01 February 2006 :as Vernon Evans sat in his cell on Maryland's Death Row last spring, he had more to ponder than his own execution. There was the lonely Brazilian who needed his advice, and a fellow from the District of Columbia whose question deserved a reply, and a global audience tuned to the wisdom of a man whose life was on the wane.
Evans was blogging from behind bars.
Vernon Lee Evans Jr., amateur advice columnist and convicted murderer, is scheduled to die next month by lethal injection. He is one of the very few Death Row inmates to have a blog and, activists say, perhaps the only condemned man worldwide to use a blog to take questions from readers.
Activist Ginny Simmons started the blog in March and relayed the questions to Evans, who does not have Internet access. She stopped posting exchanges on the site in June out of concern that the exchanges could inadvertently harm his legal prospects. With Evans' execution fast approaching, Simmons recently forwarded a backlog of questions to him and plans to post the fresh exchanges once she receives his replies.
Though defense attorneys in capital cases have long tried to remind judges and juries that their clients are human beings with lives beyond the crimes they are accused of, Evans' blog is the leading edge of a strategy by death penalty opponents to use new technologies to make the same point to the wider public.
A coalition of activists in Canada maintains Web pages for about 500 Death Row inmates. Another group, Campaign to End the Death Penalty, began holding events in 1998 in which condemned inmates are patched through by speaker phone. The blogs are the latest experiment, and the activists say Evans' blog is the most novel and daring because readers can post questions.
"Part of the reason the death penalty is allowed to exist is that people don't acknowledge the fact that the people on Death Row are human beings," Simmons said.
Evans, 56, of Baltimore, was first sentenced to death more than two decades ago for the contract killings of potential witnesses in a federal drug case.
On the blog, at www.meetvernon.blogspot.com, Evans in April assured Laura from Washington state that he was not the gunman, that he did not get a fair trial and that a lawyer told him before his resentencing in 1992 that his only shot at getting off Death Row was to show remorse.
"Laura, I did not kill these people," Evans wrote.
To the despairing Brazilian, a musician who had moved to Canada, Evans responded: "Listen to me, I am not always right, but listen to me anyway, and you might get something out of what I have to say. ... You are young, and you should not have such fear when you are a talented young man."
A death warrant signed two weeks ago orders that Evans be executed during the five-day period beginning Feb. 6. Barring intervention by the courts or Gov. Robert Ehrlich, Evans will be put to death.
Some supporters of the death penalty say they find little of value in Evans' blog or in the larger effort to focus on the humanity of the condemned.
"People can exchange notes with him if they want, but I don't think it really adds anything," said Kent Scheidegger, legal director at the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which supports legal execution. "The question is whether he deserves the punishment he was sentenced to."