The Legislature is considering a bill to repeal Louisiana’s death penalty. As someone who was nearly executed for a crime I didn’t commit, I hope our legislators recognize that as long as we have a death penalty we risk executing innocent people.
It is too easy to convict an innocent person.
The rate of wrongful convictions in the United States is estimated to be somewhere between 2% to 10%. That may sound low, but when applied to a prison population of 2.3 million, the numbers become staggering. Can there really be 46,000 to 230,000 innocent people locked away? Those of us who are involved in exoneration work firmly believe so.
Read more: LA Times
Caddo Parish, Louisiana prosecutors formally dropped charges against Rodricus Crawford (pictured) on April 17, exonerating him in a controversial death penalty case that had attracted national attention amid evidence of race discrimination, prosecutorial excess, and actual innocence. He is the 158th person exonerated from death row in the United States since 1973. Crawford was convicted in 2012 and sentenced to death on charges he had murdered his one-year-old son. Crawford’s appellate counsel, Cecilia Kappel, argued that the testimony underlying his conviction—the opinion of a local doctor who claimed the infant had been suffocated—was contradicted by autopsy results that showed pervasive bronchopneumonia in the baby’s lungs and sepsis in his blood. After the trial, Kappel presented additional evidence from experts in the fields of pediatric pathology, pediatric neuropathology, and pediatric infectious disease that the child had died of natural causes.
Continue reading: Death Penalty Information Center
After a trial of more than two weeks, a Texas jury on Wednesday found that former state prosecutor John Jackson had not committed misconduct in the 1992 death penalty trial of Cameron Todd Willingham.
By an 11-to-1 vote, a Navarro County jury rejected claims by the State Bar of Texas that Jackson made false statements, concealed evidence favorable to Willingham’s defense and obstructed justice.
The state bar had accused Jackson of failing to disclose to Willingham’s defense lawyers that jailhouse snitch Johnny Webb had been promised favorable treatment on an aggravated robbery conviction in return for testimony at Willingham’s trial.
Continue reading: The Marshall Project
. . . Californians will vote next month on a referendum to abolish capital punishment in the state, and exonerees like [Juan] Melendez are the secret weapon of the anti-death penalty campaign. More than 20 people who have spent time on death row for a crime they didn’t commit have flocked to the state to argue against the death penalty in starkly personal terms. Read the article: Fusion
On the other hand – Death by Another Name
California Prop 62 would repeal the death penalty. A lifer says it doesn’t go far enough:
. . . Why not abolish the death penalty and life without the chance of parole? The assumption would be that it is possible for human beings to become better than their worst act. It does not mean that all prisoners would succeed. Some wouldn’t try hard enough, some wouldn’t be able to make the requisite changes to satisfy a skeptical parole board and an elected governor’s review, and some small percentage would continue to present an unreasonable risk to the public. No one, however, would be denied all hope. . . . The Marshall Project
It was no surprise last month when a Louisiana appeals court affirmed a trial judge’s denial of compensation for the estate of the late Glenn Ford. Ford was the soft-spoken black man who spent 30 years on death row for a murder he did not commit, convicted by an all-white jury following a trial in which he was represented by an oil and gas attorney who had never before tried a case. Continue reading: The Marshall Project
March 29, 2011
The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr.
Attorney General of the United States
United States Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20530-0001
James M. Reams, Esq.
President of the National District Attorneys Association
Rockingham County Attorney’s Office
Rockingham County Superior Courthouse,
10 Rte. 125
Brentwood, N.H. 03833
President of the National Association of Attorneys General
2030 M Street NW, 8th Floor
Washington, D.C. 20036
Today the U.S. Supreme Court in Connick v. Thompson took away most of the only remaining means those of us who have been wrongfully convicted of a crime had for holding prosecutors liable for their misconduct. Although all other professionals, from doctors to airline pilots to clergy, can be held liable for their misconduct, the Supreme Court has effectively given prosecutors complete immunity for their actions. We, the undersigned and our families, have suffered profound harm at the hands of careless, overzealous and unethical prosecutors. Unfortunately, today’s ruling only threatens to further embolden those prosecutors who are willing to abandon their responsibility to seek justice in their zeal to win convictions.
Now that the wrongfully convicted have virtually no meaningful access to the courts to hold prosecutors liable for their misdeeds, we demand to know what you intend to do to put a check on the otherwise unchecked and enormous power that prosecutors wield over the justice system.
Former United States Attorney General and Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson once said, “The prosecutor has more power over life, liberty, and reputation than any other person in America.” Unfortunately recent reports have shown that prosecutors are abusing this power at alarming rates and are facing no consequences for their actions. According to Preventable Error: A Report on Prosecutorial Misconduct in California 1997-2009, prosecutors were guilty of misconduct 707 times from 1997 to 2009, yet were disciplined only seven times. A USA Today investigation by Brad Heath and Kevin McCoy that was published on Sept. 23, 2010, documented 201 instances where federal prosecutors violated laws or ethics rules since 1997 and noted that only one of those prosecutors was suspended from practicing law—and that was only for one year.
In many of our wrongful conviction cases prosecutorial misconduct was found but later declared “harmless” by the courts. Nothing could be further from the truth. In our cases, each act had profoundly harmful effects on our lives. Together we represent hundreds of years in prison, separated from our wives, husbands, children, parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents and other loved ones, who suffered their own shame and wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars on lawyers and spent countless sleepless nights worrying about our well being. The misconduct contributed to nearly unbearable depression and unhappiness, loss of jobs and career opportunities, the derailing of educations and forever destroyed hopes and dreams. Each of us has worked long and hard to repair what has happened to us, but we will never regain the lives we had before we were wrongfully convicted at the hands of careless or deceitful prosecutors.
According to the friend-of-the-court briefs submitted in recent Supreme Court cases dealing with prosecutorial misconduct the National District Attorneys Association, the National Association of Assistant United States Attorney’s Attorney Generals and the Solicitor General claim that there are already plenty of systems in place to cure the problems of misconduct, including: internal disciplinary systems, state bar disciplinary systems, monitoring by the courts and, in extreme cases, criminal prosecution. These systems didn’t do a thing to prevent prosecutorial misconduct in our cases. As far as we can tell, none of these systems were brought to bear on the prosecutors in our cases. Our sense is that they do nothing at all.
We demand to know what you are doing to stop these abuses. What has happened to the prosecutors whose knowing acts contributed to our suffering? What have you done to make them understand that they cannot do it again? How have the systems been fixed to prevent future misconduct and errors? What makes you think these solutions have worked when so many people continue to be wrongfully convicted?
The power to charge and prosecute someone with a crime comes with grave responsibility. Now that the Supreme Court has said that prosecutors cannot be held civilly liable for their actions, it’s up to you to make sure that prosecutors take that responsibility as seriously as the job demands. As you consider the significance of today’s decision, please know that those of us who have been the victims of prosecutorial misconduct are eager to hear what you intend to do to ensure that others don’t suffer injustice as we have.
Noxubee County, MS
Cayuga County, NY
Saint Louis, MO
Baltimore County, MD
Cook County, IL
Summit County, OH
Cook County, IL
Pontotoc County, OK
Dallas County, TX
Montgomery County, PA
Los Angeles County, CA
Cuyahoga County, OH
Onslow County, NC
Cole County, MO
Maricopa County, AZ
Oklahoma County, OK
Gene and Elizabeth Sodersten,
parents on behalf of Mark Sodersten,
who died in prison
Tulare County, CA
Orleans Parrish, LA
Dallas County, TX
from The Innocence Project’s March 29, 2016 report:
Prosecutorial Oversight: A National Dialogue in the Wake of Connick v. Thompson
. . . From the moment Graves was exonerated in 2010, he set out to reform the criminal justice system that stole 18 years of his life. He was determined to help others who have suffered under a regime he believes is fundamentally flawed.
In the last two years, Graves has invested more than $150,000 – part of the money the state paid him to compensate for the years he spent wrongly imprisoned – to launch the Anthony Graves Foundation. The still budding nonprofit is dedicated to freeing other innocent inmates and providing health care to recently released prisoners with medical problems and no means to pay for treatment. Read the article at the Dallas Morning News
Three wrongfully convicted exonerees share their stories about adjusting to life on the outside after decades in prison. All of them say the scars of confinement will never leave them. Some of them have been compensated by the state for the injustice that came to them. One of them, Ken Ireland, now serves on Connecticut’s parole board, the irony of which is not lost on him. CBS News: 60 Minutes