Bill Babbitt was present at
San Quentin prison when at one minute after midnight on May 4th, 1999
the state of California executed his brother, Manny Babbitt.
Manny, the recipient of a
Purple Heart for his service in Vietnam, was a paranoid schizophrenic who
suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. He had been tried and convicted
for the murder of an elderly woman who had died of a heart attack after a
break-in and beating.
When Bill realized that his
brother could possibly be involved in the womans death, he contacted the police
and helped them arrest his brother. In return, the police promised Bill that
Manny would receive the psychological help that he needed and that they would
help see that Manny would not receive the death penalty. Bill felt certain that
when confronted with the reality of Mannys mental illness, the justice
system would hand down a fair sentence but avoid death. He was wrong.
The Babbitt family was too
poor to afford good counsel. Mannys first lawyer took their money and then
dropped the case. The second, a court-appointed attorney, refused to allow
blacks on the jury, drank heavily during the trial and was later disbarred and
sued for racism.
Today Bill speaks out
regularly against the death penalty. He is often alongside David Kaczynski, who
led federal investigators to his brother, Ted Kaczynski, known as the
Unabomber, in 1996. Kaczynski, the executive director of New Yorkers Against
the Death Penalty, has repeatedly said that if it were not for his familys
financial ability to hire competent counsel, his brother, like Manny
Babbitt, most likely would have received the death penalty. Instead, Ted
Kaczynski received life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Bill and Mannys story has
been told in the documentaries, And Then One Night: The Making of Dead Man
Walking with Sister Helen Prejean and Mike Farrell and A Question of Justice
with David Kaczynski, Bud Welch, whose daughter was killed in the Oklahoma City
bombing and Gary Wright, who himself was almost killed by Ted Kaczynski.
Bill has been interviewed
on Good Morning America, the Today Show, ABCs World News Tonight, the
John Walsh show and the Sally Jessy Raphael show and on major radio stations
in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Berkley. He has been profiled in
publications including the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the
Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, Jet, and
the New York Times Magazine. His story is in books including Capital
Consequences, Families tell their Stories, by Rachel King and The Thirteenth
Step by Swedish author Carolina Koivisto. He has spoken on campuses across the
country and at the Massachusetts statehouse on a bill to reinstate the death
For many years Bill
believed that being the family member of someone who was executed made him
unwelcome in the abolition movement. But MVFHR changed his mind. People like
Renny Cushing extended that hand of mercy and brought me onboard the bus of the
anti-Death Penalty movement. They told me that I need not take a seat in the
back for Mannys life was just as worthy as their murdered loved ones, he
Bill's story as related to the New
York Times Magazine in 2001.