A Death Row Blogger's Advice for Life
Friday, January 27, 2006
As Vernon Evans sat in his cell on Maryland's death row last spring, he had more to ponder than his own execution.
There was the lonely Brazilian who needed his advice, and a fellow from the District whose question deserved a reply, and a global audience tuned in to the wisdom of a man whose life was on the wane.
Evans was blogging from behind bars.
Vernon Lee Evans Jr. -- amateur advice columnist and convicted murderer -- is scheduled to die next month by lethal injection. He is one of the very few death row inmates to have a blog and, activists say, perhaps the only condemned man worldwide to use a blog to take questions from readers.
Activist Ginny Simmons started the blog in March and relayed the questions to Evans, who does not have Internet access. She stopped posting exchanges on the site in June out of concern that the exchanges could inadvertently harm his legal prospects. With his execution fast approaching, Simmons forwarded a backlog of questions to him last week and plans to post the fresh exchanges once she receives his replies.
Though defense attorneys in capital cases have long strived to remind judges and juries that their clients are human beings with lives beyond the crimes they are accused of, Evans's blog is the leading edge of a strategy by death penalty opponents to use new technologies to make the same point to the wider public.
A coalition of activists in Canada maintains Web pages for about 500 death row inmates. Another group, Campaign to End the Death Penalty, began holding events in 1998 in which condemned inmates are patched through by speaker phone. The blogs are the latest experiment, and the activists say Evans's blog is the most novel and daring because readers can post questions.
"Part of the reason the death penalty is allowed to exist is that people don't acknowledge the fact that the people on death row are human beings," Simmons said.
Evans, 56, of Baltimore, was first sentenced to death more than two decades ago for the contract killings of potential witnesses in a federal drug case. He was convicted in the murders of David Scott Piechowicz, 27, and that man's sister-in-law, Susan Kennedy, 19, in 1983 at a hotel that Piechowicz managed in Pikesville.
Though she did not see the shooting, Evans's girlfriend testified at his trial that she saw him carry the gun into the lobby and saw it again -- still smoking -- when he came out. At a resentencing in 1992, Evans said, "It's not hard for me to say I am truly sorry for having been that type of individual that would take two innocent lives."
"His guilt is crystal clear, and I can't think of a more appropriate case for the death penalty," John Cox, one of the Baltimore County prosecutors handling the case, said in an interview.
On the blog, Evans in April assured Laura from Washington state that he was not the gunman, that he did not get a fair trial and that a lawyer told him before his resentencing in 1992 that his only shot at getting off death row was to show remorse. "Laura, I did not kill these people," Evans wrote.