Twenty-five persons arrested yesterday after they lay down on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court building as part of a demonstration against capital punishment.
The protesters were charged with unlawful entry, under D.C. law, and with parading without a permit, under federal law. It is a violation of both codes to demonstrate on the steps of the Supreme Court.
The protest, organized by a group called People Against Executions, focused on what it said were the 141 persons now facing death sentences in Florida -- a proportionately higher number than in the 37 other states with capital punishment laws.
A person posing as Florida Gov. Robert Graham signed death warrants that led to the symbolic electrocution of the 25 demonstrators on the sidewalk across the street from the court. Then the protesters were pronounced dead and carried across the street to the court, which the protesters noted was "the court of last resort."
The first person in 12 years to be executed against his will -- John Spenkelink -- died in the electric chair in Florida in May. Two others have been executed since the Supreme Court, in 1976, allowed capital punishment to be reinstituted.
The crowd of about 200 demonstrators included groups from the District, Florida, Tennessee and New York.
One of those who made the trip from Florida was GLADYS C. Vaught, the mother of a death row inmate, there, who spoke to the before the mock executions.
"We all know we're going to die someday," Vaught said, a facsimile of her 23-year-old son's death warrant hanging around her neck. "But there are better remedies for crime than the death penalty. My son was accused of murder but he was not proven guilty. The court took the word of a convicted felon when they convicted my son. I pray to God he will be spared."
The participants in the mock execution each wore the name of a death row inmate around their necks. They acted out what the inmate's reaction might be as they took their turn in a wooden chair.
"Not me! Not me!. What are you taking about? I was just sitting in my cell," yelled one demonstrator, who was portraying Florida inmate Anthony Peek.
"Don't put your hands on me," called out Doug Magee, who was portraying inmate Myron Fleming. When the hood was put over his eyes, he said, "May God have mercy on you."
Each demonstrator jerked about on the chair as if a current were going through his or her body. Then a white-robed doctor checked their heartbeats and gave a triumphant thumbsup signal.