On Aug. 21, 2013, a judge in Philadelphia said Jimmy Dennis, convicted 21 years ago of the murder of Chedell Ray Williams, deserved to be retried within 180 days or to be set free.

He is still on death row.

I remember hearing about the murder of Williams in 1991 at Fern Rock station. At that time, I lived in Olney and was in 7th grade at Masterman. I used Fern Rock station with my friends nearly every day, just like Chedell, an Olney High School student. My girlfriends and I all wore large gold earrings, usually with our names in the center, just like the pair Chedell lost her life for. Three people that day say they saw two people walk up to Chedell and ask for her earrings, shoot her as she resisted, and then get into a waiting car. The earrings and the murder weapon have never been seen again.

One of the witnesses, a young woman walking with Chedell at the time of the murder, identified the two men. Neither of them was Jimmy Dennis, who has insisted since his arrest that he was riding a bus nearly half way across town at the time. The two men identified were mentioned by their nick-names and known to Chedell’s friend as classmates from high school. That lead was never fully investigated, and no other lead in the case was properly investigated, including a supposed confession from the cousin of a Montgomery County prison inmate, according to the recent ruling of Judge Anita Brody. In her August ruling, Brody overturned Dennis’ conviction because of the tremendous problems she found with the initial trial.

Another case of bad prosecution

Brody’s decision echoed the September 2012 ruling by Judge Teresa Sarmina on the case of Terrance Williams. Sarmina cited extensive issues with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office’s handling of the Williams case.

“Because of the eye witnesses and his pattern of behavior, I am only left to conclude the federal judge’s ruling was less to do with the facts or settled law than her own political opinion or philosophy,” current District Attorney Seth Williams said of the case.

The DA’s statement got me thinking: Is it more important that the law be settled, or that the judgment be correct? In my opinion, it is the latter, particularly when a person’s life is at stake. The current DA’s Office does not have to support the mistakes of its predecessors.

A friend among the not-guilty

Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, six people have been exonerated from death row in Pennsylvania. The sixth man was Harold Wilson, sentenced to death for a brutal murder of three people in 1989. It was not until 10 years later, when it was confirmed that the district attorney who prosecuted the case used racially discriminatory tactics, when Wilson won the chance to have the case heard again. After a full 16 years on Pennsylvania’s death row, Wilson was finally released in 2005 when DNA evidence proved not only that he was not at the scene of the crime, but that another person — who remains unidentified — was.

While on death row, Wilson was two cells down from Dennis, whose nickname Wilson tells me is Shorty. They were and still are very close, and Wilson has been following the recent developments in Dennis’ case. The time Judge Brody gave to either file to retry the Dennis case or release him — 180 days — seems like a lifetime to me. Six months knowing that the justice system sees the errors of your prosecution but will still keep you sitting in solitary confinement.

For Wilson that wait ended up lasting six years.

Wilson took note of the similarities among revelations of prosecutorial misconduct in not only his case and Dennis’, but in so many others from particularly dark eras in the late 1970s and on through the turn of the century in the Philadelphia criminal justice system.

“I have great concern about Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania death penalty,” Wilson said. “Fear keeps people from acting against the death penalty, and people don’t want to come to terms with their mistakes. It’s a long, drawn-out process that is politically motivated, and November is an election year.”

Time for an alternative

As for the psychological effects of remaining on death row for so long while the innocence you have always maintained is finally and laboriously decided in court, Wilson said he was left exhausted in almost every way imaginable, but said he “could not accept” being imprisoned for a crime he did not commit.

He spent much of his time inside learning what he could, explaining that once he “got to county,” he realized he did not have the education he needed to merely survive in solitary confinement for nearly 23 hours each day, let alone to fight for his freedom.

“Let’s at least come up with an alternative to the torture of solitary confinement,” Wilson said as we finished our Oct. 28 phone conversation.

My thoughts returned to Jimmy Dennis, at that moment finishing day 66, not even half-way through his 180 days, alone in an 8’x8′ cell, waiting for the DA’s office in Philadelphia to decide how to proceed. Like Harold Wilson eight years ago, he would be surrounded on all sides by so many others on death row — some of them innocent men, waiting decades to merely prove it.

It is time that Pennsylvania cease fearing a conversation about the death penalty and face the fact that capital punishment simply does not work.


This essay originally appeared at newsworks.org. 


Donate to PADP

September 6, 2013

This weekend we are making a funding push for Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (PADP). Starting Friday September 6 we will be posting online encouraging people to donate to PADP throughout the weekend.


In case you missed what we’ve been up to at PADP over the past year, check out this article, An Effort to Fund Art Instead of Death Row, at The Philadelphia Inquirer, or these articles at two.one.five Magazine and NewsWorks as we followed the Terrance Williams trial when he narrowly escaped Pennsylvania’s death chamber. We collected hundreds of thousands of signatures on a petition for Terrance and we played an active role in the successful bids for clemency of Robert Gattis in Delaware and Hubert Michael here in PA.

We remain on the front line of the death penalty issue in Pennsylvania but we need your support. All donations are completely tax deductible. Please consider making a donation if you are able and spread the word.

We will be posting the donation link to social media all weekend :  http://padp.org/donate/

We could really use your support please #FundPADP and help us stop the Death Penalty in Pennsylvania.

Follow us on Twitter : @PADP_org

Like us on Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/padp.org

Next Philly PADP Meeting

September 4, 2013

The next meeting of the Philadelphia Chapter of Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty will be on Tuesday September 10th, 2013. We are going to volunteer with Books Through Bars at the A Space in West Philadelphia, 4722 Baltimore Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19143. 
We will be packing books to send to inmates from 7:30 PM until 9:30 PM. There are very specific instructions to sending these packages, so please arrive on time so that no one has to go over those instructions more than once. 
If you have any questions or comments please feel free to contact me and please spread the word about our upcoming initiatives and events. 
In Solidarity,
Aja Beech
Board Member, Philadelphia Chapter Chair 
Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
email us : PhillyPADP at gmail(dot)com
call us: 267-639-6169

With Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, Amnesty International, and Witness to Innocence.

I hope you have all seen the coverage of Execute Art Not People at The Inquirer and at 215Magazine – and I would like to thank Amnesty International , The Leeway Foundation, Arts America, and The City of Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program for all of their support in getting out the word about the event.
Most of all thank you to everyone that made it out! There were tornadoes and thunderstorms and we still had a packed house. It is everyone that comes to events, has conversations about the issue, and support our work with their volunteer efforts and donations that truly create such momentum in a movement and this is a very exciting time for us – but we also still have much to do!
We are still getting signatures for our petition online- over the weekend we obtained nearly 500 signatures and we have a week to get at least 1,000 to send to Governor Corbett and members of the PA Senate here is a link to our online petition- http://www.change.org/petitions/execute-art-not-people – the online petition has far less signatures than the paper petition so we need help to step up this campaign. Please share and post this petition.
For some photos of our volunteers collecting signatures this weekend check out our tumblr page at www.executeartnotpeople.tumblr.com
Our June meeting is next Tuesday June 12 at The Ethical Society of Philadelphia 1906 Rittenhouse Square.
Thank you all again for your continued support

May 31, 2012

Thank You to GalleristNY for linking up with Execute Art Not People


Frank Gehry changes his proposal for Eisenhower memorial. [ArtsBeat]

Martin Creed doesn’t know what art is. [Guardian]

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science has selected Renzo Piano and Zoltan Pali to design a new movie museum. [LAT] 

View original post 181 more words

Post your own photo!

April 20, 2012

You can now submit a photo to our Tumblr page http://executeartnotpeople.tumblr.com/ 

Execute Art Not People

April 17, 2012

clockwise from left: King Britt, Paul Santoleri, Kate Watson Wallace, and Tatyana Fazlalizadeh.



Beccaria is now for sale at Etsy.com – You can order yours today at this link: http://www.etsy.com/listing/97057545/beccaria









  •  The PA Department of Corrections spends approximately $10,000 a year more on each death row inmate.
  •  Since 1999 death row has cost taxpayers $27 million.
  •  A moratorium on the death penalty as the state legislature studies it could save Pennsylvanians over 4 million dollars in just two years.


  • Since 1973, 138 death row inmates have been released after evidence proved their innocence.
  •  Since 1978 Six men have been released from Pennsylvania’s death row, twice as many as have been executed in that time.

 Victims’ Families

  • Family members of murder victims have joined together internationally to stand up against the use of capital punishment as a form of justice for the loss of their loved ones.
  • National organizations like Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliations and Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights are at the forefront of the Victims’ Movement

Indigent Defense

  •  More than 90% ofPennsylvania’s death row prisoners were too poor to afford a lawyer for their initial trial.
  •   A report by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recognized that the state is failing to provide adequate council to poor people facing the death penalty.

 Racial Disparities

  •  Almost 70% of the people onPennsylvania’s death row are people of color.
  • Pennsylvania has the largest percentage of minorities on death row among states with more than 10 people on death row.
  • Independent research has found that a black person is 3.9 times more likely to get the death penalty than other defendants

Pennsylvanians Want Alternatives to a Broken System

  • Pennsylvania has the fourth largest death row population in the nation
  • Polling has shown that 72% of Pennsylvanians favor suspending the death penalty until it can be effectively studied.
  • The Pennsylvania Legislature has voted to approve a comprehensive death penalty study but will not suspend the death penalty during the study.
  • A recent poll found that most Pennsylvanians prefer life in prison over the death penalty.

* Cost estimates are from the Penn State University Justice Center Commission for Fairness 210-11 Annual Report http://www.justicecenter.psu.edu

Contact PhillyPADP at gmail.com or call 267-639-6169 for more information.