May 12, 2000
The news on Shaka Sankofa

 

Stop the brutality, stop the execution of Shaka Sankofa

From Gloria Rubac
Houston, Texas

"I am angry and I am shaken. I have never seen Shaka like this. When he came into the visitors' room he was in soiled and torn clothing. He was shaking and looking over his shoulder,"
said Ricky Jason.

Jason is a friend and supporter of Texas death-row activist Shaka Sankofa, formerly known as Gary Graham.

At a May 12 news conference organized by the Shaka Sankofa Coalition for Justice, both Jason and William Butler described their visit with the African American prisoner. They urged journalists to get in to the prison to interview him.

Death-penalty opponents also announced a series of actions to pressure Texas Gov. George W. Bush to stop the legal lynching of Sankofa and enact a moratorium on executions.

The U.S. Supreme Court turned down Sankofa's final appeal this month. Texas then set his execution date for June 22.

Sankofa told Jason and Butler that on May 5 guards came to his cell wearing gas masks. "He was gassed, forcibly removed from his cell and put in a death-watch cell," Jason reported. "All of his property was confiscated—including his typewriter, his clothing, his radio, even his underwear. They had a big stack of his outgoing mail that they told him would never be mailed.

"His face was swollen and his shirt was ripped," Jason said.

Houston Chronicle reporter Slatheia Bryant said she had been denied access to Sankofa. Officials at the Terrell Unit told her Sankofa was "booked up for the next media day."

Prisoners confined nearby confirmed Sankofa's story.

"He was gassed twice, by two different chemical agents," one prisoner, Muenda, told a visitor. "I know because the whole pod felt the effects of the gas even though they were gassing Shaka inside his cell, with the solid steel door closed. I watched out of my food slot until I could no longer see because of the effects of the gas."

Innocent on death row

Since he was arrested in 1981, Sankofa has steadfastly proclaimed his innocence of the murder of Bobby Lambert outside a grocery store. Sankofa was just 17 years old when he was arrested and charged with capital murder—a violation of many international laws that no one under 18 should be sentenced to death.

His case garnered national and international support in the early 1990s. That's when Sankofa finally received adequate legal representation.

Investigators uncovered what Houston police and Sankofa's original lawyer never did—that ballistics evidence proved his gun was not used in the murder.

They also found that Lambert was a known drug dealer and gunrunner and was set for trial in Oklahoma. Most important, six eyewitnesses agreed that Sankofa was not the killer.

To this day, no court has ever heard all this new information that was uncovered a decade after Sankofa was sent to death row.

In 1993, Sankofa's lawyers tried to present the facts to a federal court. They were told to finish the appeals in state court. But by the time his state court appeals were denied, President Bill Clinton had signed the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, limiting prisoners' rights to federal appeals.

When Sankofa's lawyers went back to federal court, a judge told them that since they had already been there in 1993—the courts couldn't allow them to try again.

Lawyer Mandy Welch said: "It seems ridiculous that they could turn us away without looking at the evidence, but they did. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to look at Gary's case, he has no appeals left. There is only a clemency appeal to the Board of Pardons and Paroles and Gov. Bush."

Republican presidential candidate Bush, responding to the growing national opposition to the death penalty, has asserted that no innocent person has ever been executed in Texas.

Njeri Shakur of the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, a Sankofa supporter, said: "You only have to look back a few months to the executions of Odell Barnes and James Beathard to find two innocent men. Bush is a liar! "

In the year 2000 alone, Bush had killed a mentally ill man, a battered woman, an innocent man, and a person who was a juvenile at the time of his arrest. As of May 15, Bush had 128 executions under his belt and 20 more scheduled for this year."

Protests planned On May 19, Sankofa's supporters, including members of the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, will attend the regular meeting of the Texas Prison Board to demand an explanation for the brutal treatment. If they are not allowed to speak during the public session, the abolitionists will hold a news conference and demonstration outside.

Minister Robert Muhammad of Houston's Nation of Islam Mosque No. 45 plans a May 22 news conference to announce that he will go on a hunger strike for the 30 days preceding Sankofa's execution date. Other activists also plan to participate in the fast.

On May 31, there will be a mass march and demonstration in Houston to demand a hearing of the new evidence in Sankofa's case. The march will begin at the Criminal Justice Center, 1201 Franklin Street.

In June, Pam Africa of International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal will visit Sankofa on death row and speak at a public rally for him. Supporters plan a demonstration at the State Capitol in Austin to confront Bush.

Readers can call the Terrell Unit warden to inquire about Shaka Sankofa's health at (936) 967-8082.

Write letters of support to Sankofa at the following address:
Gary Graham
#696, Terrell Unit, 12002 FM 350 South, Livingston,
Texas 77351.

 

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