Remember Shaka Sankofa

Tony Abdo aabdo at
Fri Jun 23 22:59:13 MDT 2000

[ww-youth] Remember Shaka Sankofa

       As most of you have heard by now, Shaka Sankofa--formerly known
as Gary Graham--was executed by the state of Texas by lethal injection
last night for the murder and robbery of Bobby Lambert, a white drug
dealer, in Houston in
        Shaka was the son of a mentally ill mother and a
chronic alcoholic father, a childhood victim of abuse, poverty and
neglect. At the age of 17, he went on a robbing spree, for which he's
taken full responsibility and apologized repeatedly. He was neither
charged nor convicted of rape, as some have claimed. A week after
Lambert's murder, Shaka was arrested on the unrelated charges of robbery
and assault. A week after that, he was targeted as a suspect in the
murder after being "identified" by a single eyewitness. He was charged
and, after a two-day trial, sentenced to death. He spent half his life
on death row, earning his GED, and co-founding a newspaper and social
justice organization, the Endeavor Project.
        Has Texas executed an innocent man? Decide for
yourself: -Though Lambert had a long criminal record of narcotics
trafficking and, at the time of his death was about to testify before a
grand jury in a major drug investigation, police never made any attempt
to investigate a possible drug connection to the murder.
-Shaka was charged with robbery as well as murder in order to get a
death sentence. But at the time of his death, Lambert was found to be in
possession of at least $6,000 in cash that was not taken. -Shaka's
court-appointed attorney assumed he was guilty, identifying Shaka as the
killer 3 times while cross-examining the eyewitness. Nor did he call any
of Shaka's alibi witnesses, or any of the six other witnesses who gave a
different description of the gunman. As the defense investigator stated
in an affidavit in 1993: "Because we assumed Gary was guilty from the
start we did not give his case the same attention we would routinely
give a case. We just did not have the time to worry about a guilty
client, and I would not have felt comfortable trying to find evidence
that would have proved him innocent. It may sound unfair but that's the
way it was." -The single eyewitness whose testimony convicted Shaka,
according to her own account, saw the crime from 30 to 40 feet away,
through the windshield of her car in the dark of night, and only saw the
face of the killer for a matter of seconds. A white woman, she initially
failed to identify Shaka's photograph in a photo array she was shown by
police, saying that the killer's face was "thinner and darker" than
Shaka's. She only identified him several days later, after police put
him in a line-up.
-No physical evidence whatsoever connected Shaka to the scene.
Ballistics tests which conclusively found that the .22 revolver which
was found on him was not the murder weapon. The attorney also failed to
present this evidence in 1981.
        In 1993, Shaka was given a stay of execution by
then-Texas Governor Ann Richards (to whom the murder victim's widow,
Loretta Lambert, had publicly appealed to spare Shaka's life: "It has
been brought to my attention that there is evidence that creates a
possibility of reasonable doubt as to whether or not Gary Graham did in
fact commit this crime...I do not want the execution of a possibly
innocent man."). New lawyers finally launched an investigation of the
case, and revealed the following evidence, most of which was in Houston
police reports from 1981 and could have been found by competent lawyers
at the time of the trial:
-Five witnesses passed lie detector tests asserting the truth of their
claim that Shaka was with them on the night of the murder, miles away
from the crime scene.
-At least six eyewitnesses gave a completely different physical
description of the gunman, stating that the actual killer was much
shorter and had different facial characteristics. Two eyewitnesses swore
in affidavits under oath that Shaka was not the man. None of these
witnesses has ever been allowed to testify in a court of law.
-Three of the jurors who originally convicted Shaka have now publicly
stated that they would have acquitted him had they been allowed to hear
all the evidence in 1981.
        In 1994, Shaka's lawyers argued before the Fifth
Circuit Court of Appeals for a new trial. Two years later, the court
ruled that there was substantial evidence that should be heard in a
court, but sent the case back to the Texas court, which refused to hold
a hearing. With an execution date of January 1999, Shaka's lawyers went
back to federal court, which ruled that the Effective Death Penalty
Act--signed into law by President Clinton in 1996--blocked new evidence
from being heard.
        The final execution date was set for yesterday,
June 22, 2000. And yesterday, the Texas Board of Pardons and
Paroles--all Bush appointees--refused clemency (despite the opposition
of 5 out of its 17 members). The Supreme Court then turned down Shaka's
final appeal by a 5-4 vote. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and
Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and
Clarence Thomas voted to reject the appeal. Justices John Paul Stevens,
David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer voted to
order the execution postponed.
        After a federal judge and state appeals court
turned down Shaka's very last appeals, "compassionate conservative"
Governor Bush signed the death warrant, saying that he supported the
execution, that Graham's case had been reviewed "20 times by state and
federal courts" and by 33 judges (there was only a single review of the
case in which witnesses could testify, in state court in 1987--before
any of the new evidence was uncovered), and that, "After considering all
of the facts, I am confident that justice is being done." The execution
went forward.
        Outside, hundreds gathered in the stifling heat
around the Huntsville facility where 222 have been executed since Texas
resumed capital punishment in 1982. Six people were arrested for
breaking through police lines (as were dozens of others in New York
City, San Francisco, and Northampton, MA). Earlier in the day, the Ku
Klux Klan had held a counter-demonstration/celebration in front of the
        Inside, in the hours leading up to the
execution, Shaka had refused meals but met with the Rev. Jesse Jackson,
who said he and Shaka talked and prayed:
  "He was amazingly upbeat. There were no tears shed. He had a sense
of inner peace. He feels he was being used as a kind of change agent to
expose the system."
        Now, Shaka resisted, having vowed to "fight like
hell" on the way to the death chamber, and five guards were brought in
to transfer him from the holding cell to the execution gurney. He was
beaten (witnesses observed bruises on his arms), handcuffed to the
gurney and strapped to it across his head. After again asserting his
innocence to the family of Bobby Lambert, who were among the witnesses,
he made a final statement to his witnesses, including Rev. Jackson, the
Rev. Al Sharpton, and Amnesty International representative Bianca
Jagger, speaking quickly:
        "I die fighting for what I believed in. The
truth will come out...You can kill a revolutionary, but not the
revolution...Keep marching! Black power! They are killing me tonight.
They are murdering me tonight." Then he went silent.
        Shaka Sankofa, 36, died at 8:49 Central Time,
the 135th person to be executed under Governor Bush, and the eighth
person worldwide (the seventh in the U.S.--the other was in Iran)
executed over the past three years for crimes allegedly committed when
they were children. Shaka died with one eye open.

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