man called 'Shaka'
Sept. 5, 1999, the man born as Gary Graham marked his 36th year
in life and his 18th year in a Texas cage. Several years ago,
the Black death-row prisoner changed his name to Shaka Sankofa,
after the great founder of the Zulu Empire of southern Africa.
years, he has been fighting for his life, most recently against
one of the most brutal killing states in America. Texas leads
the nation in executions, spurred, at least in part, by the
presidential aspirations of its governor, George W. Bush.
from as diverse a grouping as the pope, the Nation of Islam
and the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty have
been critical of some aspects of his trial, and called for either
clemency or a new trial. Sankofa's trial was marred by conflicting
witnesses, ballistics evidence that cleared his weapon from
the killing, and even alibi testimony placing him miles away
from the crime scene, yet much of this wasn't brought out to
times Sankofa has faced the gallows and five times he has been
granted last-minute stays of execution.
disturbs many observers is the provision of Texas law that disallows
evidence of innocence that does not come within that state's
narrow time frame. To support his new trial efforts, supporters
of Sankofa have released a compact disk, called "Let the Evidence
Be Heard," featuring music and spoken word.
early September 1999, the papal nuncio, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo,
wrote to Texas Gov. Bush asking, on behalf of Pope John Paul
II, that clemency be granted. The Nuncio wrote:
Holy Father prays that the life of Mr. Graham may be saved through
the compassion and magnanimity of yourself, Mr. Governor, and
through the Board of Pardons and Paroles. His Holiness counts
on your authority to have a life spared by commuting this sentence
with a gesture of mercy which would certainly contribute to
the promotion of a culture of life and of non-violence in the
freedom-loving society of the United States."
even the appeal of a pope may have to yield to a Higher Powerthe
power of human political ambition. That was certainly the case
as regards the late Karla Fae Tucker, whose remarkable rehabilitation
was treated like a joke.
Sankofa has spent half of his life not only in a cage, but under
threat of death, despite considerable evidence of his innocence.
From his perspective, the U.S. is many things, but "freedom-loving"