The day after we started dropping bombs on Baghdad, Charlie Kafoure wore a T-shirt that said WHY DO WE KEEP KILLING PEOPLE WHO KILL PEOPLE TO TEACH PEOPLE THAT KILLING PEOPLE IS WRONG?
“I need that T-shirt,” I said. “When you reduce it to a few words, take away the politics, it’s so simple. Totally absurd.” Kafoure is the founder and president of the Indiana Information Center on the Abolition of Capital Punishment (IICACP) and the T-shirt was really about that. Still, we agreed, it seemed all of a piece. President Bush defies the United Nations, sending waves of bombers to destroy the lives and livelihoods of thousands of helpless Iraqis. Gov. O’Bannon ignores the Indiana Constitution, which states, “The penal code shall be founded on the principle of reformation, not of vindictive justice.” I mean, really. If execution isn’t “vindictive justice,” I don’t know what is. Not to mention that it’s impossible to reform a dead person. But when lawyers representing Kevin Hough, who is scheduled to be executed this Friday at midnight, appeared before the Parole Board on April 21, they didn’t argue that capital punishment was wrong. They argued that he was tried and convicted under a criminal justice system that had been proven unfair. O’Bannon himself convened the task force to investigate inequities in the system by which Hough was tried; its findings resulted in Criminal Rule 24, which guaranteed competent, experienced, fairly paid legal representation to any person charged with a capital offense. Catch 22: Hough is a perfect example of why we needed Criminal Rule 24, but cannot benefit from it because he was tried and convicted before it came into effect. Hough had two part-time public defenders who were overworked, underpaid and inexperienced. They failed to file briefs on Hough’s behalf in a timely fashion, failed to object to improper arguments, failed to notice that the jury had been given incorrect information regarding death penalties under the law. They neglected to object to testimony from Hough’s co-defendants, two men who helped Hough commit the murder and had good reason to lie when prosecutors offered them immunity for testifying against him. His very competent clemency lawyers weren’t asking the Parole Board to put Hough back on the street with his fellow murderers. They were asking them to commute his death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole, because he was tried and sentenced before Criminal Rule 24 “established the rights we now hold essential to fair judgment of those who live and those who die.” The Parole Board listened blank-faced, not even taking notes. Tom Perkins, of the Attorney General’s Office, responded with a big verbal shrug. Hough’s lawyers did a “constitutionally adequate” job. The directions to the jury “might have been better worded, but they were sufficient.” “Criminal Rule 24 isn’t magic, like pixie dust,” he said. Meaning, I guess, hey — nothing’s perfect. When the hearing and the press conference following it were over, Kafoure and I — along with two of Hough’s cousins and a prison ministry volunteer who’d become his friend — headed for O’Bannon’s office and asked his receptionist if he was in. Mistaking us for a group of tourists, she smiled and said yes. “You’re welcome to step in and take a look at the office,” she said. “But you won’t be able to talk with him.” “But we need to talk with him,” Hough’s cousin said. “We’re here about Kevin Hough. We’ve been phoning, e-mailing and faxing the governor for more than a week, and he hasn’t answered us.” The receptionist wasn’t smiling now. She picked up the phone, punched some buttons. “There are some people here who’d like to talk with you about Kevin Hough.” She listened a moment, then hung up. “I’m so sorry. He’s in a meeting,” she said. “The person you need to talk with is Bobby Small.” She made another call, requested a meeting with Small, laughed at something the person she was talking to said. Then, she reset her expression and regretfully informed the women that Bobby Small was in a meeting, too. “If you’ll leave your cell phone number, Mr. Small will call you as soon as he’s through,” she said. They’re good citizens. They didn’t argue. Hough’s cousin dutifully recited her cell phone number, and the receptionist wrote it down. Bobby Small would call the moment he was free, she promised. “He really wants to talk to you.” Then, smiling a professional smile, she thanked them for coming and turned back to her work. Kafoure held the door open for the three women, and they passed into the wide hallway. I stood before the receptionist’s desk until she looked up at me. “This is about someone’s life,” I said quietly. “Oh,” she said. “Yes. I understand that.” The following day, the Parole Board voted 5-0 against recommending clemency for Kevin Hough. Whether Hough lives or dies rests with Frank O’Bannon now. Kafoure says, given the governor’s record, it’s virtually certain Hough will die. Interesting, isn’t it — considering that our right to a fair trial is one of those fundamental freedoms President Bush claimed it was necessary to send thousands of American soldiers to Iraq and put their lives in grave danger to defend. Editor’s note1: When NUVO went to press with this story seven days after the April 21 hearing, Hough’s family still had not received a call from Bobby Small. Editors note2: There will be a vigil in front of the Governor’s Mansion from 5 p.m.-1 a.m. on Thursday, May 1. Scheduled programming will be presented from 5-6 p.m. and 10-11 p.m. Organizers encourage participants to bring candles and warm beverages, along with signs to alert passing motorists to our presence and purpose. Parking is available at the St. Thomas Aquinas church at 46th and Illinois streets. The Governor’s Mansion is located at 4750 N. Meridian St. For more information: 466-7128 or firstname.lastname@example.org.