Ms. Magazine

spring 2003
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this is what a feminist looks like

Features
The Feminist To-Do List by Gloria Steinem
Ms. Poll Feminist Tide Sweeps In as the 21st Century Begins by Lorraine Dusky
Affirmative Action on Trial by Teresa Stern
Women on Death Row by Claudia Dreifus
In the Thick of Life at 70 by Jessica Chornesky

Special Action Alert
Women Take Action Worldwide
Listing: Coalitions and Groups
National Council of Women's Organizations Statement on War with Iraq
NCWO Partial Members List
Why Peace is (More Than Ever) a Feminist Issue
by Grace Paley

Writing of War and Its Consequences
Ghosts of Home by Patricia Sarrafian Ward
Tales from an Ordinary Iranian Girlhood by Marjane Satrapi
Snow in Summer: LA, CA, 1963 by Helen Zelon

News
Pat Summitt's 800th Victory
Augusta Golf Club's Red Face
National Map of Priest Abuse
Women Warriors
Lesbians with Strollers
Kopp Trial
Trouble in Herat, Afghanistan
Reproductive Rights in Poland
Health Clinics in Guatemala
Congolese Women for Peace
Global Good News Round-Up
The Opposite of a Nuclear Bomb

Departments
Lower Breast Cancer Risks by Liz Galst
The Making of an Activist by Gloria Feldt
Nature Conservancy Gains by Rachel Rabkin
Harvard Stumbles on Rape Rules by Lorraine Dusky
The Bush Overhaul of Federal Courts by Stephanie B. Goldberg
My Friend Yeshi by Alice Walker

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Claudia Dreifus is a political journalist whose most recent Ms. article, "Berlin Diaries," recounted her trip to Germany to investigate the fate of family members during the Holocaust. Her most recent book is Scientific Conversations.


Women on Death Row
A Special Report by Claudia Dreifus

 

"If there is a common thread that ties the women on death row together, it is the fact that they have not lived up to some societal norm," suggests Kathleen O'Shea, a former nun who edits the newsletter "Women on the Row" and who has developed an informal ministry among them. O'Shea is also the author of the most authoritative academic textbook on the subject, Women and the Death Penalty in the United States: 1900-1998. "As a society, we continue to demand that women behave in a certain way and we punish women who do not. This is clearly illustrated by the legal term 'unfit mother'. No man has ever stood before a judge, or served time, or been executed for being an 'unfit father.'

Almost 20 years after her trial, Sunny Jacobs would meet a man who'd sat on her jury. "He said that one reason they wanted the death penalty, she recalled, was that they wanted to make an example of a woman, and that would send a clear message to those criminals out there."

Though the facts in her case were different from Ms. Jacobs's, Brittany Marlowe Holberg's status as a prostitute and crack addict were central to how an Amarillo, Texas jury reacted to her claims of self-defense in her 1998 murder trial.

She'd killed an elderly man, A. B. Towery, 80, and had left behind a horrible and bloody crime scene 58 stab wounds on the dead man. Holberg, then 25, claimed Towery was a client who'd attacked her; she'd been defending herself, there had been a struggle, and in a cocaine-induced madness she had freaked out.

Though she presented supportive evidence for her story; though there was testimony to the victim's violent history with his ex-wife and children; though a psychiatrist testified that Brittany was suffering from battered wife syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder, and a cocaine addiction, the jurors found it hard to believe that an elderly citizen could have employed a prostitute.

In doing this, they dismissed the underpinnings of Brittany's defense. "My father didn t even like the word 'sex' ; he was old fashioned," one of Mr. Towery's son swore in the courtroom.

Never mind that a former prostitute, Diana Eileen Wheeler, testified that she'd had something like ten dates with Towery in 1994; she'd even taught him how to clean the stains off of his Mel Mac dinnerware. Never mind that elderly men, even puritanical ones, have been known to employ the services of sex workers. The prosecutor just rolled his eyes to the jury in disbelief, an action that seemed to be enough to discredit whatever Wheeler told them.
Once the D.A. had his conviction nailed down, he won a death sentence against Brittany, who had no prior record of violence against anyone, by bringing in jailhouse informants who swore that she had made all manner of bloodthirsty confessions to them.

Today, Brittany Holberg is 30, and one of eight women awaiting execution on the female death row at the Mountain View unit of the Texas prison system in Gatesville, an aptly named town with six different jails within it. The Mountain View unit is where the condemned women stay while their appeals wind their way through federal and state courts. Should their appeals fail, they are sent down to the men's prison in Huntsville, some 180 miles away, where they are put to death by lethal injection.

Ms. Holberg is currently contesting her conviction through writ of habeas corpus proceedings, charging ineffective representation and prosecutorial misconduct at trial. Soon after her appeals lawyer filed her writ, the Randall County D.A. asked to be recused from arguing the case. According to the Amarillo Globe-News, Holberg's two- inch-thick habeas corpus filing includes several affidavits from women who admit to being convicted of crimes, alleging [the D.A.] and his employees attempted to make deals to elicit false testimony against Holberg.

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