WASHINGTON – Maryland death row inmate Tyrone Delano Gilliam has taken his plea for clemency to the World Wide Web.
On a privately sponsored Web site, “Stop! the Execution of Tyrone Gilliam,” the condemned killer urges the public to write Gov. Parris Glendening to commute his sentence to life in prison.
Gilliam is scheduled to be killed by lethal injection this week for the December 1988 murder of Christine Doerfler, a store clerk who was robbed of $3 and shot in the head. Her body was found in her car in a Baltimore County alley.
While Gilliam is the first death row inmate in Maryland to launch a Web site to generate interest in his case, he is not the first ever to do so: Several death row inmates across the country have taken the fight to save their lives to the Internet.
“It’s not surprising that inmates are using Web sites to plead their cases,” said Paul Levinson, professor of communication at Fordham University in New York. “With the Internet, you can send your information out there from wherever with very little access to the outside world necessary.”
Levinson said inmate Web sites are another example of how once-voiceless groups now have an international forum in which to express their opinions.
He expects more inmates will start using the web because of the relative ease in getting information to a wide audience with little or no personal access.
“What we are seeing with the Internet is a variety of powerless groups using the Web to radically level the playing field,” he said. “So now someone on death row has the same access as Bill Gates on the Web.”
The Death Row Inmate Webring, for example, offers that kind of access. The Webring lists at least 20 Web sites related to death row, including inmates’ own sites as well as sites offering legal advice, soliciting pen pals and decrying the injustice of capital punishment generally.
The sites include “The Girls of Death Row,” a listing of all women sentenced to death in the United States, and “Dead Man Talking,” devoted to the writings of a prisoner on California’s death row known only as Dean.
Visitors can also order the latest edition of “Death Row,” a reference book claiming to list all death row inmates in the country, with their photographs, profiles and statistics.
The International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal sponsors one of the more high-tech death row sites for the man condemned to die in Pennsylvania for the murder of a Philadelphia police officer.
The site includes writings of Abu-Jamal, who it describes as a journalist and activist, as well as press releases on his case and lists of upcoming demonstrations on his behalf across the country.
Gilliam’s site, which is supported by a private group in Baltimore, is relatively low-tech by comparison.
The site features a stylized dove and multicolored text on a black background — colors alternate randomly from word to word and letter to letter. Besides making the message extremely difficult to read, the bright colors give the site almost a party- like appearance.
But the message clearly urges the public to get involved, listing both the governor’s State House and e-mail addresses.
Tyrone Gilliam “is scheduled to be put to death by the state of Maryland … despite all the facts that show his life should be spared,” it says. “A final federal appeal and your actions are all that stand between Tyrone and Maryland’s death chamber.”
The site argues that Gilliam’s life should be spared because he did not have competent trial counsel and because the death penalty is unfairly applied against blacks. It also cites his previous drug and sexual abuse and his conversion to Islam as grounds for clemency.
The Web site, sponsored by the Muhammd Eastside Study Group in Baltimore, was set up before the election in an effort to pressure Glendening. A counter on the site indicated that there had been 228 visitors to the site as of Friday afternoon.
Members of the Muhammd Eastside Study Group could not be reached to comment on the site last week, despite repeated tries.