In my years of friendship with Marie Deans, going back decades, I must have said too, too often, "Time has come to write your memoirs." She promised it would be on her to-do list one day, but first she had to speed off to get here, get there and on down life's highways that might not have guardrails to save her from the mean turns and twists. It didn't matter. She had no taste for risk-free living, least of all when, as a death penalty abolitionist, she was battling for people she cared about: the dozens of condemned prisoners awaiting execution in dispiteous Southern cellblocks.
Today, April 15, is the sixth anniversary of one of the most remarkable individuals I have ever met, Marie McFadden Deans. A native of South Carolina, Deans moved to Richmond in 1983 and started the Virginia Coalition on Jails and Prisons. During the 10 years that she ran the organization, Deans became an advocate for Virginia's death row inmates. She found lawyers for the men, fought to improve prison conditions, workd on their appeals...
Years before there was DNA testing in Virginia, there was Marie Deans.
Deans' eye for innocence might have lacked mitochondrial precision, but it was fortified by an absolute belief: Innocent men are sometimes executed in America, and even the guilty deserve justice and compassion.
A Local Life: Marie Deans, 70, defender of the condemned
To many of the condemned men waiting to be electrocuted or drugged to death in a Virginia prison on charges of capital murder, Marie Deans was known as the “angel of death row.” She preferred the phrase “courageous fool." Her advocacy, which spanned more than three decades and was based on her steeled opposition to capital punishment, took many paths.