On Nov. 3, Amnesty International presented a lecture featuring six speakers on the death penalty, including actor Mike Farrell and Johnnie Stokes, sister of Kenneth Clair, currently on Death Row in California for a murder he committed in Orange County.
Katie Falbo, president of UCI’s chapter of Amnesty International, began the event by asserting that the death penalty violates Article Three of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that everyone has the right to life regardless of background or crimes committed. The United States is one of only five countries, including China, Iran, Nigeria, the Dominican Republic and Congo, to implement the death penalty for juveniles.
Falbo claimed that the death penalty in the United States is racially biased, an assertion that would be reiterated throughout the night. According to Falbo, one of every three people executed since 1977 has been African-American.
The first speaker at the event was former aerospace engineer Richard Carlburg, who showed a film titled ‘Interview With an Executioner.’ The film focused on a Mississippi State Prison warden’s perspective. One man discussed in the video was Edward Johnson, who was executed despite the public’s belief of his innocence.
Even Kim Miller, a first-year mechanical engineering major who supports the death penalty, appreciated the video as a persuasive tool.
‘The video was very effective,’ Miller said. ‘I liked that they showed the warden’s point of view, because that is not the one you often hear. Usually, you hear the victim or the criminal.’
The second speaker was Wayne Sandholtz, a professor of political science who is currently teaching a seminar at UCI titled ‘The Death Penalty: An American Obsession?’
Sandholtz noted that the United States has signed none of the international protocols forbidding the death penalty. According to Sandholtz, in 2003, four countries accounted for 84 percent of known executions worldwide. Among them was China, with at least 726, Iran with 108, the United States with 65 and Vietnam with 64.
Mike Farrell, appearing on the TV show ‘M*A*S*H*’ and the more recent ‘Providence,’ was the third guest who spoke about his views on the death penalty.
Farrell, who has visited prisoners on death row for 30 years, has found it difficult to contain himself when considering the situation imposed on many ‘innocent’ inmates in the prisons located in the 37 states that currently impose the death penalty.
‘Civilization is a race between education and catastrophe,’ Farrell said.
The fourth speaker, K. Bandell, spoke about the suspicious conditions under which Kenneth Clair was arrested for the murder of a 25-year-old woman in Santa Ana in 1984. She claimed that although Clair’s trial resulted in a guilty verdict, the trial was tampered by jury misconduct, corruption, suppressed evidence and a misrepresentation of the law.
Of the 637 people on death row in California, 49 of them are here in Orange County. Since 1992, three of the 10 people killed in California were in Orange County.
The event’s climax was a speech from Johnnie Stokes, Clair’s sister. Stokes began by describing the size of the six-by-nine-foot prison cell in which six-foot Clair stature was crammed. She read to the audience, which included Clair’s wife in the front row, a letter written by her brother that morning thanking the audience for attending the event.
The final speaker was Renny Cushing, whose father was murdered in front of his mother 16 years ago. Even after this tragedy struck his family, his position on the death penalty remained firm. He explained that both he and the son of his father’s killer lost a father that day: one to the grave and one to prison. According to Cushing, expanding the pain to more families and killing another human are the only products of the death penalty.
Nika Bagheri, a second-year biological sciences and mathematics major, agreed on the success of the speakers to convey their positions articulately.
‘It was a very well organized event,’ Bagheri said. ‘It is imperative that the student body take an active role in making themselves aware of the issues.’
While the event reinforced Jardine’s anti-death penalty stance, the speakers functioned as another factor in pushing Bagheri from supporting the death penalty to opposing it.
However, Miller, a supporter of the death penalty, maintains that ‘[the event] hasn’t completely changed my opinion on the whole issue, but it did bring me to consider why I was opposed to it. I understand why people would be against it.’