cleaned up? We're killing our own. That's what I got out of this--there's no justice in this so-called justice system that we have.
Rodrick: There's some justice, just us.
RODRICK, DID you have anything else you wanted to add about the courts?
Rodrick: Yes. I believe the courts are very, very misleading, because you think that justice will be blind and everyone should get a fair shake. But the reality is that if you don't have the capital, you're going to get the punishment. If you're poor, you're not going to get proper representation. If you're mentally handicapped in any kind of way, you're not going to get a fair shake, and that's not right.
So the bottom line is that there's a lot of work to be done in the justice system, and it's not going to happen until we come together and use what we have to make it better. In cases like my brother's case, once we bring him home--which I pray that's the way it goes--then the fight keeps going. That racism, that injustice, that corruption is still there. And that's the roots that we have to try to dig up. 
SWITCHING SUBJECTS, I think that both of you have been down to see Rodney fairly recently, and we were wondering if you could talk about how he's handling everything?
Sandra: I haven't seen him since the hearing, because there have been other people, such as his sons, who have been visiting. I wanted them to have as much visitation as they could, because over these 18 years, he hadn't seen his sons. When he was convicted, his sons were six or seven--maybe not even that old. But they're now grown, and they have their own kids, so they've been visiting.
His granddaughter lives in California, and her mother put her on the plane, and her father picked her up in Dallas--and wow, they just had a wonderful, beautiful visit. Each visit was four hours. Monday, they got two visits in the same week for four hours, and I think that was wonderful.
So I want those kids to visit as much as they can, and other people who are in his corner and hadn't seen him. They needed to see him, and he needed to see them. He only gets a one visit a week, and so that makes it kind of tough. But he's strong. 
Rodrick: Yeah, he's real strong. He's real positive. You go down there with the expectation of trying to lift his spirits up, and... 
Sandra: He lifts yours. 
Rodrick: He lifts yours. And I think it's all possible because of God, and all his supporters and friends and family who believe in him and support him. That keeps him strong, that keeps him positive, that keeps him going. If it had been me, I'd be crazy as a bug, but he's strong. 
Sandra: His support is strong, and his family, we're right there with him. If he can just see our faces and see how strong we are, it keeps him strong. 
Rodrick: We keep each other strong. 
Sandra: He's doing as well as can be expected. And of course, our faith is strong and I'm optimistic. Yet I have to face reality of how this justice system has treated my son over these 18 years, with the denial of everything. I'm hoping and praying. I can't see how, with all of this information and evidence pointing to Rodney's innocence, Greg Abbott would deny him clemency, but who's to say? 
THAT BRINGS me to my next question. How are you all doing? I know this is not an easy time, and it never is. What do you want to say about the death penalty, and the way it creates a whole new set of victims? 
Rodrick: Myself, I'm tired. 
Sandra: He's tired. We're all tired. 
Rodrick: I'm tired, but I'm strong. I'm going to keep my strength, and I'm going to push on as far as I can and do all that I can do, and I'm going to let God do the rest. But I think that it's very stressful. I've aged--I've got more gray hair and a face full of gray. It has an effect. 
All in all, we're good. And I know it will get better. We all have points where it's like, how much more can we take? How many more denials? How many more years? How many more days?
Sandra: And on top of dealing with everyday life, I have six sons, and all of them have their issues. Their issues are mine, and I worry. Not as much as I used to when they was coming up. Now that they're in their 40s and 50s--- 
Rodrick: Don't tell them my age! (laughter) 
Sandra: I'm telling mine accidently! But, you know, when it rains it pours. There's going to be times where everything happens at one time. But we're maintaining. It's a struggle, but we're maintaining. And me being the mother, words can't even express what I'm feeling now at this phase. I could tell you but you wouldn't really know.
Rodrick: The words can't describe it. 
Sandra: I can sit here and tell you right now how much I'm grateful to you guys, and the words aren't enough. 
Rodrick: They don't even do it justice.
Sandra: Words can't even express what I'm feeling. At this phase of the game, I'm strong. I'm optimistic. Knowing what this system has done to us, I can't believe it until I see it now. I have to touch it now. So that's the best I can do, but I'm praying to God that he gives me the strength to endure whatever. 
Rodrick: Somebody told me yesterday, "I'm really proud of you for the work that you do for your brother. I think you're doing a good thing. I'm so proud of you." I looked at her and I said, "To be proud of me for doing something for someone that I love is not a big deal. What moves me is people who do something for someone they don't even know--a stranger." 
That's what gives me strength. When we have people like you who are not related, who didn't even know Rodney, but you came in and you gave up your time and your money and everything you can give to help support us. Because it's easy to do for someone that you love. Anybody does that. But to do something for a stranger who you don't know even know--that says it all. 
Sandra: But see, you're God's angels to me. I know we've discussed that before, but you are. 
He assigned you, whether you believe in Him or not, to do this. It's His work. Through you guys. Those petitions that we attempted to submit to the DA! Eleven thousand signatures! 
AND NOW it's over fourteen thousand. 
Sandra: The signatures of people who we don't know! 
Rodrick: That's what I'm saying. We have to be here. And if we're any kind of good family and love our family, we have to do the things we have to do. But for all the hundreds and thousands of people trying to help us, that's something to be proud of. 
Sandra: Because if it was up to our family, we would be screwed, glued and tattooed!  
THAT BRINGS us to the last question: Is there anything that you want to say to people who already support Rodney? What can people be doing right now that helps the most? 
Sandra: What helps the most is do what you've been doing. I thank each and every one, the thousands and possibly millions of people that have viewed that documentary State vs. Reed and took an interest. I thank them all. 
Rodrick: I thank you all, and I'm proud of you, because that's doing something--when you're in a situation where you don't have to be, but you chose to be in it. You chose to be in this fight. You can sit down on the sidelines and watch it go down, but you said no. I stand up and I'm going to represent. 
Sandra: How long have we been in this together? Fifteen years. 
Rodrick: That means the world to me.
Sandra: And I love all of you.
Read more at the New Abolitionist.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Arnold Prieto

Arnold Prieto, 41, is scheduled today to be the first person executed under Governor Greg Abbott. Arnold is a frequent contributor to the blog, where you can learn about him in his own words. He is deserving of a commutation to life in prison, so call Gov Abbott and urge him to stop today's execution:
(512) 463-2000.

by Arnold Prieto
September 10th, 2014 12:48am
Normally I would be fast asleep during these wee hours of the morning, but instead I find myself typing out my following thoughts to you. My night lamp is my only source of light, beaming down from its perch over my head on my shelf, while the silence is booming its loudness throughout this tomb all around me. I can hear someone’s radio so softly that it gets lost in the silence and making it sound so small compared to it .....
Count time will be called out within the next couple of seconds and the locking mechanism of the crash gate leading into the death watch section will break the silence with its loud metal on metal clanging sound. Soon, there will be a flash of light piercing our dark cages. Well, semi-dark in my case, as if a lightening bolt struck within our walls. The loud silence will once again reclaim its rightful place as the thundering of closing doors echoes out with the guards passing through the tomb with their infernal light.
Within that silence, I can hear the whooshing sound of Father Time's heavy pendulum swinging with every passing second ..... tick.tick.tick.tick.tick.

Friday, December 12, 2014


As you are filling out your holiday cards this winter, please remember the men and women who will spend the holiday season behind bars. Opening a holiday card and receiving greetings and words of encouragement from you could really mean a lot to someone who has to spend the holidays away from his or her family.  

Many CEDPers host holiday card writing events, which is a great way to get together in a more casual setting, make plans for the new year, and send some holiday cheer into prison walls. 

Here are some addresses of prisoners we have come to know through our work. You may want to add them to your holiday card list.
Death row prisoners:
Kevin Cooper, #C-65304, San Quentin State Prison, San Quentin, CA 94974
Darrell Lomax PO Box K-27402 SQSP San Quentin, CA 94974
Keith Doolin #K 13400, S.Q.S.P. (4E-Y-25) Death Row, San Quentin, CA 94974
David Lee Thomas #A-717466#P61185# A-1, Union Correctional Institution, 7819 N.W. 228th St., Raiford, FL 32026-4000
Keith Gavin #Z-665, 3700 Holman Unit 8U4, Atmore, AL 36503
Siddique Abdullah Hasan #R130-559, Ohio State Penitentiary, 878 Coitsville-Hubbard Rd, Youngstown, OH 44505-4635
Rodney Reed #999271, Polunsky Unit, 3872 F.M. 350 South, Livingston, TX 77351
Louis Castro Perez #999328  Polunsky Unit, 3872 F.M. 350 South, Livingston, TX 77351
Jeff Wood #999256 Polunsky Unit, 3872 F.M. 350 South, Livingston, TX 77351 
Rob Will #999402, Polunsky Unit, 3872 F.M. 350 South, Livingston, TX 77351
Christopher A. Young #999508, Polunsky Unit, 3872 FM 350 South, Livingston, TX 77351
Carlos A. Hawthorne Jr. #K-67900, San Quentin State Prison, San Quentin, CA 94974
Correll Thomas P.O. Box P-55743 3-EY-6 San Quentin State Prison San Quentin, CA 94974
Beth Markman #0G3739, P.O. Box 180, Muncy, PA 17756
Michelle Tharp #0F6593, P.O. Box 180, Muncy PA 17756
Shonda Walter #OJ8227, P.O. Box 180, Muncy, PA 17756
Darlie Routier #999220  2305 Ransom Road, Gatesville, TX 76528
Christopher Erdman #1008950 #6 South 515 Fulton County Jail 901 Rice Street Atlanta, GA 30318

Former death row prisoners who continue to be incarcerated, some with life without parole sentences: 

Mumia Abu-Jamal #AM-8335 SCI Mahanoy, 301 Morea Road, Frackville, PA 17932
Kenneth Foster Jr.  #1451768 Alfred Hughes Unit Route 2 Box 4400 Gatesville, TX 76597 
Kenneth Collins #189948, MHC-X-C-7, Jessup, MD 20794
Eugene Colvin-El #157345, MHC-X, P.O. Box 534, Jessup, MD 20794
Stanley Howard #N71620, 2600 N. Brinton Ave, Dixon, IL 61021*
Robert Gattis #188752 Unit-SHU17 JTVCC 1181 Paddock Rd Smyrna, DE 19977
Vernon Evans #172357, North Branch Correctional Institution, 14100 McMullen HWY SW, Cumberland, MD 21502
John Booth 170-921, North Branch Correctional Institution, 14100 McMullen HWY SW, Cumberland, MD 21502
Timothy McKinney #10137763 Shelby County Jail 1-E-21 201 Poplar Drive Memphis, TN. 38103

Thursday, November 13, 2014


By Marlene Martin
Sadly, our good friend and comrade in struggle Darby Tillis—the first exonerated Illinois death row prisoner in the modern era of the death penalty, passed away on Sunday November 10, at the age of 71. He was a steadfast fighter for abolition. After being released from prison in 1987, along with his co-defendant Perry Cobb, Darby spent the entire rest of his life fighting for justice. 
We will miss Darby terribly. To many of us, he was a teacher, someone who knew and could explain the criminal justice system from the inside out, and who worked passionately to expose it. Working alongside Darby in the Campaign to End the Death Penalty was an honor. 
His full name was Jesse “Darby” Tillis, but we all knew him as Darby.
It was so easy to grow fond of Darby, even with all his quirks and bouts of stubbornness—qualities that must have helped him survive an unjust imprisonment on death row. Darby stood out in every way (it wasn’t just his name that was unique!) There was, for example, his signature attire: He always dressed all in black, often wearing a black cape, even in the summer, along with a black cap and black alligator boots. Instead of using the word prison, he would talk about the “the penitentiary for the poor.” Referring to the corruption in Chicago’s Cook County, he would instead call it “Crook County.” 
Darby was certainly one of a kind. For a long time, he drove around in an old limousine, and across the side, he had scrawled, “Thou shall not kill.” But Darby was no joke, and none of what he did was for laughs. He wanted to shock people into paying attention. This is why he once strode through downtown Chicago in an orange prison jumpsuit, complete with chains, carrying a bullhorn calling for abolition—he called these walks “The Death Row Shuffle.” He would do anything to draw attention to this cause. He was all guts, and spit fire.
I heard Darby speak countless times over the years. In his characteristic low, raspy voice, Darby could hold audiences spellbound, telling them about how he had been “kidnapped, used and abused by the Illinois criminal justice system, and how he had been tried five times, “more than any other person in the history of the U.S.” (Actually, along with Darby and Perry, this unique distinction also belongs to the Scottsboro Boys, African American youth from Jim Crow Alabama who were falsely accused of rape.)
I never heard Darby say he spent “nine years” in prison, or “just over nine years.” He always gave people the precise amount of time, each time he spoke: “nine years, one month and 17 days.” Why? I’m not sure, but I think that he wanted to make it clear he knew exactly what had been stolen from him. 
He was bitter about the years taken from him—how couldn’t he be—and you could feel that in him. And he wanted people to know those precious moments of his life—each and every day that was stolen—were times that he wasn’t with his mom when she passed or wasn’t able to help his daughter when she needed him. He wanted people to feel that—to try to have some understanding of what having part of their lives stolen is like. And he also wanted to make it known that he was keeping score. 
Darby had been sent to prison by Judge Thomas Maloney, who was later found guilty of taking bribes to fix cases and was sent to prison for 15 years. Darby liked to include this fact in all of his presentations, too, since it’s so rare for a judge, prosecutors or police to face any consequences for sending the wrong people to prison or death row. At the end of one interview, Darby asked a journalist how it could be that the system was still doing the same exact thing it did to him all those many years ago—sending the wrong people to prison. He believed a big part of the reason it continued was because those who rule over the system never face any consequences for the miscarriages of justice they help to arrange.
I first heard Darby speak at a forum put on by the International Socialist Organization in the early 1990s. The title of the panel was, “The War on Poverty”—Darby was asked to speak on the connection of the criminal justice system. I was blown away by what I heard. 
He was a street preacher, and he had the cadence, confidence and passion of the profession, but he also had something very unique, which was a relentless determination to hold the criminal injustice system accountable for the wrongs it had done to him and to so many others, and that it was still doing. He taught me, along with many others in the abolitionist community, so much about the unfair workings of the criminal justice system and its deep-seated racism. 
Darby was at ground zero in the fight to win the abolition of the death penalty in Illinois, which we achieved in 2011. He also traveled on our national speaking tours on many occasions, rousing the audience and imploring people to join him in the fight against this injustice.
He talked tough, and he was, but he was also deeply compassionate, caring and gentle. I don’t think there was a single time that I talked with Darby when he didn’t first ask how my family was. 
He befriended family members who had loved ones in jail. He spent time with Martina Correia and Virginia Davis, the sister and mother of Troy Davis, the innocent Georgia death row prisoner who was executed in 2011. Darby drove to Atlanta to be with them for one of Troy’s last execution dates. He sat with them, prayed with them and gave them comfort in an impossible time.
When Mark Clements, a victim of Chicago police torture, was finally released from Illinois prison after 28 years, he said it was Darby who took him under his wing, mentored him and looked after him. They became very fond of one another and spent a lot of time together. As Mark says, “He supported me—he encouraged me to stand up against wrong.” Losing Darby leaves a “hole in my heart which will never be able to be filled,” Mark said.
Several times, when Darby spoke at the Campaign to End the Death Penalty’s annual conventions, he paid tribute to the work of the campaign, speaking thoughtfully and poetically about our accomplishments and why it was so important to stay the course.
It was through the Campaign that Darby would meet Cathy McMillan, who was fighting on behalf of her brother. Darby spent the last several years close to Cathy, whom he adored.
In later years, even when it was difficult for him to walk, he would still come out for events. 
At the final big rally for Troy Davis in Atlanta, Darby was with us among the 3,000-person rally. He spoke to the audience and performed a rousing song he wrote for Troy Davis, titled “Let’s Fight Together.” The song pleaded with the authorities to do the right thing and free an innocent man. The lyrics were beautiful and the music upbeat, holding out the promise that we could win. Darby was incredibly talented as a songwriter and harmonica player, and he absolutely loved the blues. You couldn’t go on a road trip with Darby without him popping in the CD he recorded during the trip.
One of the last times I saw him was when he spoke out at a rally in Chicago to call for justice for Trayvon Martin. Darby could always be counted on to help in the struggle. 
After the decades-long fight to win abolition in Illinois, Darby was careful to point out that the victory shouldn’t just be laid at the feet of Gov. George Ryan, who first put a moratorium on the death penalty and then cleared death row by granting clemency to every prisoner. Nor should the lawyers and journalists get the credit solely—he reminded us that it was also pivotal what activists did. This is how he put it when I asked him about how we won abolition for an article for Socialist Worker newspaper:
“We worked hard to get the ear of Governor Ryan, we got exonerated and family members out there, and he heard their pleas. We kept on and got the ears of the politicians to see our point, and as a result, we have destroyed this dinosaur. It shows that when we stand together and don't give up, we can win.
It's so different now compared to when we first started. People used to look at us like we were the culprits. Now they see us, and they want to stand with us. They say, "Hey, can I hold that picket sign?" and "Keep up the good work." People can see that the death penalty is senseless--it won't cure the ills in society. They can see the corrupt and flawed nature of the system.”
I asked Darby what we abolitionists should say in a situation where the guilt of the defendant is certain. Here’s how he responded:
“I used to say I would kill him myself if I saw him do it. But I have had a change of heart on that. You have to look beyond the person to understand why they did what they did. In some of these communities in Chicago, they're so barren, so desolate--they're like a desert. When I go there, I feel nothing but pain and hurt. It feels deadly--there's such a lack of resources.
When you grow up and live in a community like that, you become subhuman, because you live like you're in a combat zone. Police are cruising around, and young men are out on the street with nothing to do in miserable circumstances. Just like the soldiers coming back from Iraq who suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, so do the people in these desolate, crime-ridden, cop-patrolled communities.
They're battlegrounds, and you don't hear any of the politicians saying anything about it. These problems need to seriously be addressed and not just by a program or two--it needs to be deeper than that.”
The article ended with a quote from Darby giving instructions to activists about what’s next: "We have to align ourselves with people who want to build a safe and sound society. We've shown people what we can do when we come together. We can get justice if we work hard.”
One of the best ways we can remember Darby is to bring a bit of his spirit into our fight for justice today. One of the last struggles he was concerned about was that of Texas death row prisoner Rodney Reed, who faces an execution date in Texas on January 14. He had befriended Sandra Reed, the mother of Rodney and spoke of her as “an angel who was wounded by a system that doesn’t give a damn about poor, colored people.” Darby wasn’t able to attend the Campaign’s convention this year in Texas, but he was there in spirit the whole time.  
To learn more about the fight for Rodney, please go to our website at
Darby would be proud to know we will carry on with this fight, standing tall, and feeling him holding us up from behind.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Darby Tillis, Exonerated Death Row Survivor from Illinois Dies at 71

Darby Tillis, a death-row survivor who spent more than nine years incarcerated in Illinois, including four years on death-row, passed away at the age of seventy one. Darby was living in an old limousine in the streets of Chicago. Severely wounded by his experience on death-row, he traveled around the country telling the story of his wrongful conviction to anyone that would listen. In 2007, he took a bus ride from Chicago to Austin to support the successful campaign to save Kenneth Foster Jr. He never failed to mention that the judge who convicted him "is doing fifteen years in a federal penitentiary." I recorded this video of him performing his signature song at the same 2007 rally for Kenneth Foster.

Darby and Perry Cobb were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death for the 1977 murder and armed robbery of the owner and an employee of a hotdog stand on the north side of Chicago. They were arrested three weeks after the crime when a witness, Phyllis Santini, went to the police with a story implicating them. Both men professed their innocence. It took three Cook County jury trials for prosecutors to convict Tillis and Cobb. The first two trials ended in hung juries. The third resulted in convictions and death sentences, but the Illinois Supreme Court reversed the case based on judicial error. The two men were acquitted at the fifth trial in 1987 after Michael Falconer, a Lake County prosecutor, came forward after reading an article about the case by Rob Warden in the Chicago Lawyer. Falconer said the state’s chief witness against Mr. Tillis and Cobb had confided to him that the crime actually was committed by another man, her boyfriend. Fourteen years later, as a result of petitions brought by the Center on Wrongful Convictions and the MacArthur Justice Center, Governor George Ryan granted Tillis and Cobb pardons based on actual innocence.actual innocence.