For Those Who Go Beyond Boundaries

Wrongful Death: We need Capital Punishment Reform

with one comment

This is the latest victim of "wrongful death" at the hands of a corrupt legal system.

How many more must die before we wake up?

A few weeks ago, current Republican and “Tea Party” elected Representatives engaged in a televised Presidential Debate.  The Republican hopefuls stood in front of a live audience of Tea Party members and supporters, laying out their proposed platforms for change, in hope of swaying future Republican voters in their favor. Verbal sparing ensued as the debate began, they traded jabs at one another’s thoughts and stances on Religion, the Constitution, Health Care, Economics and American Foreign Policies.

But the event that garnished the most attention during that particular debate, was awarded to the Republican Candidate (and front runner for the Republican Party) Rick Perry ( R ) Texas; who received a round of cheerful applause as he proudly boasts about the incorporation of  Capital Punishment into the Texas legal system. With a “Walker Texas Ranger” brand of swagger, he squared his shoulders and flashed a slight smirk when describing the justifiable yet lengthy processes that goes into determining an individual’s innocence, prior to being placed on death row and/or execution. Two Hundred and Thirty Four inmates where executed in the state of Texas by Governor Rick Perry, who’s authorized more executions than any Governor in modern times. I had to write out the words “Two Hundred and Thirty Four”; because I’m not sure if just putting 234 brings home the over all impact of the lives that have been affected by these numbers alone.

How many men and/or women who belong to this total sum of 234 where wrongly convicted of a crime and executed at the stroke of a pin is my question?

In 1997, 17 Death Row inmates nation wide where found innocent and freed after exoneration, seven of those men were in Illinois. Many legal advocates in that state and around the country are where flabbergasted that the state’s justice system repeatedly failed miserably at providing adequate representation and a fair trial to those who where sentence to death. Throughout every one of the men’s ordeals, corruption, flawed investigations, and inadequate legal representation plagued them; and it took the intervention of people completely outside of the justice system for them to win back their freedom. 40 lawyers, judges, and legal organizations signed a petition asking the Illinois Supreme Court for a 1-year moratorium on setting execution dates so that an investigation could be made to find out why the state has sentenced so many innocent men to die. The request was filed as an “amicus curiae” brief,  asking the Court to create a special commission to be made up of highly qualified members of the criminal defense community, prosecutors, judges, academics, and other experts.

Now, I’m not a lawyer, but from what I understand, Amicus Curiae briefs are filed in many Supreme Court matters, at the Petition for  “Writ of Cetiorari” stage. A “Writ of Cetiorari” (from what I understand) is a decision by the Supreme Court to hear an appeal from a lower court, when the Court is deciding a case based upon its merits. What this basically states (to the best of my understading) is that a “friend” of the courts (outside legal representation possibly)submits briefs  that provide valuable information in regards to legal arguments, or how a case might affect people other than the parties to the case.  Some organizations file friend of the court briefs in an attempt to “lobby” the Supreme Court, obtain media attention, or to fight for a social/political cause.

“An amicus curiae brief that brings to the attention of the Court relevant matter not already brought to its attention by the parties may be of considerable help to the Court.  An amicus curiae brief that does not serve this purpose burdens the Court, and its filing is not favored.” Rule 37(1), Rules of the Supreme Court of the U.S.


Gov. George Ryan of Illinois halted executions in 2000 rather than risk killing innocent prison inmates;  upon hearing the news of wrongful convictions. The state’s last execution took place in 1999.

Now, as a strong supporter of capital punishment in cases where its proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the perpetrator was guilty of his/her crime, I decided to do some research on DNA exonerations. Especially when I found that there was no legally creditable evidence linking the late Troy Davis to the murder of a slain Police Officer Joan MacPhail-Harris the state of Georgia. I recalled hearing about the “Innocence Project” (; A national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing. This organization was brought forward as a means of combating the execution of inmates who where wrongly convicted of crimes they did not commit, and where facing execution.

Reading their website was eye-opening, because I found that there have been 273 post-conviction DNA exonerations in the United States alone; and that the first DNA exonerations took place in the year 1989. Exonerations have been won in 34 states since 2000, with over 206 exonerations. Now there is no telling how many more have been exonerated during this DNA testing process since these numbers where reported; up till 11:08 pm last night; when Mr. Davis took his last breath.

17 of the 273 people exonerated through DNA testing had already served on average 13 years in prison on death row awaiting scheduled execution. The total number of years served accounted by these freed persons is approximately 3,524 years (and I’m sure this number has increased since then). The average age of an exonerated inmate at the time of wrongful convictions was 27.

What’s most interesting to me in respects to the 273 exonerees is their ethnicity. And this is not an attempt to make this an issue of race on my behalf (I do not play the race card) but the numbers are astounding and shocking. 166 where recording as being of African American (non Hispanic) decent, 
81 where classified as Caucasian, 20 identified themselves as Hispanic/Latino/Mexican, 2 Asian American, and 4 whose ethnicity was unknown. Again, I’m sure these numbers have since  then changed based upon the time  this information was given. During re-trial and review of all DNA evidence readily presented (if not “missing” damaged, or degraded over time), the true suspects and/or perpetrators have been identified in 124 of the DNA exoneration cases tried.

Since 1989, there have been tens of thousands of cases where prime suspects were identified and pursued, but testing of DNA evidence (prior to conviction) proved that they were wrongly accused. And in more than 25 percent of cases reported via the National Institute of Justice, suspects were excluded once DNA testing was conducted during the criminal investigation (the study, conducted in 1995, included 10,060 cases where testing was performed by FBI labs).

About half of the individuals exonerated through DNA testing have been financially compensated by the state in which they where prosecuted. 27 states, the federal government, and the District of Columbia have passed laws to compensate people who were wrongfully incarcerated. But this is after they’ve served no less than 10 to 15 years in prison, or having 1 to 2 stay’s of execution. After being freed they’re awarded the monies under these statutes that vary from state to state. 22 percent of cases closed by the Innocence Project since 2004 were closed because of  (conveniently) missing evidence.

The leading cause of wrongful death convictions in these DNA exoneration cases was that the Innocence Project was able to provided irrefutable proof that wrongful convictions are not isolated or rare events (meaning the ish happens all the time), as well as showing a rise in systemic defects that can be precisely identified and addressed during retrials.  The Innocence Project has worked for over 15 years to pinpoint these trends, and there are still cases that they’ve yet to start working on!!

As with the Troy Davis case, “Eyewitness Misidentification” was a factor in 75 percent of post-conviction DNA exoneration cases in the U.S., making it the leading cause of wrongful convictions. At least 40 percent of these eyewitness identifications involved cross racial identification; and some even later re-canted their statements; stating that they where forced to pin point a perpetrator as being the suspect in a case by law enforcement officials.

Un-validated or Improper Forensic Science played a role in approximately 50 percent of wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA testing. While DNA testing was developed through extensive scientific research, many other forensic techniques – such as hair microscopy, bite mark comparisons, firearm tool mark analysis and shoe print comparisons, have never been subjected to rigorous scientific evaluation. Meanwhile, forensics techniques that have been properly validated, such as serology, commonly known as blood typing, and are sometimes improperly conducted or inaccurately conveyed in trial testimony. In other wrongful conviction cases, forensic scientists have engaged in misconduct.

False confessions and incriminating statements lead to wrongful convictions in approximately 25 percent of cases.  In 35 percent of false confession or admission cases, the defendant was 18 years old or younger and/or developmentally disabled. Twenty-two of the first 265 DNA exonerees pled guilty to crimes they did not commit.

Note: The Innocence Project encourages police departments to electronically record all custodial interrogations in their entirety in order to prevent coercion and to provide an accurate record of the proceedings. More than 500 jurisdictions have voluntarily adopted policies to record interrogations.

State supreme courts have taken action in Alaska, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Wisconsin. Illinois, Maine, New Mexico, and the District of Columbia require the taping of interrogations in homicide cases.

Informants contributed to wrongful convictions in 19 percent of cases. Whenever informant testimony is used, the Innocence Project recommends that the judge instruct the jury that most informant testimony is unreliable as it may be offered in return for deals, special treatment, or the dropping of charges in pending cases. Prosecutors should also reveal any incentive the informant might receive, and all communication between prosecutors and informants should be recorded.

Anthony Graves is one of 12 death row inmates who have been exonerated in Texas since 1973. Five of those exonerations occurred while Rick Perry was governor, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a group that opposes capital punishment. Graves spend 18 years in prison and 12 years on death row as a convicted murder. And in 2010 his conviction was overturned and he was released.  Graves was convicted of assisting in multiple murders  in 1992. And in 2006, the US Court of Appeals of the 5th Circuit overturned his conviction citing that the prosecutors made false statements. A special prosecutor hired for the second trial came to the realization that Graves was innocent after months of in-depth investigation.


Cameron Willingham was executed in Texas in 2004 for an arson fire in 1991 which took the lives of his three small daughters. Subsequently, doubt has been cast on the forensic evidence which underlay the conviction, particularly whether evidence existed of an accelerant having been used to start the blaze. Again, Rick Perry authorized the execution.

I don’t question capital punishment. I’m for it in cases such as that of  Lawrence Russell Brewer, 44 who was convicted in the dragging death of James Byrd Jr. 49 in Texas. Any case where the evidence is undisputable proof of one’s guilt; by all means; put a needle in their arms and fire way.

But I question why those who’re tasked to uphold the law are not held to same standards as the innocent victims they sentence to death? To me personally, killing two innocent people does not solve a crime, much less give either of the families closure. What’s the point in killing the wrong persons for the murder of someone else? 0_o?

Why is it that police officers, Prosecutors, District Attorneys and Judges can get way with jury tampering, falsifying legal documents and witness statements, “bully” witnesses into purging themselves on the stand under oath and sentence people to death and nothing is ever done to them for breaking the very laws they swore to uphold?

Wrongful execution is a miscarriage of justice occurring when an innocent person is put to death by capital punishment, the “death penalty.” , and cases of wrongful execution are cited as an argument by the opponents of capital punishment; because it happens all the time! Why is there not a law set forward that puts the Officers of the court on trial when its found that they’ve suppressed evidence, tamped with the jury, and undermined the legal system seeking a guilty conviction in the cases of those who’ve been exonerated?  Are we still that ‘barbaric’ of a society where “Salem Witch Hunt” styled murder trials and convictions are the norm for the economically disadvantaged? For the immigrant that may not speak proper English, or the young man facing the death penalty for a crime he didn’t commit (based upon his legal history)?

When does it?


One Response

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I’ve always believed there are some people whom are evil and need to be dead for society to be safe. I will never cry for a Timothy McVeigh, Ted Bundy or John Wayne Gacy. They were vermin.

    Then there’s everyone else and that’s becoming a problem.

    I don’t know if I can support capital punishment any more. Before there was Troy Davis, there was Cameron Todd Willingham in Texas and dozens more listed at The Innocence Project website. One innocent person put to death is one too many, Life without the possibility of parole is a better way.

    This essay and others like it are part of the reason I’m reassessing my previous beliefs.

    Jeff Winbush

    October 2, 2011 at 10:46 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: