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NDASK gathers experts

Jenn Metz | Monday, April 30, 2007

Notre Dame Against State Killing (NDASK) held a forum Saturday and Sunday called “Achieving the Inevitable: Ending the Death Penalty in Indiana” – giving speakers and students a chance to discuss, learn and focus on the developments the club has made over the past year.

A group of students formed NDASK last fall through the Center for Social Concerns with the goal of achieving a moratorium on the death penalty in Indiana by building a statewide network of support for the cause.

The conference this weekend was a conclusion to the club’s work during its first year. NDASK has about 30 active student members and a newsletter readership of 200 working to fight the death penalty through education.

Speakers at the conference included top experts on the death penalty in Indiana. Priests and lawyers, like Father Tom McNally, a Holy Cross priest and volunteer chaplain at the Michigan City Prison, and Chris Hitz-Bradley of the Indiana Information Center on the Abolition of Capital Punishment spoke on campus this weekend.

Junior Andrea Laidman, co-director of NDASK, said the forum turned into an unexpected summit for these experts.

“They were all glad to have a chance to meet up,” Laidman said. “The speakers seemed to learn a lot from each other and students had the chance to get more expertise and to get a framework together for next year.”

Getting these different actors together is an important step, she said.

“In order to be successful, we need to integrate as one solid group of people with different beliefs and messages,” Laidman said.

That integration is already taking place, Laidman said, citing the varying backgrounds of the forum’s speakers. Some stand against the death penalty based on beliefs in criminal justice, she said, while others take a religious stance against state executions.

This weekend’s events included a screening of “The Exonerated” and a keynote address by Paula Sites, assistant executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council. NDASK also held panel sessions entitled “The American Bar Association & Indiana: Moving toward a Moratorium,” “Prison Ministry: Building Relationships with Death Row Inmates” and “Mental Illness and the Death Penalty: Arbitrary, Capricious and Inhumane.”

There was also an art show with works created by death row prisoners, including five pieces of art from an Indiana death row inmate with whom Laidman and NDASK co-director Will McAuliffe – who is a columnist for The Observer – meet with on a regular basis.

“It’s important to consider that these [prisoners] are everyday people with their own beliefs and talents,” Laidman said.

She said the weekend’s events were especially important because they allowed the club to “capitalize on everything that’s happened,” referring to the Indiana execution of David Woods scheduled for Friday at 12 a.m.

NDASK held a vigil at the Grotto Saturday in remembrance of Juan Placencia, the victim of Woods’ crime. Woods was convicted of stabbing his 77-year-old neighbor to death in 1984 in Garrett, Ind.

Death row inmates in Indiana, including Woods, have argued against the use of lethal injection. Laidman said there have been problems associated with using this method of execution, which she said can constitute cruel and unusual punishment when inmates are not fully sedated before execution.

NDASK has created an online petition available through its blog, ndask.blogspot.com, asking Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels to grant Woods clemency. As of Sunday night, the petition had 465 signatures out of its target 500.

The club is taking bus reservations for a planned execution vigil Thursday at the Michigan City prison.

Daniels has not yet announced whether he will reject Woods’ application for clemency.

NDASK hopes to continue its education about the death penalty in the coming years, Laidman said, and has “incredible people lined up to come [next year].”

Students will continue to build a network and lobby for their desired moratorium with Daniels and leaders from their political districts, Laidman said.