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A Discussion with Jeb Bush on the Death Penalty

Challenging Jeb Bush on the Death Penalty

by Abe Bonowitz And SueZann Bosler

A little background. Last week Jeb! Bush ran at the mouth along the lines of: "For "the families of these victims, justice has been denied," Bush said Thursday. "It is very troubling that we do not have a death penalty process that puts them front and center. … Families are aching in pain." (Orlando Sentinel). Similar quotes appeared statewide. Something had to be done.

Saturday evening I was working with SueZann Bosler on an op-ed to be distributed to the newspapers when I got Jeb!’s weekly e-mail and checked his schedule. And there it was – a special notice about open office hours in Lake City. "First come first served, so come early!" the notice read…. We mobilized on Sunday. SueZann canceled or rescheduled two days worth of appointments (she is a house-calling hair dresser for death penalty abolition!) and by five PM Monday we were on our way North — again in the un-air conditioned abolition-mobile. We picked up Andrew Mason in Orlando, crashed at Amy Jo’s house in Gainesville, met Joe Brew at the Gainesville Kinkos at 5:15 and were in line at Lake City Community College by 6:20am. Bernie Welch and Dennis Lane soon arrived from St. Augustine and Jacksonville, and FSU Film School student Laura Cardona arrived with her camera — all the way from Atlanta.

For more background on this meeting, see the press releases:

"Jeb Bush "Pining and Signing" for Votes" and "Victim’s Family Members Ask Governor and other politicians: "Please stop using our pain for political gain"

at http://www.fadp.org/pressrel.html.

–AB

DISCUSSION ITEMS OF NOTE:

* "Please don’t use victim’s pain for political gain."
* Presentation of thousands of moratorium petition signatures. * The Innocence Protection Act
* New witness in the Amos King case
* Illinois Moratorium Commission recommendations
* FADP challenge to debate.

Governor Bush: Hello

SueZann Bosler: Hello.

Governor Bush: Hi, SueZann.

Abe Bonowitz: I’m Abe Bonowitz.

Governor Bush: Hi, Abe.

[Background talk as others come in. Bush's Communications staff person introduces the reporters who have come in with us: Ron Word of the Associated Press, Lesley Clark of the Miami Herald, a videographer and reporter from Florida's News Channel, and Laura Cardona, an FSU film student who is doing a documentary.]

******

Governor Bush: What’s goin’ on?

SueZann Bosler: Well, um, I’m here, like you said in the auditorium, I guess I’m here as one of the people to maybe give a little critique, here, just so you’d expect it.

Governor Bush: Great.

SueZann Bosler: Um, I’m going to tell you this is that I’m, I watched my father, Reverend Billy Bosler and myself being stabbed. [Getting a little emotional] I watched my father being stabbed to death in front of my eyes.

Governor Bush: When was that?

SueZann Bosler: December 22, 1986. And it was in the parsonage at the church. And, I went to….

Governor Bush: I’m sorry…

SueZann Bosler: Thank you. I went through many years of being angry at the man that did it, and I finally forgave him. I went through many sentencings and I was able to speak in his name to get him off of death row and into a life sentence, and the reason I did that is because my father was against the death penalty, and my whole family is against the death penalty, and I don’t think a life is for a life. There is no "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, or the world will be blind." And I made these notes because when I was stabbed I was stabbed in the head twice and my memory and speech, so I will be affected the rest of my life. My time is short and I, I had this video [hands him a video tape] that was done by 48 hours and I would like, I would really appreciate if you were to see it…

Governor Bush: Sure.

SueZann Bosler: …because it shows one big scene…

Governor Bush: Is that [pointing to the tape]

SueZann Bosler: Correct…SueZann Bosler… and it shows a [inaudible] on one of the trials I was threatened…um to be put into jail…

Governor Bush: Why?

SueZann Bosler: …because I was, I was, he asked me a question. The State Attorney asked me a question of what I did for a living and I said ‘I’m a hair dresser and I work to abolish the death penalty,’ and that’s what I do, and he threatened to put me into jail.

Abe Bonowitz: SueZann was not allowed to advocate for her family’s position that did not seek the death penalty for the perpetrator, and the judge said ‘if you say anything about that then you’re in jail.’ Because she was not allowed to have her, as a victim’s rights, or as a victim, to have her right to say "I don’t want this guy killed."

Governor Bush: I don’t think that’s the case anymore, is it?

crosstalk

Abe Bonowitz: I’m not a lawyer, I couldn’t tell you, but that’s what happened to her.

Governor Bush: Yeah.

Abe Bonowitz: And that’s the problem. When people speak – when advocates for the death penalty speak, as we have heard you say just in the last week, "I’m here for the victims,"…well, not all the victims want that.

Governor Bush: Right, but most do.

Abe Bonowitz: Many do.

Governor Bush: Many do.

Abe Bonowitz: But not all.

Governor Bush: Nope. Obviously not.

SueZann Bosler: I’d just appreciate….

Governor Bush: But that, that, that’s not…go ahead.

SueZann Bosler: I’m sorry to interrupt you… I would just appreciate it if you didn’t use me as one of those of those victims because….

Governor Bush: I won’t.

SueZann Bosler: ….because I’m here for life, not death. I don’t want anybody to speak in my name for death…because it’s worse. Violence perpetuates violence. It doesn’t help. It makes it more suffering for us, going through that death penalty system and it’s more suffering for me than if they would have put him in for life.

Governor Bush: I will not uh refer to you because you obviously are passionate about your views. Having said, I, I support the death penalty. And I wish that it would be administered in a way that wouldn’t be as difficult for victims, the family members, because it is compounded [or confounded] and contorted and twisted and you know in the last two cases where people stood on death row that now there is a stay on there, the crimes I think in the late 70s.

Abe Bonowitz: It’s a long, long time.

Crosstalk

Governor Bush: ….stay and uh…

Abe Bonowitz: Last week when you said that you were with the victims that were driving in their cars on the way to the prison, but you know, Linroy Bottison and Amos King have people that love them, too. And when these people are exterminated, then their loved ones become victim’s family’s also. And, it doesn’t matter how you look at it, when you have lost a loved one to violence, it’s losing a loved one to violence, and they’re all victims. So, it’s…there’s obviously a distinction. We ask, please don’t use victim’s pain for political gain.

Governor Bush: I’m not.

Abe Bonowitz: Well, it seems that way. It comes across that way.

Crosstalk

Governor Bush: Well, you’re wrong. You’re wrong. This is the most difficult thing I do and I respect your position and certainly will be mindful of the fact that you have this position and you should respect mine as well, and not imply motivations that are incorrect. Maybe we could reach a consensus…

Abe Bonowitz: Well perhaps we can reach a consensus on that…

Governor Bush: Just because I don’t agree with you doesn’t mean that my motivation isn’t sincere, and it is the law of the land and I have a duty to uphold the law. You know, if you want to try to change the law, you have a right to do that.

Abe Bonowitz: Well, we are working on that.

Governor Bush: You have every right to do that.

Abe Bonowitz: We have several other things we wanted to share with you.

Governor Bush: Sure.

Abe Bonowitz: One is another stack of petitions. We were here with… We were at your office in January with Delbert Tibbs and Brad Scott and Dave Keaton, who are three of Florida’s death row survivors, wrongly convicted and released off of death row and you were out of town that day so we met with one of your assistants but…um.

Governor Bush: You mean you went to Tallahassee?

Abe Bonowitz: We did a walk, actually. A number of us walked from the death row to Tallahassee, 143 miles to bring you these petitions and at that time it was more than 20,000. Here’s a few more thousand. [SueZann and Abe hand him several stacks of petitions.] But in particular, you know when you’ve got…this is…I’m sure you have your own copy…this is the Commission on Capital Cases report on the 23 people they say 23, there are actually 24 people…

Governor Bush: No, I haven’t seen that.

Abe Bonowitz: You ought to ask Locke Burt for a copy of that. Um, the problem with this report is that it, it’s not complete. Uh, and it’s it purports to look at 23 of the 24 cases of wrongful conviction and there is innuendo in there, there is mis-statement, and, and they claim to have given defense attorneys the opportunity to…

Governor Bush: I’m sorry. Have you done a critique of it?

Abe Bonowitz: We are in the process of that and we’ll have…I’ll provide that to you when we get it done, we haven’t had a chance to complete it yet. But I can tell you I have spoken with several lawyers whose clients are…their cases are profiled there and, and they are saying, "wait a second. They didn’t talk to me" and, and, that’s not accurate information. So…

Governor Bush: When do you think you’ll have it ready?

Abe Bonowitz: Uh…hopefully by the end of the summer.

Governor Bush: Okay. I can tell you from my perspective which is….from my perspective which is, which relates to the death warrants I have signed…uh I have absolutely no doubt that the people were, were guilty. Absolutely no doubt.

Abe Bonowitz: You know that there is a new witness in Amos King’s case that corroborates part of his story?

Governor Bush: Every time that those…that information comes out, we look at it very closely. And I have absolutely no doubt that the death warrants I have signed have been for people who were justly sentenced for the crime they committed.

SueZann Bosler: That’s also why…I I think….

Governor Bush: And, the other thing is that people, you know, the system does work in that there are cases of people -

SueZann Bosler: That’s why I think that I would respect you more if you did like two other governors in this country have done and put a moratorium in for not only to abolish the death penalty but to bring it out in the open and learn more about it. Because my father taught me that if you believe in something, you have to know both sides. And I think that’s what we all have to know. And if [inaudible] the system. Because James Bernard Campbell, who killed my father has a title, premeditated murderer, and if I’m going to want anybody killed, [inaudible] they would be a premeditated murderer, too how can the Government kill somebody?

Governor Bush: inaudible…(I disagree?)

SueZann Bosler: And I don’t think that’s right…

Governor Bush: I disagree. I just respectfully disagree. I think there’s a big difference between, uh, capital punishment and the crimes that create the need for it….but again….

SueZann Bosler: How that is different?

Governor Bush: Well, one case is uh, uh the protection of innocent life and the other case is someone commits this atrocious crime, you know most murders are not…people aren’t sentenced to the death penalty…it’s only a small fraction of these incredibly atrocious crimes that are committed.

SueZann Bosler: But…

Governor Bush: I can distinguish, as a majority of Floridians can, between those two. And…that’s where our disagreement is probably based.

Abe Bonowitz: [interrupted]

Governor Bush: Having said that, I respect you enormously for having your position, particularly you [looking at Bosler], because of what you’ve gone through. And uh I have many, I’m a devout Catholic and uh once a year I meet with the Bishops and they respectfully lecture me from their position, which is one that I respect enormously about this issue…and they’re on your side. And I, I, this is not something, again, where I I’ve got the impression that you think that I’ve not thought this through…or ….

Abe Bonowitz: I don’t think that at all.

Governor Bush: ….I think about this a lot. It is the most difficult thing I have to do, but I’m at peace with my position, and I do believe that it is appropriate for the State to do it, so….

Abe Bonowitz: I’m glad you, you mentioned the protection of innocent life. I don’t know if you are familiar but right know in Congress, in, in I think they call it mark-up, they are looking at the Innocence Protection Act this week.

Governor Bush: I’m not aware of the act….

Abe Bonowitz: Well, hopefully it’s going to pass. And basically what it does is set out protections that have to be in place in state laws and federal laws to make sure that we are not executing the wrong person. And..

Governor Bush: The innocence protection act? [writing it down]

Abe Bonowitz: Innocence Protection Act.

Governor Bush: I’ll get my office to look at it. I’m not aware of it…

Abe Bonowitz: I’ll…let me know who to convey that information to…I’ll make sure…

Governor Bush: …I’ll find it… I’ll get it…

Abe Bonowitz: It’s in the Legislature right know, it’s in mark-up. Uh, so we have that concern. Additionally, Governor Ryan, in Illinois, as you know declared a moratorium, but more important, he appointed a nonpartisan committee, a commission, to look at the death penalty in Illinois and they issued their report recently with 85 recommendations about how they can improve the system and try to prevent the execution of the innocent. And a lot of those recommendations would fit right in with Florida’s law in terms of needing to be done. So I would urge you also to look at the report from Illinois. You don’t have to waste Florida tax dollars doing our own commission report. Let’s look at the report from Illinois… and implement those ….

Governor Bush: I’m for not wasting tax payer dollars…so I appreciate the…

Abe Bonowitz: Then if that’s the case, then I hope you look at the studies from the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post that show how much money…

Governor Bush: crosstalk

Abe Bonowitz: …more we’re spending on the death penalty than we would with life without parole.

Governor Bush: Two of my favorite papers.

Abe Bonowitz: I’m sure. Uh but you know they don’t put information out without carefully researching it and …and the Palm Beach Post in particular showed that you have…

Governor Bush: small talk inaudible.. (about Lesley Clark, who was in the room for the Miami Herald.)

Abe Bonowitz: I’m not saying that for Lesley’s benefit….but you have uh the Palm Beach Post estimated that we’d save a minimum of $51 million dollars a year annually if we just went with life without parole instead of the death penalty.

Governor Bush: …we could make the death penalty….

Abe Bonowitz: We’ve been tryin’ to do that for almost 30 years… and

Governor Bush: If we had a process where it didn’t take 20 years for the execution to take place, then the costs…

Abe Bonowitz: Again, it goes to the, I mean James Bernard Campbell, who killed her father was sentenced to death twice before he had a third re-sentencing hearing where he got life w….four life sentences…and that’s a lot of lot of money wasted.

Governor Bush: It is….

Abe Bonowitz: Florida has one of the highest turnover rates of death sentences…

Governor Bush: It does…

Abe Bonowitz: …which is why

Governor Bush: …why the judiciary needs to, to provide some information to the circuit court judges about when it is appropriate to have the death penalty be the sentence… when 50% of the cases are overturned on direct appeal.

Abe Bonowitz: That’s right. We also need some better training for our prosecutors and our defense attorneys.

Governor Bush: Absolutely. That’s [inaudible] responsibility?

Abe Bonowitz: ….these are all things that are part of the recommendations in the report…I hope you’ll look at that…

Governor Bush: I agree with that. I agree with that. I gotta run.

Abe Bonowitz: I’m sorry. One last thing before we go. We do have a challenge for you… We’d like to invite you to join us in a debate about the issue. So Floridians can hear both sides articulated in a public forum.

SueZann Bosler: …we want people to know both sides…

Abe Bonowitz: We don’t own a newspaper…

Governor Bush: Well, we’ve made it possible for your side to be heard here, so….I have no problems with that. [FADP understands Bush's response as being to suggest that the forum in which we were then speaking, in front of the media then present, was public enough. FADP is seeking a clarification and a formal response in writing to the challenge to debate publicly]

SueZann Bosler: …..so what I just want to say again – why kill people who kill people to show them that killing people is wrong?

cross talk and good byes.

Abe Bonowitz: And a friend of mine, this is no comment on anything but a friend of mine makes these and asked me to give you that. So, no comment on anything, just might be helpful sometime. [Abe presented Governor Bush with a "Get Out of Hell Free" card see <http://www.thisistrue.com/goohf.html>.]

Thanks, thank you. Good meeting you. Take care.

Abe Bonowitz: See you again sometime.

Governor Bush: Yeah, I’m sure….

END OF SESSION

Abe Bonowitz is director of Floridians Against the Death Penalty. He can be reached at: fadp@fadp.org