UPDATE: The best federal blog in the business looks at Judge Altman's remand at sentencing policy and discusses something we missed: the cost to the system of housing defendants in local facilities for upwards of a month before transporting them to their designated prison. DOM's blog has it here.
Since 1973 the Death Penalty has been wrongly imposed 165 times. By "wrongly" we mean the condemned individual was later exonerated- meaning they were innocent. Let that number 165 sink in. Can you do 165 pushups? If you lined each exonerated individual up on a football field, you would need two fields. The number of wrongly convicted individuals sentenced to death is most likely higher. Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in Texas in 2004 for murdering his three children by splashing gasoline around the house and setting it on fire. Except subsequent forensic analysis shows there was no gasoline used and the fire was probably caused by faulty electrical wiring.
Clifford Williams Jr. and Herbert Meyers were sentenced to death in Florida in October, 1976 for breaking into a woman's home and shooting her in the head. Except Williams and Meyers had been at a birthday party miles away, confirmed by dozens of witnesses. And the small fact that the State alleged Williams shot the victim in the house, when there were bullet holes through glass and curtains showing the shots came from outside the house. Williams and Meyers were indigent African American men with appointed lawyers who didn't call one witness. Meyers who was 18 at the time and the nephew of Williams turned down the prosecution's offer of five years in prison to testify against his uncle.
The jury was never told about their alibis; the jury didn't hear from the alibi witnesses; and the jury didn't know about the forensic evidence contradicting the prosecution's case. Both men were spared from death by a 4-3 vote of the Florida Supreme Court and languished in prison for 42 years- innocent men- and would have died in prison but for Jacksonville State Attorney Melissa Nelson. The Jacksonville SAO has a Conviction Integrity Unit. Here is their report on the Williams/Meyers exoneration. The Miami SAO, believing themselves to be perfect, does not have a process to review convictions.
Here is the NY Times article by Nicholas Kristoff on all you want to know about the death penalty and its abject failure in this country.
Someday, perhaps in our lifetime, we will shake our heads at the dark days when state's executed inmates-innocent and guilty alike.
And someday, someone with an ounce of brains and some courage in the Dade County State Attorneys Office will look at the numbers and say something like "Hey, if 165 innocent people were sentenced to death, how many innocent people are serving non-death prison sentences? Maybe we should do something about that."
It's an absolute stain on our country's soul that resources are not spent on examining wrongful non-death penalty convictions in a systemic manner. An innocent person serving a life sentence has to hope he or she can get an experienced lawyer interested in their case within the time periods set by law.
Of course the US is currently in good company, with nations like North Korea, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, contributing to the most executions by nations. Bastions of enlightened judicial systems all.
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