The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Spring Break for advocates

Thirty-one years isn’t considered a long time to live, but it’s a long time to wait to die.

Ronald Chambers has been on death row since the age of 21 for the Dallas murder of Mike McMahon. Chambers waits to join the 385 already executed since the 1976 reinstatement of the death penalty in Texas.

According to James W. Volberding, Chambers’ lawyer of more than 10 years, the convicted man spends his time thinking about what he did. Chambers and an accomplice abducted McMahon and his date outside a Dallas club. They then drove the couple to the Trinity River where they robbed and shot them, killing McMahon.

“I think Chambers feels a great deal of remorse for all the harm he has caused himself and the victims and the family,” said Volberding. “He would give anything to do it all over again.”

Volberding said Chambers has been tried three times over the last 31 years.

He was given an execution date of Jan. 25, 2007, but due to the possibility of a retrial, his fate is still pending.

Although Chambers is alone in his cell physically for about 23 hours of his day in the Polunksy Unit, which houses Texas’ death row inmates, he isn’t alone in spirit.

Some SMU students are trying to help people like Chambers. They are participating in the Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break, designed for students who want to see the death penalty abolished.

The state of Texas is the frontrunner for the number of executions performed each year. In the last 30 years, 35 percent of the nation’s executions were performed in Texas.

The alternative spring break is a five-day event starting on March 13. Participants will have the opportunity to meet with legislators or their aides and learn how to write press releases.

Junior Cynthia Halatyn is one of several SMU students going to Austin. She will join college and high school students from across the United States.

“I think people tend to forget that the reality of it is they are still people,” Halatyn said. “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says everyone has the right to life.”

Halatyn also said she sees a trend worldwide away from the death penalty. All western European nations and 12 American states have abolished it. However, Texas is not following this trend – the state is looking into expanding the death penalty. This week House Bill 8, a version of Jessica’s Law that will punish second sexual assault child offenders with the death penalty, is going to be voted on.

However, not all SMU students agree that the death penalty should be abolished. SMU senior Chris Limbaugh thinks it is a well-deserved punishment.

“I think that is a balanced justice; you commit a capital crime, you can receive a capital punishment,” said Limbaugh. “You’d be letting a lot of very guilty people off the hook. I think it’s a necessary element of justice.”

SMU Human Rights Education Director Rick Halperin doesn’t agree with legalizing killing people, and he noted the flaws in the prosecution process.

According to Halperin, one Texas man, Kerry Cook, was on death row for 22 years. He was 18 when he received his sentence but was found innocent at 40 after multiple trials, three of which found him guilty.

Cook will make an appearance on SMU’s campus on April 12 for a book signing. His story, “Chasing Justice,” came out late last month.

Halperin, who is also the current president of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, fervently defends the human rights of death penalty inmates even if that means sometimes defying law enforcement officers.

“I’ve been arrested several times for protesting the death penalty at the United States Supreme Court,” said Halperin.

According to Halperin, there is an SMU student who graduated in the late 1980s currently on death row.

“Sooner or later he’s going to get a date to be put to death and this university is going to have to come to grips, even momentarily, with this issue,” Halperin said.

For more information on the Anti-Death Penalty Alternative spring break go to www.texasabolition.org/pages/events/2006springbreak/2006.htm

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