Thursday, February 12, 2009

Living Jews: Adam Reich and FreeConnie.com

Occasionally, we are given the opportunity to make a difference. Adam Reich came across such an opportunity out in Los Angeles while working with the USC law Post-Conviction Justice Project, and has decided to seize it. He is trying to raise public awareness and fight for justice in the case of Connie Keel, a woman who has been in prison for nearly her entire adult life because she was too afraid to disobey her armed, abusive husband and get out of a car.

ADAM

Adam is a good friend of mine and one of the primary reasons I joined Alpha Epsilon PI. Currently, my Pledge Grandfather finds himself President of the USC Law School Jewish Law Student Association. Judaism has always shaped his world view. As he put it, "You go to Hebrew school and what do you get? The first things are the blow up dreidel, the challah and the tzedakah box." This connection to Tikkun Olam has motivated him to do all he can for a woman less fortunate than him, who has suffered unspeakable atrocities since her early childhood and has spent nearly 30 years in prison.

When he first met Connie Keel, he did not expect that he would become so passionate about her cause. Yet, as he spent more time listening to her, Connie became more comfortable and open, and he became increasingly invested in her case. "The right to legal representation is a core ideal of democracy," he said.

CONNIE

Connie Keel is a 50-year old grandmother. In 1981, when she was 21-years old, she was sentenced to serve twenty-five years to life at the California Institution for Women (CIW) because she stayed frozen in fear in a car while her armed, abusive husband and his violent cousin made a spur of the moment, unilateral decision to rob a liquor store and shoot the clerk. Even though Connie Keel did not commit the actual robbery or fire the gun which killed Mr. Frank Grummer, she is still behind bars, nearly thirty years after the crime.

THE CASE

Connie took no part in the physical aspects of the crime, never leaving the car to enter the store where everything occurred.

After her husband and his cousin completed these criminal actions, they returned to the car and mocked Connie for being afraid. Her husband, Ricky Keel, then drove the trio back to an isolated Northern California home, and for two days they remained there. During that time, Connie never had the opportunity to escape or to contact authorities. The house had no phone, and Ricky kept constant watch over her, never leaving her alone. He would even accompany her to the bathroom and force her to do the same with him. According to a State Investigation, Connie Keel suffered from Battered Women's Syndrome (BWS) at the time of the crime, and this condition, combined with the fact that she now knew her husband was capable of murder, provides a plausible explanation for her inability to disobey Ricky's orders during and following the crime.

Even before her incarceration, Connie never had an easy life. She was first sexually abused at the age of two by an uncle, and this molest continued until she was about twelve-years old. During this time period and after, Connie was also raped by at least 2 other uncles, neighbors, friends, and even her husband. Her own mother hit her and reportedly sold her out to strange men.

On October29, 2008, Adam argued Connie's case for parole before the California Board of Parole Hearings (BPH). After arguments were completed, the BPH concluded that Connie Keel does not pose any threat to society, and has never been convicted or disciplined for any violent activity. "When I won that case, I called Elliot," (my pledge father), and told him, "It was one of the top ten moments of my life. I want to make sure that she isn't denied the freedom she deserves. 30 years for being abused your whole life, for sitting in car....not once has she blamed her husband..she is remorseful..she has paid her debt and poses no threat. Enough is enough."

Although the BPH finding is a significant step towards securing Connie's freedom, in California, the Governor has the power to disregard the BPH decision and overturn her parole suitability finding. In fact, Governor Schwarzenegger tends to reverse most first time suitability findings. And so, on Feb 26, the anniversary of the crime, Adam Reich wants you to help free Connie. "This isn't about attacking the Governor in any way, so please don't misinterpret the purpose of this campaign. I want to raise awareness of Connie's story and convince the Governor to read all of the facts from Connie's case. If he does that, I honestly believe he will see that reverse the BPH decision would be not only incorrect but actually inhumane."

MAKE A DIFFERENCE

Go to FreeConnie.com From there, you can send a message to Governor Schwarzenegger via email or Twitter, urging him to review the facts and release Connie. You can also easily share the story on Facebook and Myspace. The site is a great tool for educating the public about Connie's case, and encouraging them to speak up and act. Per the website, Adam commented, "I didn't think that the media component was going to be this important. But the fact is word-of-mouth can only do so much. Using social media to promote social justice is a new but necessary aspect of any campaign. Maybe not 100% of the people who visit the site will send a letter, but maybe 50% will, and that's a lot more support letters than we would have without it."

Adam summed it all up, "we have a president who has called the nation to service, it is about time that we honored that and used our resources towards that goal."

1 comment:

arnie draiman said...

all from a tzedakah box! keep up the good work, and fight the good fight!

arnie draiman
www.mitzvahheroesfund.org
www.draimanconsulting.com