community-based, non-corporate, participatory media
On today's show: A report on the re-trial of Terrell Johnson; we investigate the potential of renewable energy in our region; the Black Agenda Report on Obama and the minimum wage; Former Mexican president Zedillo is granted immunity for his role in the Acteal massacre, and more in our local and global headlines.
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Rustbelt Radio for September 10, 2011
Welcome to this week's edition of Rustbelt Radio, the Pittsburgh Independent Media Center's bi-weekly review of the news from the grassroots, news overlooked by the corporate media.
On today's show...
Rustbelt Radio is broadcast live from WRCT studios every other Monday at 6 PM on 88.3 FM in Pittsburgh, and the program airs again on WRCT every Tuesday morning at 9AM.
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We turn now to local stories.
On Tuesday September 4 Terrell Johnson, a Hazelwood man convicted of the 1994 murder of Verna Robinson, had the first day of a new trial. For the past seventeen years Johnson has maintained that he is innocent of the crime, his story has been featured on Rustbelt multiple times over the past three years, and his case was featured and investigated by the Innocence Institute of Point Park University.
Verna Robinson was the witness in a murder trial at the time of her murder, and was supposed to be under witness protection. Instead she was left at her mother's house where she was shot in the early hours of July 22, 1994. Verna's mother, Barbara Robinson, as well as her neighbors who called 911 after hearing the shots, all told police that they did not see who shot Verna that night, and the District Attorney's office, desperate for a conviction in this high profile case needed to find an eye-witness. They then found Evelyn "Dolly" McBryde. McBryde was a known criminal and drug addict who was picked up for shoplifting two weeks after the muder of Verna Robinson. In exchange for a deal that would spare her years in prison McBryde offered testimony that day that she had seen three men murder Verna Robinson; Dorian Moorefield, Harold Cabbagestalk and a third man she only knew as horse face. McBryde offered the sole prosecuting testimony in all three trials. Johnson, who was identified as being this "horse face", the only of the three men without a private attorney, alone was sentenced to life in prison for Verna Robinson's murder.
In 2009, through the Post-conviction Relief Act Johnson was able to use the testimony of a man claiming to have been with Dolly McBryde the night of Verna's murder, to win a new trial. The District Attorney's office then offered Terrel Johnson a plea bargain that would have let him walk out of prison that day, not willing to admit to a crime he did not commit, he turned it down. In a press conference on August 29th, Saudra Cole, Terrell's wife, and Bret Grote, an investigator and advocate with the Human Rights Coalition spoke at a press conference outside of the City Council building about Terrell not taking that deal in 2010.
At the press conference Saundra and Bret were both asked to speak on the issue of Dolly McBryde, who became the main focus of the Innocence Insitute investigation of Terrell's case.
When she testified this week McBryde told a story that differed in significant respects from earlier versions, as she now claims she saw Terrell shoot Verna, which she never testified to before. The defense plans on calling several witnesses who will contradict every aspect of her testimony, including where she was prior to, during, and after the shooting.
Perhaps most harmful to her credibility was the 18 page criminal record dating back to the mid-1980s up to 2009 that involved repeated instances of criminal activity, including bank fraud, endangerment of children, and retail theft, prostituting her own children. Jenkins brought to the jury’s attention Evelyn’s thirteen aliases from her FBI file, four different social security numbers used, and four dates of birth.
After Terrell's refusal of the 2010 deal Verna Robinson's mother, Barbara Robinson, entered a new affidavit claiming that she had seen two of the men who had shot her daughter, contradicting the story she had told in three previous trials and maintained for sixteen years. Nikki Donelley, a Pitt Law student and Human Rights Coalition Advocate knowledgeable of the case has been present at the trial and had this to say about Barbara's testimony this past week.
During a break in her testimony, Barbara Robinson was reportedly instructed by a woman attending the trial that she should testify that she was afraid to come forward in the past in order to explain why her story had changed. It is unclear if the woman who coached her was a part of the prosecution team, with the office of victim’s advocate, or had some other role. After this conversation Barbara re-took the stand and alleged, for the first time, that she had been afraid to come forward in the past.
The District Attorney's office called a handful of police officers and neighbors during the rest of their case. Much of the testimony focused on the idea of the "Hazelwood Mob", which they described as controlling the neighborhood at the time of the murder, and Terrell Johnson's alleged role in the organized crime. These references included comparing Hazelwood to Homewood, for any jury member that was having a difficult time understanding the type of violence they were describing, and other unsubstantiated racist generalizations.
Before the trial Saundra Cole, Terrell's wife, a community activist and stedfast supporter of her husband talked about what this experience has done for her and Terrell.
The defense began presentation of its case this morning Monday September 10, and it should last through Tuesday or Wednesday. Following that are closing arguments and jury deliberations.
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You are listening to Rustbelt Radio, the Pittsburgh Independent Media Center's bi-weekly review of news overlooked by the corporate media. We turn now to other independent news from around the world.
Black Agenda Report executie editor Glen Ford released this commentary on Obama and the minimum wage before the start of the Democrative National Convention this past week in Charlotte, North Carolina
On Friday, September 7th, former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo (zeh-DEE-yo) was granted immunity by a U.S. District Court for his involvement in a 1997 massacre in rural Mexico that killed 45 indigenous people.
The massacre occurred on December 22, 1997, in the indigenous Chiapas community known as Acteal (ahct-TAY-ahl). The victims of the attack, mostly women and children, were members of a Christian pacifist group known as “Las Abejas” (ah- BAY- hahs) or “The Bees.” At the time of the massacre, they were praying and fasting for peace in their community.
The massacre was carried out by government trained paramilitaries, and occurred during a time of harsh government repression against indigenous resistance groups, including the armed peasant group, the Zapatistas, and anyone considered sympathetic to their cause.
Zedillo is currently employed by Yale University in Connecticut as a professor. Given his residence in the U.S., he is subject to two US laws--the Torture Victim Protection Act and another which allows foreigners to bring suits in US courts for violence that occurred abroad.
Last year, 10 anonymous victims of the Acteal massacre filed a civil lawsuit for $50 million dollars against Zedillo in a Connecticut district court for his role in the massacre. The Abejas in Chiapas stated they are unaware of who filed the suit in the U.S. and denounced it as fraudulent. (quote) “in contrast to the demand presented by some unknown persons in a US court, our demand is centered not around money but rather around demanding justice and putting an end to impunity. Furthermore, also in contrast to this demand, we Abejas have never acted anonymously.”
Earlier this year, both the Mexican government and Zedillo asked that he be granted diplomatic immunity. This September, The U.S. Justice Department submitted a recommendation letter to a U.S. District Court in Hartford, also recommending immunity. On Friday the 7th, the Connecticut court agreed with the recommendation, effectively preventing the case from moving forward. In Mexico, The Abejas have taken their case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, after the Mexican Supreme Court failed to provide them with justice.
Upon hearing the announcement of Zedillo’s immunity granted in the U.S., The Abejas stated in this written communication, “Through our case admitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, we will continue in the struggle for justice, truth, and reparations, and to avoid the repetition of this occurrence, and for the construction of another justice that comes from the dignity of people that create alternatives for life, where we bury the culture of the massacre, structural violence, and discrimination against communities.”
You're listening to Rustbelt Radio, the Pittsburgh Independent Media Center's bi-weekly review of news from the grassroots.
One of the major arguments for shale gas drilling is that it provides an abundant supply of energy in our home territory. Many people worry that the alternatives are worse: dependence on foreign sources of energy, or energy shortages. But transitioning to renewable energy provides a third path. Running America on renewable energy may seem like a futuristic idea, but people in our region are already converting their homes and businesses to run off of solar, wind, and geothermal energy. These pioneer projects, whether on the scale of a residence, community, or industrial facility that feeds the grid, often have the effect of opening doors for future similar projects, and they are paving the way for a larger scale transition in the long run.
Cindy Walters and Mike Altherton of Greensburg, PA, installed 21 solar panels on their roof. The panels can generate 4.8 kilowatts, which powers all their electrical needs, and more.
Today there are more options for financing renewable energy projects, and not all of them require a substantial up-front investment. Stephanie Spear is president of expedite renewable energy, based in Ohio.
Spear describes one such project she has worked on:
Cindy Walters describes another way that solar power has become more financially accessible, due to recent changes in the way the systems are manufactured:
Renewable energy installations often seem to create impacts far beyond the physical footprint of the project. Stephanie Spear describes one such project in Cleveland:
Stephanie Spear talks about the importance of government incentive programs to spur new renewable energy projects:
However, the Advanced Energy Fund in Ohio was enacted for a term of 10 years, and it recently expired.
Pennsylvania is in a similar situation; the Pennsylvania Sunshine rebate program passed a few years ago was hugely popular, but it is now full, and no new incentives have been authorized. However, federal tax credits are still available, as well as the solar production credits Cindy Walters described. Renewable energy is sometimes painted as not being economically viable because it depends on these incentive programs for its growth – however, fossil fuel industries still receive far more subsidies than do renewables, even without counting the hidden costs:
According to a study by the National Research Council, coal fired power plants cost the nation over $62 billion per year in hidden costs. From asthma to acid rain, these impacts include damage done to crop and timber yields, buildings and materials, and human health. The $62 billion per year figure also does not include the potential costs associated with climate disruptions caused by rising greenhouse gas levels from fossil fuel combustion. Cindy Walters and Mike Altherton were inspired by their experience to learn more about the potential of renewable energy to replace fossil fuels on a large scale. In the face of the frightening impacts of fossil fuels, they found good news:
Mike’s good news is backed by a number of other peer reviewed scientific studies that calculate how renewable energy and energy efficiency can replace fossil fuel consumption. If transition is possible, why hasn’t it happened yet?
One of the justifications often given for subsidizing fossil fuel developments such as fracking, mining, and power plant construction is that they will create jobs. Stephanie Spear responds to these claims:
The United States has a particularly long way to go with efficiency improvements; most other developed countries, including Great Britain, Germany, Japan, and Israel, maintain a high standard of living while using only half the energy that we do. However, even in the United States, solar energy has been one of the fastest growing sectors for new jobs for several years now.
Cindy Walters and Mike Altherton’s solar panels were manufactured locally, and installed by a local company. In their research they’ve found a great potential not only for job creation, but for community revitalization through renewable energy:
The story of the German town of Wildpoldsried also brings to light a different model for development than is commonly pursued in the United States. In the U.S., a lot of focus is given to large industrial-scale renewable installations. While these certainly reduce fossil fuel use, they also maintain the current system in which the power infrastructure is owned by a few large companies. In Wildpoldsried, the town and its people now own their own energy infrastructure, and they receive the profits. Projects were moved forward by individuals with initiative, but also through community decisions. This type of development, called “distributed generation”, tends to lessen environmental problems and community conflicts that can occur with large industrial scale projects. Individual installations have a smaller footprint, and community decision making shapes projects that are community funded. The other reason that localizing power generation makes sense is that it is more far more efficient. An astounding 70 percent of the electricity generated in this country is lost as heat waste from large power plants or during transmission through the power grid. Renewable energy produced on or near the site of consumption simply eliminates most of these losses.
The power grid is also aging infrastructure that is easily vulnerable to disruption. In 2003, blackouts affecting 65 million people across the northeast were caused by branches falling on power transmission lines near Cleveland. Transitioning to more locally produced power creates redundancy and cuts down on this vulnerability.
For Cindy, Mike, and Stephanie, their work with renewable energy has been financially beneficial, and it has also obviously been a source of personal growth and fulfillment.
The message they want to share with anyone who is listening is that we do have positive alternatives to drilling, boom-and-bust extraction, and climate change. And we can make them happen, in our own homes, and in our communities at every level.
Our interviewees also suggested several resources for people interested in learning more.
And now we present the Indymedia Calendar of Events:
[ Outro Music ]
Thanks for tuning in to Rustbelt Radio here on WRCT Pittsburgh, WSDR Pittsburgh, WIUP Indiana, WNJR Washington, WLRI LanChester, and FRSC Santa Cruz.
Our hosts this week are [Kayla Slicker ] and [Jessica McPherson ] with contributions from [ Don Carpenter, Carlin Christy, Jessica McPherson, Lorenzo Serna, and Hannah Talib ]. This week's show was produced by Shawn Watson. Special thanks to all of our hosts, producers, and contributors.
You can get involved with Rustbelt Radio! To contact us, email RADIO at I-N-D-Y-P-G-H dot ORG. Become our fan on Facebook to receive updates on our latest episode, and follow us on Twitter @pghimc. All of our shows are available on our website at RADIO dot INDY-P-G-H dot ORG and this show can be heard again Tuesday morning on WRCT at 9 AM after Democracy Now!
Tune in next week at this time for another edition of Rustbelt Radio, the Pittsburgh Independent Media Center's bi-weekly review of news from the grassroots.