JDI IN THE NEWS - 2002

Note: "Although SPR is not explicitly mentioned in this article from The Advocate, SPR is a co-plaintiff (along with CCADP and Citizens United for Alternatives for the Death Penalty) in the Arizona lawsuit mentioned in the text."

Brett Barrouquere, Inmates on Death Row Share Their Stories Via the Internet, The Advocate, August 20, 2002.

bbarrouquere@theadvocate.com

Like many single men, John Francis Wille is out on the Internet, looking to make a connection.

Wille acknowledges his place on Louisiana's death row in his Web posting and says he likes camping, sports, collecting postcards and listening to various types of music.

"I enjoy learning about people & their cultures. I love to travel, but have not gotten a chance to do that in a long time," Wille wrote in his Web posting.

What the description omits is that Wille doesn't have a computer and why he's on death row -- for the 1985 rape and murder of 8-year-old Nichole Lopatta in LaPlace.

Wille's page is one of five by death-row inmates at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola and many around the country on a Web site sponsored by a Canadian anti-death penalty group.

The group, Canadian Coalition Against the Death Penalty, posts Web pages for inmates, using writings, pleas for pen pals, photos, court records and even artwork mailed to them by the incarcerated.

"They are sentenced to death, not to silence," said Tracy Lamourie, one of the directors of CCADP.

But the way Lamourie is allowing the inmates to speak out rankles some prosecutors.

"I think they are just misguided individuals," said East Baton Rouge Assistant District Attorney John Sinquefield, who has prosecuted death penalty cases.

Sinquefield said the people running the Web site aren't related to the victims of "the people slaughtered by some of the worst, most heinous criminals around."

"These are people … who are intervening in something that's not really their business," Sinquefield said. "I think they should stay in Canada. I'm sure there's plenty of criminals up there to keep them busy."

The Internet site (http://www.ccadp.org) features access to Death Row inmate Web pages from around the country.

Some inmates ask for pen pals, others write about prison life. Few make direct reference to what they were convicted of, unless, like Elzie Ball, it is to plead their innocence or accuse police and prosecutors of misconduct.

Ball was convicted of killing Ben Scorsone Jr., 44, who tried to stop the armed robbery of a bar in Gretna in May 1996.

On his Web page, Ball, on Death Row since August 1997, pleads for help in overturning his conviction and claims he was set up by deputies in Jefferson Parish.

"I have been falsely accused, tried and convicted for a crime I did not commit," Ball wrote. "I am a living witness, there are innocent people on the death rows of America."

Lamourie also posts photos of executions and memorial pages to people executed by various states, including Feltus Taylor of Baton Rouge, who was executed in June 2000 for the 1991 murder of Donna Ponsano during a robbery at a Baton Rouge fast-food restaurant.

The idea, Lamourie said, is to give a voice to a section of society that is often written off by the public and to remember those who were executed.

"It isn't glorifying anyone to allow them a voice before they are executed -- to allow them to send us reports of abuses going on in the prison, legal issues in their cases, even writings and poetry detailing life in a cage waiting to be killed," Lamourie said.

Family members and friends pass along the opportunity to go online to interested inmates, Lamourie said. From there, the inmates or their supporters can directly mail the materials that they want online, Lamourie said.

The only restrictions on the Web site are ones set by Lamourie and Dave Parkinson, who operates the page with her.

The pair say they won't post anything that is "blatantly racist, misogynistic, homophobic, pornographic or glorifies the crime the person is accused of committing."

"This has never become an issue," Lamourie said.

It's all legal and doesn't violate rules about contacting inmates, prison officials here said.

Angola prison has no prohibition on inmates contacting outside groups or people with letters or photos of themselves, officials said.

That's not the case everywhere. Lamourie's group is locked in a legal battle with the Arizona Department of Corrections over a law passed punishing prisoners who take part in Web pages put up by advocacy groups.

But for one anti-death penalty group, the Web site and some of its graphic images -- including photographs of botched executions -- may not be the best route to take.

Kathy Gess, co-director of Louisiana CURE (Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants), said the Web site appears to be a way to raise awareness about the use of the death penalty in the United States.

Yet Gess said the entries by the Death Row inmates don't reflect the seriousness of the issue.

"We personally would not use this Web site, but we see it as another reason to not use executions to solve our social problems," Gess said.

Sandy Krasnoff, executive director of Victims and Citizens Against Crime, a victims' rights group, said so long as no one is getting hurt by the Web site, he has no problem with such projects.

He said the Canadian group has the right to post the Web pages.

"We might not like some of the things they do," said Krasnoff, a former New Orleans Police officer. "But, we have no problem with those people."