The 'Friends of Marcia Powell' are autonomous groups and individuals engaging in prisoner outreach, informal advocacy, and organized protest and direct actions in a sustained campaign to: promote prisoner rights and welfare in America; engage the Arizona public in a creative and thoughtful critique of our system of "justice;” deconstruct the prison industrial complex; and dismantle this racist, classist patriarchy...

Retiring "Free Marcia Powell"

As of December 2, 2010 (with occasional exceptions) I'm retiring this blog to direct more of my time and energy into prisoner rights and my other blogs; I just can't do anyone justice when spread so thin. I'll keep the site open so folks can search the archives and use the links, but won't be updating it with new posts. If you're looking for the latest, try Arizona Prison Watch. Most of the pieces posted here were cross-posted to one or both of those sites already.

Thanks for visiting. Peace out - Peg.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Justicia Ahora: Resist State Violence this Friday.

National Day of Action Against Police Brutality

Friday, October 22, 2010
11am- 1pm



Arizona Department of Corrections
1601 W. Jefferson St. (at 16th Ave)

Phoenix, AZ 85007

(park in the SE lot at Wes Bolin off Jefferson - the ADC is across the street.)

17 suicides/15mos
5 homicides/9 months

6,000 HCV+ prisoners and counting…


For more information, contact:
Peggy at 480-580-6807 or


(and come prepared to kick some Hep C ass)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My Prison Watching Compa.

Less than two months after I started blogging at the Prison Abolitionist last summer, I came across Nevada Prison Watch and a couple of other sites my dear friend ASE was involved with. I saw that she'd somehow helped compile a bunch of medical records and testimony for the ACLU with the guys in prison there to initiate legal action and posted them to her site, along with the results of inquiries, letters to (and about) the administration about cleaning up Ely State Prison, and letters from prisoners themselves. My friend's main focus in her prison outreach and blogging has been on amplifying prisoner voices rather than her own.

Most of what I've learned about watching prisons and working with prisoners I've learned from her. That means that a lot of folks have been spared some of my own trial and error. If you've landed on a fledgling Prison Watch site for just about any other state in the nation, ASE is probably the one who helped get it up and keeps it going. She's also behind Prison Watch for Imprisoned Women, Immigrant Detention Watch , and Prison Watch International.

No one but the prisoners she corresponds with, a handful of other prison watchers, and a few state administrators probably even knows her name, much less her face or where in the world she's blogging from. Whether she's been 5 or 5000 miles away, though, she's never been very far from any of us.

Anyway, I've been blessed to have her company on this leg of my journey, and I don't think I tell her that often enough. Tonight I thought I should.


A. -

You have been one of the most devoted constant friends and comrades I've ever had. Knowing that you're there, always checking in on me, ready to back me up, telling me how awesome I am - and praying for me, I bet - has made it possible for me to push these people harder and for longer than I ever would have been able to do otherwise.

You inspired AZ Prison Watch, and helped me Free Marcia Powell. You've seen me through both the highs and the lows that might have derailed me without the solid ground that only the well-grounded could be a bridge to. You've taught me a lot about being steady and strong for prisoners, and about collaborating with others to build something bigger than both of us. And by example you've shown me that if you keep the faith and hang in there long enough, you just might be able to shine enough light on a dark place in the world to bring the exiled out of the shadows - and maybe even bring some home.

I wouldn't still be doing this today without you.


Justicia Ahora!!!



On Tue, Oct 19, 2010 at 2:37 PM, Nevada Prison Watch wrote:

Dear Peg,

It is bedtime here, but I wanted to say you do such great work, thank you!
I am so glad to have you in my life.
Am back on Facebook, was on holiday from that for a while...



"Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness, and our ability to tell our own stories..."

- Arundhati Roy

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Anguished exit of Kent Knudson, Community Activist.

As most of you from Phoenix know, Kent Knudson was a local community activist who committed suicide September 25, having fallen into a deep depression in large part because of a series of criminal prosecutions. He was an outspoken critic of the CJ system, and fought for reform and prisoner rights, among other things.

I didn't really know Kent myself, though I'm sure we've been shoulder to shoulder at a few demonstrations and other events, particularly this past year.
The peace and justice community that he was such a part of is devastated, of course.

I'm still sorting through all the grieving emails and tributes that showed up in my in-box this week, and will post more about his life and legal battles when I find the most complete story about what happened. For now, here's his obituary, sent to everyone in his email address book; that's his own electronic signature at the bottom.

Because of the public scrutiny of the accused, the dehumanization of "criminals", the expense and energy one needs to invest in legal defense, the humiliation of jail, the constant coercion to take a plea under threat of state violence if found guilty at trial, and all the social consequences of being a felon, prosecution and criminalization can be so much more damaging to a life, career, family, and spirit than what may actually be handed down by a judge - that truth is always left out of the sentencing. It pushes way too many people - including the innocent and mentally impaired - to take their own lives over things that should never even merit jail, much less execution. I hope we can turn that around soon.

Please, all, remember that while suicide is 100% preventable, it can trigger a cascade of despair and further self-destruction within communities; keep close tabs on your own moods as well as on your loved ones in the coming weeks and months. If you need to, call a friend, see a professional, or dial a hotline to talk, cry, or rage. Try to wait to act on your impulses until the urgency passes - you can always reserve the option of suicide for when your moods improve, which they eventually will; that's why I'm still here - once I feel better, even if conditions are worse, killing myself never looks like the best solution to whatever I'm struggling with. Remember - we need all the help we can get on this planet; we need to keep the good guys alive to get through this.

Condolences to Kent's family and friends - to all whom his life and death so deeply touched.

Have a blessed journey Home, Kent.


From: Kent>
Date: October 2, 2010 9:19:24 AM EDT
To: kent knudson>
Subject: Kent Knudson in Memoriam

It is with great sadness that I must report to you the news of the passing of my great friend and hero, Kent Knudson. Kent had been suffering from depression over yet another traumatic legal difficulty and facing two felony charges, on top of his "Cowcrap" conviction. The pressures of this latest legal action taken against him, the possibility of 3 years of jail time, and other factors lead him into a depression from which Kent had decided to take matters into his own control, ending his life.

This has been a very difficult time for me and Sarah, and others who were close to Kent. I ask you to come together at Kent's memorial service to reflect and celebrate with us Kent's life, pursuits and achievements.

Memorial services will be held on Wednesday, October 6th at 7pm, at the Arizona Biltmore Resort.

Thank You,
Sham Rao

Kent Randolph Knudson
November 11, 1949 - September 25, 2010

Although schooled in Engineering Mathematics, Kent's greatest contributions are the result of his life long career as an photographer. Having licensed his works to commercial stock agencies, advertisers, and marketing companies, Kent's art has dominated and influenced all of his life's pursuits.

Kent's later life was radically altered as a result of an unfortunate cascading injustice at the hands of the government. During the years that Kent spent caring for his beloved mother who was developing Alzheimer's disease, Kent fell into legal trouble as a result of attempting to safeguard his mother against an invading herd of cattle on their 40 acre ranch near Snowflake, AZ.

Compelled into a new life of social justice and activism, Kent sought to fight the injustices he has suffered as a consequence of his "Cowcrap" ordeal, devoting his activist efforts towards:

1. Repealing Open Range Laws
2. Ending Malicious Prosecution
3. Facilitating Prison Reform, and Inmate Human Rights
4. Promoting Jury Nullification and Court Reform

Among other activist pursuits, Kent is well known for leading the 9/11Truth movement in Phoenix, AZ and hosting a 9/11 Truth and Accountability conference. He also supported various other Peace and Justice causes including: Ending the US military occupations, defending human rights, environmentalism and sustainability.

Kent is survived by his sister Cathy Leavitt, nephews Brent Leavitt & Thomas Leavitt, niece Paula Thompson, companion Sarah Fox, longtime friend Sham Rao, his cat Ewok, and the Social Justice Activist Community.

Kent will be missed mostly for the passion and drive with which he lived and demonstrated throughout his life and art.


Memorial service:
Arizona Biltmore Resort
Wednesday, October 6th, 2010
Visitation: 7-8pm
Memorial: 8-10pm

Snowflake Cemetery
Snowflake, AZ
Saturday, October 9th, 2010 @3pm
For more information:
Sham Rao

{The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. - Edmund Burke (1729-1797)}


A reminder for all the colorful peace and justice activists we've lost over the years, from the film about Abbie Hoffman, "Steal This Movie": We can't sing louder than the guns when we're gone...

Scott Watch: Please help pardon the sisters.

This in from Free The Scott Sisters Wednesday. Thursday was the 16 year anniversary of their incarceration. Please write letters on their behalf ASAP - they do make a difference.


Mrs. Rasco would like to inform everyone that Jamie was taken to the doctor yesterday and given medication thanks to all phone calls and e-mails. The doctor seemed to think that she has a sinus infection. The doctor was not able to check her ears as all machines for making ear examinations are broken.


Please continue to send e-mails and faxes to the board of Pardon's and Parole and express your support for their release. You may include points such as their accomplishments in prison.
Jamie and Gladys both have completed training courses. Gladys is a great seamstress and completed this program in prison. Jamie has completed several courses as well. Both Jamie and Gladys have assisted numerous inmates in learning to read.

Your letters will mean a lot to the board in making their decision for a pardon with an EXPUNGED record.

Fax: (601) 576-3528 -- Ms. Warnock

Board Members - Fax: (601) 576-3528
Bobbie Thomas - Board Member
Clarence Brown - Board Member
Betty Lou Jones - Board Member
Danny Guice - Board Member

State of Mississippi Parole Board
660 North Street
Suite 100A
Jackson, MS 39202

In Solidarity,

Nancy Lockhart, M.J.

Justicia Ahora: Danny Rodriguez, police brutality, and the Phoenix PD.

I just got home from a demonstration in front of the Phoenix Police Department downtown. Danny Rodriguez' mom was among those leading the chant, "Justicia Ahora". Her heart must be absolutely shredded. I got there pretty late, but there were still about 50 people of all ages protesting, most of whom were Latino. There was a feeling of a pretty tight community there, and with the candles and photos of Danny, it was as much a vigil and memorial service as it was a protest.

I've never before heard of someone shooting an unarmed person to death in front of witnesses and just being charged with assault and given a bond - that's extremely dangerous behavior. I see mentally ill people detained in jail for months for competency exams for little more than trespassing - even sent to prison for criminal damage - but the guy who killed Danny made bail in a day.

Understandably, the Maricopa County Attorney's office wants to be sure they have all the facts before leveling more serious charges against
Chrisman - but all the facts that are out thus far suggest that the only time murder is called an assault is when the accused is a cop. I really don't believe that it would take them more than a couple of hours to decide to charge a civilian with some form of murder if he forced his way into someone's home at gunpoint, got into an argument, and took his life when he tried to run away from the confrontation. I don't even think they could get away with calling that manslaughter. That all happened in front of an armed law enforcement officer, too - one who would have drawn his own gun and fired at one of us right there if we did what Chrisman did to Danny. Actually, his gun and handcuffs would have been out as soon as the dog got it, and Danny would still be alive.

If Romley's caution and desire to be responsible about charging this guy readily applied to the rest of us, I could be more patient. But there are
still innocent people in prison his office should be saving, defendants too incompetent to stand trial being incarcerated for petty crimes secondary to the symptoms of their mental illness, and graffitti artists facing over 6 years in prison because the MCAO has decided that's a priority crime which needs to be "prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law". That's more time for vandalism than this cop will likely ever get for killing someone, though. In fact, a lot of people get more time for hurting themselves than most cops ever get for assaulting, maiming, or killing unarmed civilians in irresponsible exercises of power.

All of that suggests that double standards still exist in the MCAO - which is par for the rest of the Land of the Free, unfortunately. Oscar Grant was on the ground on his stomach with his hands visible and his killer still only got 4 years in priso
n - which will undoubtedly be knocked down to nothing on appeal, because while it's okay for the rest of us to face being raped and murdered when locked away, it's not okay to put a cop in that position. No matter how criminal their conduct, cops in this country are supposed to be protected from the consequences of incarceration. Meanwhile, Americans execute the mentally retarded when they take responsibility for their crimes, and people with psychiatric disabilities are three times more likely to be incarcerated than hospitalized (and it's not because we're all criminally-inclined). I find that very troubling.

Danny must have feared for his life after Chrisman put that gun to his head then killed his dog - no wonder he went for his bike. As far as I can tell, he hadn't even committed a crime before the scuffle with the cop. What a disturbing message to send the rest of us: "criminal" or not, if you run from the cops they can pepper spray, taser, arrest or even shoot and kill you without consequence. If you don't get away they might still shoot you dead - even if you surrendered peacefully. What are we supposed to do?

Putting on a badge and a uniform alone does not make a person honorable or a champion of justice - SS officers did that all the time, in service to their country. And firing weapons at unarmed civilians is by no means a sign of courage. Other cops should be ashamed of Chrisman wearing their uniform and join us in protest. Instead, of course, they apparently helped bail him out last night, and we've all learned to expect
them to persecute his partner for telling the truth. What a sad thing that it's so exceptional for a cop to tell the truth when they witness a another officer commit a crime that the public takes it as commonplace and even has a term for it.

In light of all that, why do the boys in blue get any more the benefit of the doubt than the rest of us in situations like this? We aren't ever really "presumed innocent" by the courts until proven otherwise - as soon as the police decide to charge you, you're pretty much done with and will be coerced into a plea deal - their word, even if it's just an opinion - carries more weight than ours ever does.

If Danny had survived, they'd be charging him with assaulting Chrisman and resisting arrest right now (none of which may have happened if the cops hadn't entered his home in the first place). Then they could have locked him up and he could be tortured and killed by deputies or prison guards, instead, who may not even be charged with a misdemeanor in the aftermath. This is one reason I was so troubled that no charges were b
rought against those responsible for Marcia Powell's death - even more so that some of those people are getting their jobs back from the State. It emboldens officers of the law all the more to feel free to abuse us, whether we're prisoners, suspects, or even just witnesses.

As Chrisman told Danny when he put the gun to his head to get in the door, they don't really even need warrants. They clearly have plenty of power to do as they please without one. One f my anarchist friends noted that
it seems as if police are becoming more violent these days. I think so as well, and that it coincided with "non-lethal" weapons hitting the market and police consequently choosing to assault people (including those who are suicidal) instead of talking to us when there's a problem. No matter how trivial the reason we were originally questioned we can't even argue with them when they cross the line without risking serious repercussions. We have to fight out the legalities of police conduct in court and just hope they don't damage us or our lives too much before we get that far.

t seems increasingly as if we are at the mercy of everyone wearing a badge - some of us more than others, of course. Since I have freckles and no color and am not living on the street or visibly impoverished, I doubt I'd get shot for refusing to put down my sidewalk chalk when ordered to do so. I drop it as soon as they tell me to, though, because you just never know what will scare or piss one of them off enough to really do harm. Uninitiated citizens who expect the police to be professional and courteous when they become a suspect are in for a rude awakening; they tend to be the ones who get into arguments with bad cops because they make the mistake of expressing indignation over not being treated better. So do folks who have decided they just aren't going to be violated anymore. The cops can violate us all they want - they have us outgunned. Ironic that we're the ones who pay for those weapons, too.

There should be a higher standard of conduct expected of law enforcement officers than the rest of us, not a lower one. They're supposed to be the ones who are trained and paid to keep the public safe - they work for us, but we're supposed to be subservient and submissive, under penalty of death. There's something wrong with that which most people don't seem to notice. That's how fascists gain power - we willingly surrender it to them in exchange for the promise of protection, denying that the scope of power we've given them may come at someone else's expense because we never think it will be ours.

Danny's family and friends plan to be in front of the Phoenix Police Department for the next 7 days, demanding that his killing be treated as such, not just as an assault. Even though I just posted one on this yesterday, I'm posting the article below because it goes into greater depth about other police shootings in the Valley, as well as the commission that's been looking at police brutality. It's actually better than most AZ Republic articles - though that bit about Phoenix Councilman Michael Johnson being "detained" was downplayed - I thought that cop cuffed him and actually put his boot on his head until he found out who he was.

Please drop by the PHX PD HQ at 7th Ave and W. Washington Friday, October 8, at 6pm for the next protest. Come again the next day. And the next. Bring chalk. Also mark October 22 on your calendars - that's National Police Brutality Day. If you can't make it to an organized demonstration that day, then chalk some public sidewalks, paint your car's rear window, or write to the County Attorney, Rick Romley, at 301 W. Jefferson St., Phoenix, AZ 85003. A simple "Justicia Ahora" will probably be well understood by then.

--------------from the Arizona Republic----------------

Phoenix police officer in fatal shooting arrested

Elvira Fernandez said she called police to teach her son respect after she caught him throwing things at the wall of her south Phoenix trailer.

Fearing the 29-year-old would hit her, she went to a neighbor's house to dial 911.

When Phoenix police Officer Richard Chrisman and another patrolman arrived in response to her domestic-violence call, she asked them to reason with her son. She expected they would issue a warning and cool things down.

Instead, about 15 minutes later, Danny Frank Rodriquez was shot dead inside the trailer. One of the family's dogs was also fatally shot.

And Chrisman now faces felony charges.

"I felt like I made the wrong choice calling the police," Fernandez, 60, told The Republic on Wednesday from a friend's trailer in the same complex where her son was killed Tuesday. "I regret it with everything in my heart."

Chrisman, a nine-year veteran who spent his career patrolling the South Mountain Precinct, was arrested hours after the shooting on suspicion of aggravated assault. Police officials said Wednesday that he could face additional charges, possibly murder.

The other officer on the scene told police investigators that Rodriquez was unarmed and that neither officer faced any serious threat of violence, according to court documents that describe his interview with police investigators.

The south Phoenix shooting came amid ongoing citywide discussion of how police misconduct should be investigated, with a municipal task force scheduled to offer recommendations next month.

Michael Johnson, a former Phoenix homicide detective and the only African-American on the City Council, has called for a civilian review board to provide independent oversight of the city's internal-affairs process, after a March incident in which Johnson was detained by an officer.

Investigators on Wednesday said additional interviews and evidence could lead Maricopa County prosecutors to file more-severe charges.

Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris and Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley said they will seek those charges if an autopsy report and additional information reveals that Chrisman abused his authority.

"We must be very careful to do this right," Romley said. "If it has occurred, we better not make a mistake, and the officer should be held accountable like anyone else."

Harris said he couldn't recall an officer being charged with murder or a similar crime in a police shooting in his career of more than 30 years.

National experts on excessive use of force by police said it is rare for an officer to be prosecuted and extremely unusual to see convictions.

David Klinger, author of a book on the subject titled "Into the Kill Zone," said there is no nationwide data, but officers who shoot subjects while on duty are prosecuted less than 2 percent of the time, and most of those wind up being acquitted.

However, when told that the other officer on the scene described the suspect as unarmed and not a threat, Klinger and others said this case may prove to be an exception to the general rule.

"It doesn't look good," noted Klinger, adding that he'd still want to see all the evidence and hear the shooter's statement.

Officer's statements

Investigators said Wednesday that they would examine the sequence of events leading up to the shooting. Those events are described in statements from Officer Sergio Virgillo, a 14-year-veteran, described in court documents:

Chrisman and Virgillo, patrolling in separate vehicles, both responded to the call at 12:20 p.m. Virgillo said Fernandez asked them to go inside the trailer and talk to her son.

When the man refused to let officers in, Virgillo said, Chrisman responded by holding his service weapon to the man's temple and stating that he didn't need a warrant.

Virgillo said Chrisman re-holstered his weapon but that a scuffle ensued inside. The officers attempted to subdue Rodriquez with a Taser and with pepper spray.

Amid the struggle, Virgillo said, Chrisman shot a dog that was barking inside the trailer.

As the struggle continued, Rodriquez tried to leave the trailer on a bicycle and grappled with the officers over the handlebars.

As Rodriquez stood near the bike, Virgillo said, Chrisman raised his gun and fired.

Paramedics declared Rodriquez dead at the scene.

Chrisman, 36, was taken into custody at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Harris said Wednesday that he was unclear on why Chrisman ended up firing shots inside the trailer.

The chief and other police officers described the dog that was shot dead as a pit bull, though relatives and neighbors said the dog was a several-month-old boxer puppy.

Virgillo had told investigators the dog was barking but never threatened the officers.

Chrisman made his initial appearance Wednesday. His bond was set at $150,000.

The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, which will represent Chrisman through the internal-affairs investigation, issued a statement of support for the officer, saying the union would help Chrisman's family raise money for bail.

Internal inquiries

Since 2007, Chrisman has faced four internal inquiries handled by the Phoenix Police Professional Standards Bureau - the department's internal-affairs unit.

The cases include an excessive-force allegation in 2009, in addition to complaints about personal conduct and inattention to duty, police records show. Police leaders declined to comment on the nature of the complaints or if Chrisman faced any discipline.

Police in the city's South Mountain Precinct have come under public scrutiny this year by Councilman Johnson and members of the south Phoenix community in the wake of a March incident in which Johnson accused a patrol officer of violating his civil rights during a predawn handcuffing incident outside his home.

Johnson commended Virgillo for "coming forward" and "telling the truth" about the shooting.

Other community leaders also praised Virgillo's actions.

"He needs to be protected from peer scrutiny and publicly commended for his integrity to the sacred oath he lives by," said Adolfo Maldonado, a south Phoenix community activist who sits on the city's police-review task force.

Harris on Wednesday met with nearly 40 south Phoenix community leaders and members of a city-appointed task force designed to come up with recommendations on how the department should better address citizen complaints about police misconduct.

He urged them to remind neighbors and residents to remain calm - to judge the case based on facts, rather than rumors.

"I wanted to assure them . . . that we will investigate this thoroughly, that we have the facts, and that we take the appropriate action based on the facts," Harris said.

Tuesday's south Phoenix slaying is believed to be the first Valley officer-involved shooting in which criminal charges were filed against the officer since a 2002 incident in Chandler.

Chandler Officer Dan Lovelace responded to a report of a woman accused of trying to fill a phony prescription at a pharmacy drive-through. When the woman accelerated in her car, Lovelace fired, killing her.

Lovelace was charged with second-degree murder, though he was acquitted years later.

Phoenix also has seen controversy in the past, including a series of police homicides that prompted public demonstrations. In 1994, a man with no legs named Edward Mallet died in custody when he was placed in a choke hold.

Officers were cleared by internal investigations, but the city lost a wrongful-death suit and wound up paying $5.3 million. One year later, a deranged suspect died in a hail of gunfire - hit by 30 rounds from numerous Phoenix officers. Finally, in 1996, a 16-year-old boy was shot 25 times after he brandished a butcher knife. No officer was charged in any of the slayings.

Recent cases have kept the issue in the news.

Oakland transit Officer Johannes Mehserle, was charged with murder after video evidence showed him shooting Oscar J. Grant III in the back as the suspect lay on the ground. In July, after Mehserle claimed he pulled out his firearm thinking it was a Taser, jurors found him guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

Use-of-force cases

Gene O'Donnell, a professor of law and criminal justice at John Jay College of Law and Criminal Justice, said police, prosecutors, jurors, judges and the public are likely to give an officer the benefit of the doubt in use-of-force cases. The alternative, he said, would be to send a dangerous message to law officers: When in danger, hesitate.

O'Donnell said the question in any police shooting is whether it was reasonable in context, and the law is extremely forgiving. "There's broad interpretations of what's reasonable, including mistakes and tragedies."

Although a shooting may be followed by outbursts from relatives, and even a public outcry, O'Donnell said emotional reactions often yield in the courtroom to the sober understanding of a peace officer's role and dangers. Ultimately, O'Donnell said, jurors must ask themselves, "Do I want to send a cop to prison - make him a felon - for doing the job we sent him to do?"

However, he added, a prosecutor might overcome those obstacles with testimony from a fellow officer, and with the image of an officer holding a gun to a suspect's head. Barbara Attard, a consultant who served as independent police auditor for excessive force cases in San Jose, gasped when portions of the initial report were read to her over the phone.

"There is a thin blue line, and officers are very reluctant to testify against other officers," Attard said. "I think it's going to be a different kind of case than you usually see."

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Prosecuting Innocence: Resistance is (damn near) Futile

----------Mental Illness Awareness Week: October 3-9, 2010-----------

Article originally posted Thursday, February 25, 2010.

Resurrected for the Arpaio 5 and the Freedom March.

The sentencing committee meeting was canceled again today, by the way - I have no idea when it's rescheduled for. I hung out at the Capitol awhile anyway, handing out copies of Tenacious to the women legislators I could find, since it was "Women's Day at the Legislature" today, and I didn't think they'd made any arrangements for state prisoners to participate or talk to their legislators. I also left one for Governor Brewer, with an article done by a woman who had cancer while at Perryville a few years back. She's now with an organization that helps women in prison. I'll post her story here when I get permission.

I hope those legislators I gave the zines to actually bother to read them. I don't know when or how they're going to hear a woman prisoner's voice address their conditions otherwise. Maybe we should try to get them to hold hearings out at the prisons themselves. Given the Arizona Republic and Lumley Vampire reports on the physical condition of the facilities alone, they should have organized an emergency oversight committee to check it out in person. The legislature is responsible, after all, for compromising the safety of state prisoners and corrections employees in the first place. They've now been duly warned that they'll be held liable for failing to follow up on it.

Anyway, the following article is very pertinent to the work of the House Sentencing Committee - and most of the issues I have with Andrew Thomas' office. In fact, this is a very good reason why we don't want that man to be Attorney General. He'll be putting ten times as many innocent people away, while letting the really guilty ones walk by making questionable deals - like the one that put the Scott Sisters away. The innocent don't have anything to fear, they think, nor do they have anything to trade. The guilty, on the other hand - the "triggermen" - can trade them.

There's nothing guaranteed to get you a more severe punishment in America than insisting that you're innocent and losing to the prosecutor at trial - and they make sure you know that when they make their offer. Their job is to prove guilt, not to find truth - don't make any mistakes about that. They're out to get convictions, by and large - not to protect the innocent. Victims are just useful tools to win their cases with, and to use to promote their own tough-on-crime image.

There are a few remarkable exceptions to that rule, of course. Some DA's have been very committed to investigating reports of wrongful prosecutions/convictions. I hope that's the beginning of a trend towards more ethical, responsible prosecutorial conduct. I have yet to see evidence of that happening in Arizona, though.

Borrowed the post below from our friends at Idaho Prison Watch...


What is Wrong with the Plea Bargain System in our Courts Today?

Frontline Interview with
John H. Langbein

John Langbein is a professor of law and legal history at Yale Law School. In this interview, he describes how the plea bargain system pressures people to buckle and accept a plea-even if they are innocent-and how prosecutors, judges and defense attorneys have a role, a stake even, in seeing that this happens. He also talks about the Supreme Court's indifference to the pressures on a defendant in the plea process, and why he believes the rampant growth of pleas is rooted in the trial system's failures.

(I have condensed this interview for the sake of this forum. You can view the entire interview on the link I provided below)

Q: "What is wrong with the plea bargain system in our courts today?"

Plea bargaining is a system that is best described as one of condemnation without adjudication. It is a system that replaces trial, which is what our constitution intended, with deals.

Second, those deals are coerced. The prosecutor is basically forcing people to waive their rights to jury trial by threatening them with ever greater sanctions if they refuse to plead and instead demand the right to jury trial.
But every defendant has a right to go to trial; it's a choice they make to plead guilty.

The problem with choice arguments is that they neglect the main dynamic of plea bargan which is the pressure that the prosecutor puts on you to do it his way.

Plea bargain works by threat. What the prosecutor says to a criminal defendant in plea bargaining is, "Surrender your right to jury trial, or if you go to trial and are convicted of an offense, we will see to it that you are punished twice. Once for the offense, and once for having had the temerity to exercise your right to jury trial." THAT is a coercive system.

And the prosecutor has many devices which increase the level of coercion: multiplying the counts, threatening to recommend the most severe end of the sentence range, keeping you locked up in pretrial detention if you're poor - most people who are in the criminal justice system are poor - prosecuting your wife as well as yourself, and things of this sort. The prosecutor can pile it on if you don't play it his way. It is therefore a deeply coercive system. Yes, you have a choice, but your choice is constrained by coercion.

Q: What is the role of the defense lawyer?

Sometimes defense counsel does a very good job for people in the plea bargaining process, and gets you a good deal. But there are many other outcomes.

In the public defender system the defense counsel is representing a hundred other people; the defense counsel can not take every case to trial....

Defense counsel in some circumstances is not very competent and is delighted simply to take his money and run, so to speak."

"So there's no particular reason to think that defense counsel is any serious answer to the intrinsically coercive nature of plea bargaining."

Q: Whom does the system benefit?

The main winner in the plea bargaining process is the prosecutor. I describe plea bargaining as a system of prosecutorial tyranny..."

What has happened is that a single officer, the prosecutor, now is in charge of investigating, charging--that is, bringing formal charges--deciding whether to prosecute, evaluating that evidence, deciding whether or not in his or her judgment you're guilty or not, and then basically sentencing you.

"....what we have now is a system in which one officer, and indeed a somewhat dangerous officer, the prosecutor, has complete power over the fate of the criminal accused."

Q: You let the defense attorney off lightly.

I think defense counsel is to some extent at the mercy of a bad system. There's not a lot you can do when the other guy has all the chips. And the prosecutor has an awesome pile of chips in our plea bargaining system, because the prosecutor can threaten ever larger sanctions if you don't do what he wants.

So I believe that by far the worst failure in the plea bargaining system is the prosecutor, and I think that's in part because the prosecutor is not always as noble as he would like you to believe he is."

"It's a lot easier to coerce somebody into waiving all his defenses than to actually investigate the case thoroughly..."

But, again, the trial is there for anyone who chooses that option.

It is true that one always has the right to go to trial, but the prosecutor can make that right so costly that only a fool will exercise the right..."

Part of the reason why we in this country have criminal sentences that are so much more severe than in the rest of the civilized world, is the need that prosecutors have to threaten people with these huge sentences in order to get them to waive the right to jury trial...."

".... most people (in the system) are too poor to afford bail, and these people are particularly likely to yield to the demand that they confess whatever it is they're being charged with rather than wait for some kind of trial, because they'll be sitting in jail for months and months and months, and therefore there is a very evil interaction of prosecutorial power with poverty, with indigence."

It is very sad that the Supreme Court, which has been so anxious to protect various rights of persons who go to trial, has been so cowardly about seeing the evils of the plea bargaining process."

"...the Supreme Court has been indifferent to the pressures on accused in the plea bargaining process, as exemplified by the famous Alford case, where the fellow actually stood up and said, "I'm innocent, but I'm pleading because the disparity of outcome that they're threatening me with is too great". It's terribly sad."

"...the prosecutor is allowed to coerce people out of trial."

"...what happens is that prosecutors don't have to prove their cases; they're simply allowed to coerce people into waiving their rights. Judges are spared the difficulty of conducting trials and the danger of being found to have erred; they (plea bargains) can't be appealed from .."

"...what actually happens is you're coerced into confessing yourself guilty, whether you are or not."

"The saddest things about plea bargaining is that it is not widely understood. Most people have the television model of Perry Mason or somebody similar contesting for a verdict of a jury."

"Plea bargaining is sometimes justified on the ground that we are giving a lighter sentence to someone who is showing contrition or remorse for the offense. But that's a pack of lies. What is in fact happening is that the accused is being told by the prosecutor, "You accept guilt and confess and bear false witness against yourself and we will then see to it that it gets characterized as contrition or remorse."

The point is that the coercion, which eliminates trial, eliminates our ability to know you were in fact beyond reasonable doubt, guilty or not. And therefore it makes the remorse talk just window dressing by apologists who want to keep this existing system which is convenient for them."

Q: Do you have a solution?

I think the solution is very complex. I think it requires facing the underlying failure of this adversary criminal justice system. The idea that having one pack of lawyers and investigators saying, "You did it," and another pack saying, "We didn't," and nobody actually looking for what actually happened, nobody having an interest in investigating the truth, is a bit mistake."

"No knowledgeable student of comparative criminal justice is likely to fall victim to the notion that our is an admirable system.

It is an appalling system.

We have ten times as large a percent of our population locked up in jail by comparison with the European countries. We have sentences which are draconian. We've just had a 12 year old put in jail for life in Florida. Things of this sort are unheard of in the rest of the world.

There are many causes, but the failure of our adversary system is central, and the political nature of our prosecutorial system is also central..."

(complete interview at:

Arpaio 5 Trial dates: Claire, Garyn, and Grace.

That sucks that the judge won't let Claire change her attorney. What's the deal with that? He doesn't even understand her interests - how can he represent her adequately? And Grace still has a hell of a "choice" in front of her: A month in jail or ten years in prison? Hmm.

Next up is a piece I'm re-running from February about prosecutorial abuses.

---------------From Support the Arpaio 5's blogspot---------

Claire and Garyn's Cases and an update on Grace's

It is apparent that the state still has faith, either in juries siding with the hilarious story the police concocted or that these two will actually cave and plea out somehow (although I believe that they both do not have plea deals on the table that aren't expired). They are both done with their preliminary hearings and Garyn's trial is expected to start on November 24th, while Claire's is expected to start in early December.

From what it sounds like, Garyn's attorney is working on trying to get his case thrown out through various motions, while Claire is unfortunately stuck with an attorney who says that she can't file any motions and that her case is a matter of the police story against hers. She tried to fire her attorney and filed to receive a new one and was denied.

Both attorneys, though, have mentioned that a compiling of eyewitness testimony surrounding their arrests would be of great benefit, so if you saw them get arrested on January 16th, that would DEFINITELY help a lot, especially in Claire's circumstance, not to mention Grace's situation.

As a quick update on her situation, she has a plea deal on the table for a class 3 felony, 30 days in jail and up to two years probation, with her deadline being this Friday, Oct. 8th. Other than that, the only news on her case is that her trial is scheduled to begin on Nov. 8th. So again, if you witnessed the events surrounding Grace's arrest, stepping forward and helping out would be wonderful!

If you can help, you can reach us at: