Category Archives: Death Penalty

Quote of the Day: A Question for “Pro-Life” Death Penalty Advocates Edition

Matthew DesOrmeaux over at United Liberty poses a very important question to those in the “pro-life” community who support the death penalty. This question comes in response to a South Carolina judge vacating the conviction of George Stinney Jr. who was executed at the age of 14 in 1944.

Is the execution of an innocent person, even a child, enough to undermine faith in the criminal justice system as a whole, and capital punishment in particular? If one error is not convincing enough, is there some acceptable level of innocent life ended at the hands of the state (or their peers, if that makes you feel better) that would change your mind? Or is the (spurious) deterrent factor of the death penalty or faith in the process, regardless of further evidence, so strong as to make all wrongful convictions and executions irrelevant?

I’ve already seen one person respond in the comments section to the effect “Well that was during Jim Crow [1]; our criminal justice system is so much better now.”

Even as cynical as I am about the American criminal justice system, I believe it’s fair to say that there has been some improvements since 1944. I cannot imagine a 14 year-old being executed in 2014 (someone with the mental capacity of less than a 14 year-old…sadly yes but not an actual 14 year-old). DesOrmeaux’s overall point is relevant as the National Academy of Sciences found that currently 1 in 25 death row prisoners is innocent.

With the learning curve so steep for supporters of capital punishment, at this rate it will be 2074 by the time a Texas judge admits that Rick Perry allowed (likely innocent) Cameron Todd Willingham to be executed on his watch.

[1] For what it’s worth, George Stinney Jr. was black.

Hey FCKH8, I Have a Few ‘F-Bombs’ of My Own!

If you thought modern progressive feminists couldn’t be any more childish, you haven’t seen FCKH8’s latest viral video entitled: “F-Bombs for Feminism: Potty-Mouthed Princesses Use Bad Word for Good Cause.”

In the video (below), girls aged six to thirteen repeat progressive feminist bromides and talking points along with some F-bombs (as advertised) in an attempt to get this message to go viral (mission accomplished). As expected, the response by many is to be offended by having these ‘princesses’ use such foul language for any reason.

Personally, I think the whole thing is awful. I don’t like it when children are used for any cause foisted on children by adults, regardless of how noble the cause might be. It even turns my stomach a little when I see politicians use their own children in their campaign ads. It’s even more tacky to hear children speak about such things they most likely have no clue about. My daughter is pretty intelligent and the same age as some of these girls but I’m fairly sure she doesn’t even think about the ‘equal pay’ or ‘rape culture.’ Why should she? She’s nine years-old for crying out loud!*

So here’s the full uncensored version. If this is too much for your ears to handle, go here for the censored version.

Now, wasn’t that just precious!

More important than the shock value of elementary shool girls cursing like sailors…are the things these girls saying true? For the most part, no, these are the same old progressive feminist myths repackaged yet again. I’ve already dealt with the ‘equal pay for equal work’ nonsense here and here. You can also read this article 5 Feminist Myths that Will Not Die. I’ll let Julie Borowski take care of the rest as only Julie Borowski can – dropping her own F-bombs (Fact bombs, I should say) without actually cursing.

I have a few other F-bombs about gender disparities progressive feminists almost never bring up (and I’ll do so without exploiting any elementary age children to make my points):

A young man is required by law to sign up for Selective Service by his 18th birthday. In the event Congress decides to reinstate the draft, men exclusively are conscripted to risk life or limb for ‘his country.’ Also, of those who have died in all the U.S. wars (declared and undeclared) since the American Revolution, 99.99% were men. When men’s rights activists say that society has long decided that men are the ‘disposable gender’ this is one example of what they are talking about.

When young girls are circumcised we call it ‘genital mutilation’ and we are rightly scandalized by this barbaric practice. When baby boys have their genitals mutilated, we call it circumcision because either the boy should ‘look like his father’ or because some women prefer their partner to be circumcised. So much for ‘my body, my choice.’ And imagine the outrage if even one man said that because he preferred the look of a woman’s vagina without a clitorous, baby girls should have it removed?

When it comes to parenting and divorce, mothers get custody of the children roughly 84% of the time.

Let’s call this the gender ‘crime/time’ gap. For Similar crimes under similar circumstances, on average women serve 18.51 months vs. 51.52 months for men.

Since 1976, 15 women (2.9% of the executions) have been executed even though women are responsible for 10% of murders. While I am unapologetically opposed to the death penalty, as long as this barbaric practice is part of the system, this punishment should be an equal opportunity punishment without regard to sex, race, religion, economic or political status, or creed.

At least 3 states (California, Tennessee, and Kansas) require men to pay child support to his statutory rapist.

I could go on but I think I have made my point. There is inequality between the genders and both have their challenges. Personally, I would like to look at the individual rather than who is on ‘team penis’ or ‘team vagina.’ But first, we need to elevate the debate above the elementary school playground.

*This isn’t to suggest she isn’t already very opinionated or doesn’t care about important issues. That’s right, my daughter already has an issue she cares deeply about. Her issue: the alarming decline of the ‘big cat’ populations. According to National Geographic, there are as few as 3,000 tigers, 7,500 snow leopards, 10,000 cheetahs, and 30,000 lions left in the wild. I had no idea about this until my daughter started writing out a script she wanted to read over the intercom at her elementary school to collect money to help ‘save the big cats.’ I suggested that she should ask for donations to the local big cat sanctuary for her birthday instead of presents. Would you believe she was actually thrilled with this idea and followed through? I couldn’t be more proud of her. If she wanted to make a viral video about saving the big cats, I might make an exception to my ‘no kids’ rule because this is an issue that she actually cares about.

One Out of 25 Prisoners on Death Row is Innocent

Benjamin Franklin once argued: “It is better 100 guilty persons should escape than that one innocent person should suffer.” The purpose of courts as drafted in the Constitution was to minimize the occurrences innocent people from “suffering” via an adversarial system in which the accused is considered innocent until proven guilty to a jury of his or her peers.

Regardless of these lofty goals, the question must be asked: how well has this system worked?

If the standard is that of Franklin’s (i.e. less than 1%), then the idea that a rate of 1 in 25 death row convicts are likely innocent is clearly unacceptable. According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, to the best the researchers were able to determine, this about what the rate is.

Pete Yost for the Associated Press reports:

From 1973 to 2004, 1.6 percent of those sentenced to death in the U.S. — 138 prisoners — were exonerated and released because of innocence.

But the great majority of innocent people who are sentenced to death are never identified and freed, says professor Samuel Gross of the University of Michigan Law School, the study’s lead author.

The difficulty in identifying innocent inmates stems from the fact that more than 60 percent of prisoners in death penalty cases ultimately are removed from death row and resentenced to life imprisonment. Once that happens, their cases no longer receive the exhaustive reviews that the legal system provides for those on death row.
[…]
Because of various assumptions, it might be best to use the margin of error in the study and say the innocence rate is probably between 2.8 percent and 5.2 percent, said University of South Carolina statistics professor John Grego, who wasn’t part of the study.
[…]
“The high rate of exoneration among death-sentenced defendants appears to be driven by the threat of execution,” says the study. “But most death-sentenced defendants are removed from death row and resentenced to life imprisonment, after which the likelihood of exoneration drops sharply.” The study estimates that if all defendants sentenced to death remained in that status, “at least 4.1 percent would be exonerated. We conclude that this is a conservative estimate of the proportion of false conviction among death sentences in the United States.”

I have to say that, even as a fierce opponent of the death penalty, I would have never guessed the number of innocent individuals on death row to be this high. I was horrified by the notion that 1 in 100 or even 1 in 1,000 such individuals could be killed by the state, but 1 in 25?

This brings me to my question for those who support state sanctioned killing: is this an acceptable error rate to you? How many innocent people are we willing to sacrifice in order to kill the most heinous of individuals? Based on this study, the current policy is that we are apparently at peace with the idea of killing 4 innocent people to kill 96 guilty.

This is a price that a free and just country should be unwilling to pay.

‘Super Epic’ Tweet of the Day

There’s some really great tweets about Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster. So far, this is my favorite:

The Innocence Project Marks 300th Exoneration; Provides Statistics About the 300

Back in the spring of 2011, some of you may recall our fundraising efforts to raise $500 for The Innocence Project. Our Liberty Papers readers and writers surpassed that donating $570 of the $20,000 The Innocence Project’s overall goal for that period. Though our fundraising effort is over for the time being, you can always donate at their page if you feel compelled to do so (actually, it’s a very good time to donate as right now, the next $19,000 are being matched by other anonymous donors).

Back when we joined the effort, The Innocence Project had marked 266 exonerations; as of last month they reached the 300th exoneration milestone, well ahead of where I predicted they would be by this time when they reached the 225 mark. Their 300th exoneration, Damon Thibodeaux spent 15 years on death row before being cleared with DNA evidence.

This is a great cause that I cannot say enough good things about. While the 300 exonerations is a very impressive achievement, more important is their efforts to reform the system to reduce the number of wrongful convictions in the first place. This infographic from The Innocence Project provides some very eye-opening statistics concerning their first 300 exonerations.

The Nutmeg State’s Senate Passes Bill Protecting Right to Record Police AND Abolishes the Death Penalty in the Same Week

This week, the State of Connecticut made progress in the right direction on the criminal justice front on two issues I care deeply about: the right of individuals to record the police in public and abolishing the death penalty.

Earlier today, the Connecticut Senate passed a bill 42-11 that would hold the police liable for arresting individuals who record their activities in public. Carlos Miller writing for Pixiq writes:

The Connecticut state senate approved a bill Thursday that would allow citizens to sue police officers who arrest them for recording in public, apparently the first of its kind in the nation.

As it is now, cops act with reckless immunity knowing the worst that can happen is their municipalties [sic] (read: taxpayers) would be responsible for shelling out lawsuits.

Senate Bill 245, which was introduced by Democratic Senator Eric Coleman and approved by a co-partisan margin of 42-11, must now go before the House.
The bill, which would go into effect on October 1, 2012, states the following:

This bill makes peace officers potentially liable for damages for interfering with a person taking a photograph, digital still, or video image of either the officer or a colleague performing his or her job duties. Under the bill, officers cannot be found liable if they reasonably believed that the interference was necessary to (1) lawfully enforce a criminal law or municipal ordinance; (2) protect public safety; (3) preserve the integrity of a crime scene or criminal investigation; (4) safeguard the privacy of a crime victim or other person; or (5) enforce Judicial Branch rules and policies that limit taking photographs, videotaping, or otherwise recording images in branch facilities.

Officers found liable of this offense are entitled, under existing law, to indemnification (repayment) from their state or municipal employer if they were acting within their scope of authority and the conduct was not willful, wanton, or reckless.

While I think the fourth and fifth exceptions to the law could be problematic, this should go a long way toward holding the police accountable.

As if this wasn’t enough good news, just yesterday Gov. Dannel Malloy signed a bill to abolish the death penalty in the Nutmeg state. CNN reports:

(CNN) — Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy signed a bill into law Wednesday that abolishes the death penalty, making his state the 17th in the nation to abandon capital punishment and the fifth in five years to usher in a repeal.

The law is effective immediately, though prospective in nature, meaning that it would not apply to those already sentenced to death. It replaces the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of release as the state’s highest form of punishment.

“Although it is an historic moment — Connecticut joins 16 other states and the rest of the industrialized world by taking this action — it is a moment for sober reflection, not celebration,” Malloy said in a statement.

Connecticut isn’t a state that comes to my mind when I think of a death penalty state and for a good reason: only 2 people have been executed in that state in the last 52 years (both of which wanted to be executed), according to the governor. So, if the administration of the death penalty is so infrequent, why does this abolishing of the death penalty even matter? I think Gov. Malloy said it quite well in his signing statement: “Instead, the people of this state pay for appeal after appeal, and then watch time and again as defendants are marched in front of the cameras, giving them a platform of public attention they don’t deserve.”

Keep up the good work Connecticut!

Hat Tip: The Agitator

Frontline Investigates the State of Forensic Science in “The Real CSI”

Is the forensic science used in the courtroom reliable? The PBS documentary series Frontline makes an attempt at answering this question in an episode entitled: “The Real CSI.”

I cannot recommend this episode enough.

Watch The Real CSI on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Also, the producers of this episode hosted a live chat for viewers to ask some follow-up questions (I’m sorry I missed it). Here is the archive from the chat.

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ACTION ALERT: Tell Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley to Allow Thomas Arthur to Prove his Innocence Prior to Execution

Here’s another one of those no brainer cases where the question of guilt or innocence could be determined once and for all in a death penalty case if the state would only allow the condemned the opportunity to have DNA test run at no cost to the state. The Innocence Project makes the following plea to all who are concerned with matters of justice on behalf of Thomas Arthur who is scheduled to be put to death by the state of Alabama:

Thomas Arthur is on Alabama’s death row, convicted of a crime that another man has since confessed to committing. Despite this confession and many other irregularities that have surfaced, the state has set his execution date for March 29, just weeks away.

After the confession, the Alabama Supreme Court stayed Mr. Arthur’s execution and remanded his case to the trial court for an evidentiary hearing. The court ordered limited DNA testing of the wig that all parties agree was worn by the perpetrator. Although DNA was found on the wig, the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences lacks the technology to develop a profile. Thomas Arthur and his attorneys want to re-test the wig, using more advanced DNA technology. But the state of Alabama won’t allow it, even though the defense is willing to pay for the testing!

It is unacceptable that the state of Alabama is prepared to put a potentially innocent man to death rather than let him conduct a simple test that could prove his innocence. Write Governor Robert Bentley and urge him to allow Thomas Arthur’s legal team to conduct the DNA testing that could spare his life.

To petition Gov. Bentley with a prewritten message, follow this link. It will only take a couple of minutes if that.

When the state can kill one of its citizens, it’s important that the state turns over every rock first. In the case of Thomas Arthur, there is a rock and I don’t think asking the governor to turn it over is too much to ask.

Quote of the Day: Americans Cheer the Assassination of the Fifth Amendment Edition

Glenn Greenwald writes in response to the overall positive reaction of the drone assassination of American born Anwar al-Awlaki:

What’s most amazing is that its citizens will not merely refrain from objecting, but will stand and cheer the U.S. Government’s new power to assassinate their fellow citizens, far from any battlefield, literally without a shred of due process from the U.S. Government. Many will celebrate the strong, decisive, Tough President’s ability to eradicate the life of Anwar al-Awlaki — including many who just so righteously condemned those Republican audience members as so terribly barbaric and crass for cheering Governor Perry’s execution of scores of serial murderers and rapists — criminals who were at least given a trial and appeals and the other trappings of due process before being killed.

From an authoritarian perspective, that’s the genius of America’s political culture. It not only finds way to obliterate the most basic individual liberties designed to safeguard citizens from consummate abuses of power (such as extinguishing the lives of citizens without due process). It actually gets its citizens to stand up and clap and even celebrate the destruction of those safeguards.

Sadly, among those that cheered this assassination of an American citizen are none other than pro war on terror libertarians Neal Boortz and Larry Elder. When Boortz heard that Ron Paul and Gary Johnson condemned the assassination, he called that notion “a bunch of horse squeeze.” After playing Ron Paul’s very well reasoned response explaining his objections, Larry Elder said that Paul “doesn’t get it” and “we are at war.”

I’m sorry gentlemen, I wasn’t aware that there was a “war on terror” exception to due process. But hey you guys are both attorneys who claim to hold the Constitution in high regard so what the hell do I know?

If there is anything our government does well its convicting people, putting them in prison, and/or executing them. If the government really had the goods on this guy, there’s virtually no chance he would have been found not guilty.

President Obama not only ordered the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki but the Fifth Amendment as well.

Related: Obama: Judge, Jury, and Executioner in Chief

With Less than 24 Hours Remaining Before the Execution, Doubts Persist About the Guilt; Innocence of Troy Davis

Despite seven of nine eyewitnesses recanting their testimony, the failure to find the murder weapon, DNA or other forensic evidence, and despite jurors from the original trial who say they would not sentence Troy Davis to death if they had it to do over again, the State of Georgia will execute Troy Davis for the murder of Mark MacPhail on September 21, 2011.

As I have pointed out before, eyewitness misidentification is a leading cause for wrongful convictions. The New Jersey Supreme Court has even gone as far as requiring that jury instructions advise the jury of the human fallibility of memory based on roughly thirty years of research.

Besides the eyewitness testimony the other evidence linking Davis to the murder were shell casings found at the scene that linked Davis to another shooting for which he was convicted. The problem is apparently, ballistics evidence isn’t all it’s cracked up to be either. It’s certainly by no means as solid as DNA evidence.

As someone who is opposed to the death penalty on principle, I believe that Troy Davis’s sentence should be commuted to life. The fact that seven witnesses recanted their testimonies is very troublesome whether they were mistaken the first time or coerced to give the testimony the police and prosecution wanted to hear.

But is this enough to say that Troy Davis is innocent of this horrible crime? As much as I would like to say yes, I’m afraid the answer is no.

Proving someone guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and proving someone innocent are two very different things. Once someone is found guilty, the burden of proof is shifted from the state to the convicted (i.e. no longer innocent until proven guilty but rather guilty until proven innocent). While it is disturbing that, for one reason or another, seven witnesses recanted their testimony the fact remains that two did not. Whether or not Davis could have been convicted on the strength of two witnesses rather than nine is impossible to say.

The shell casings in of themselves are circumstantial as is the testimony of the remaining two witnesses. However, when enough circumstantial evidence is put together, reasonable doubt gets less and less reasonable even to someone like me who would enter the jury box very skeptical of the state’s case (though I’m not certain that this would be enough in this case).

And what about the jurors who changed their minds about voting for the death sentence? Those who wish to see the execution carried out might suggest that these jurors could have been pressured (along with the witnesses perhaps) by anti-death penalty activists and/or Davis’s lawyers. As much as I hate to admit it, they would have a valid point. It’s not difficult to imagine a juror having second thoughts about condemning a man to die – guilty or not.

If you asked me, failure to meet the burden of proof of actual innocence notwithstanding, “do I personally believe that Troy Davis is guilty of murdering Mark MacPhail?” my answer would be simply “I don’t know.”

And I really don’t know and I don’t believe my friends in the anti-death penalty movement know either.

This is why I would not be comfortable holding a sign saying “Troy Davis is Innocent” or wearing the t-shirt that some are wearing at the protest which read “I am Troy Davis.”

I will gladly sign the petitions to whomever to have the sentence commuted on basic principle but I am by no means willing to say that Troy Davis is innocent of this crime. To my fellow travelers who oppose the death penalty on principle, I urge caution on this one as to arguing Davis is innocent.

I don’t know if Davis committed the murder or not but neither do those who insist that Troy Davis must die tomorrow. All the more reason why the execution should be cancelled and the sentence commuted.

An Innocent Man Was Probably Executed on Gov. Rick Perry’s Watch…Not That Anyone Cares

Is it possible that the G.O.P would nominate and/or the American people would elect for president a man who as governor more likely than not executed an innocent man?

An even more disturbing question would be: Could Gov. Rick Perry be elected president despite his efforts to keep investigators from learning the truth about the Cameron Todd Willingham case both before and after Willingham’s execution?

It seems we will have an answer to these questions in the 2012 campaign.

Apparently, these questions were not of much concern among Texans. According to a recent Politico article written by Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison who ran against Perry in the gubernatorial primary in the 2010 campaign asked focus groups what they thought about the idea that an innocent man may have been executed on Gov. Perry’s watch. For the most part, the question was a non-issue. According to several (unnamed) former Hutchison staffers, they quoted one individual as saying “It takes balls to execute an innocent man.”

Of course Gov. Perry continues to insist that Willingham was guilty of setting the fire that killed his three girls even though nine independent leading fire experts who have since reviewed the case all say the prosecution’s expert relied on science that has since been discredited.

Gov. RICK PERRY (R), Texas: This is a guy on his- on- in the death chamber, his last breath, he spews an obscenity-laced triad [sic] against his wife. That’s the person who we’re talking about here. And getting all tied up in the process here is, frankly, a deflection of what people across this state and this country need to be looking at. This was a bad man.

These are Willingham’s last words Gov. Perry was referring to:

No question, the words that Willingham directed at his wife are pretty rough. Willingham could have taken the high road but he didn’t. A bad man? Maybe. But to suggest that because Willingham’s last statement, which I agree is obscene and arguably low class, somehow “proves” that he killed his own children tells me that the Texas governor has a very low standard of proof.

Willingham’s spouse believed in his innocence in the beginning but as the execution date drew nearer, she changed her mind and made statements in the media that she believed he was guilty. How many men, innocent or not, in a similar situation would feel betrayed say something similar?

At Gov. Perry’s first debate appearance at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, when challenged about his executive order that would have required girls age 12 and over to get the HPV vaccine, he said that the way he went about it was wrong but explained that he was concerned about these young girls getting a deadly cancer. He “errs on the side of life,” a statement I couldn’t believe he could actually say with a straight face given his unwillingness to err on the side of life with regard to capital punishment.

Toward the end of the debate, Brian Williams asks Gov. Perry the following:

Governor Perry, a question about Texas. Your state has executed 234 death row inmates, more than any other governor in modern times. [Applause] Have you struggled to sleep at night with the idea that any one of those might have been innocent?

Gov. Perry responds:

No, sir. I’ve never struggled with that at all. The state of Texas has a very thoughtful, a very clear process in place of which—when someone commits the most heinous of crimes against our citizens, they get a fair hearing, they go through an appellate process, they go up to the Supreme Court of the United States, if that’s required.

Never struggled with the thought that there’s even the slightest possibility that an innocent man has been executed on his watch at all? The fact that five men who were once on death row who were exonerated on his watch doesn’t give Gov. Perry even a little pause? Five men who would have been executed had Gov. Perry had his way? And even after the recent revelation via exculpatory DNA evidence that an innocent man, Claude Jones was executed just before Gov. George W. Bush handed the governorship to Perry and ascended to the presidency?

If Gov. Perry is so certain of the guilt of every single individual who has been executed on his watch, why does he continue to stymie investigations into the Willingham case? Perhaps even more importantly, why does Gov. Perry continue to block efforts to allow Hank Skinner to have DNA testing which would determine once and for all if Skinner is the murderer Gov. Perry thinks he is before executing him this coming November?

What is Gov. Perry so afraid of?

Gov. Perry would have us believe that the “very clear process” in Texas is so perfect that there is just no way that a wrongfully convicted person could be executed. He is either in denial or doesn’t care if the occasional innocent person is killed by the state (and even if Willingham wasn’t a murderer, he was still “a bad man” so who cares right?). The death penalty is just the sort of a punishment that neither Gov. Perry nor the State of Texas can live without. Judging by the thunderous applause at the very mention of Texas’ 234 executions at the Reagan Library, sadly Gov. Perry is hardly alone in a Republican Party where the majority of its members ironically and hypocritically call themselves “pro-life.”

West Memphis 3 Freed with Alford Plea

MSNBC Reports a very big development in the West Memphis 3 case:

JONESBORO, Ark. — Three men convicted of killing three 8-year-old Cub Scouts were freed Friday after nearly two decades in prison and after a judge OK’d a deal with prosecutors.

Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley agreed to change their pleas from not guilty to guilty in the 1993 killings in West Memphis, Ark.

They did so using a legal maneuver that lets them maintain their innocence while acknowledging prosecutors likely had enough evidence to convict them.

After the closed hearings before a judge, Baldwin told reporters that he had been reluctant to plead guilty to crimes he maintains he didn’t commit, but that he went along so as to help Echols, who was on death row.

“That’s not justice, however you look at it,” he said of the deal.

Echols called the 18 years of prison and appeals “an absolute living hell.”

“It’s not perfect,” he said of the deal. “It’s not perfect by any means. But it at least brings closure to some areas and some aspects. We can still bring up new evidence.”

I confess – I’ve never heard of an Alford plea until today. The article goes on to explain:

Friday’s move was a complicated legal proceeding that protects Arkansas from a potential lawsuit should the men win a new trial, get acquitted, and seek to sue the state for wrongful imprisonment, Prosecutor Ellington said.

The men agreed to what’s known as an Alford plea. Normally, when defendants plead guilty in criminal cases, they admit that they’ve done the crime in question.

But in an Alford plea, defendants are allowed to insist they’re innocent, says Kay Levine, a former prosecutor who now teaches at Emory University in Atlanta. She is not involved with the Arkansas case.

It seems to me that this was a compromise that neither the WM3’s defense team nor the prosecutors could refuse. The defense team and their clients believed they would ultimately prevail with the discovery of DNA evidence that was supposed to be presented in December of this year. On the other hand, the possibility of losing (again) would have put Damien Echols at risk once again of receiving a death sentence. Turning down the opportunity to have their freedom back must have also been nearly irresistible – even if it meant pleading guilty to a heinous crime they continue to maintain they did not commit.

For the prosecution this move was IMO about saving face and protecting West Memphis from being exposed to lawsuits or compensation the WM3 may otherwise have been entitled to. The prosecution would not have been able to get away with the kinds of shenanigans they got away with the first time due to the media attention the case has received and would continue to receive.

It’s a damn shame that this is the closest to just result as this case will ever get. No compensation from West Memphis to the wrongfully convicted. No real closure for the families. And perhaps most importantly, there will be no justice for the 3 boys who were killed by unknown person(s) who will now almost certainly get away with their murders.

While it’s true that justice wasn’t served with this plea deal, it’s certainly better than these young men spending another second in prison. Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley are now free men and can continue the pursuit of clearing their names once and for all.

The video below is the press conference that was held earlier today with the WM3 and their legal team.

Related Post: Disturbed Offers New Single Download to Support ‘West Memphis 3’

Tim Masters, Anthony Graves, and Cory Maye Each Receive Some Semblance of Justice

More often than not, when I write about the criminal justice system generally or write about specific cases the news is very bad. This time I have not one, not two, but three very positive developments in three separate cases that have to this point been very negative.

#1 Larimer County Commissioners will Not Cap Compensation Tim Masters or Other Wrongfully Convicted in its Jurisdiction
Larimer County, CO like most governments at all levels is looking for ways to save money to deal with budget shortfalls. But is capping the damages for those the county has wrongfully convicted a reasonable way to address some of this shortfall? A majority of the commissioners say ‘no.’ Kevin Duggan writing for The Coloradan reports:

A proposal to limit the compensation a wrongfully incarcerated person could receive from a local government got a firm thumbs-down Tuesday from the Larimer County commissioners hours before Tim Masters was formally exonerated for the 1987 murder of Peggy Hettrick.

With the Masters case in mind, the commissioners said they would not support a suggestion from county staff to seek state legislation that would cap damages someone who was wrongly convicted and jailed may recover.

[…]

Commissioner Steve Johnson said he understood the goal of saving taxpayer money, but a cap on damages wasn’t the way to do that.

The best way to avoid paying out for wrongful incarcerations is to not let them happen, he said. Those in the judicial system have to make every effort to ensure innocent people are not convicted, he said.

“It just seems to me that having a high award possibility is almost like a deterrent to law enforcement and everybody else,” he said.

Masters received a combined $10 million settlement from Larimer County and the city of Fort Collins last year to settle a lawsuit over his prosecution and conviction for the 1987 slaying of Hettrick. Masters served 10 years in prison, but his conviction was vacated in 2008 based on DNA evidence.

#2 Texas Gov. Rick Perry Does the Right thing by Signing a Bill to Compensate $1.4 Million to Wrongfully Convicted Anthony Graves
After spending 18 years in prison (10 years on death row) Anthony Graves was denied a modest compensation of $1.4 million from the State of Texas. As I wrote in February, Graves was denied the compensation because the Texas Comptroller’s office determined that Graves was not entitled to the compensation because the phrase “actual innocence” appeared nowhere in the judge’s ruling that reached that obvious conclusion. To Gov. Rick Perry’s credit, just over a week ago he reversed this injustice by signing a bill that would grant Graves the full amount of the compensation.

Perry on Friday signed a bill that will compensate Graves for his imprisonment, including more than a decade on death row.

With Perry’s signature, the legislation takes effect immediately.

State law allows $80,000 for each year of wrongful imprisonment, tax-free.

[…]

A bill “relating to claims for compensation for wrongful imprisonment and group health benefits coverage for persons wrongfully imprisoned” — specifically addressing Graves’ case — was adopted by the Texas Legislature with no opposition during its regular session this year.

Kudos to Gov. Perry and the Texas Legislature for doing the right thing for Graves and other wrongfully convicted Texans.

And now last but certainly not least…

#3 Cory Maye Accepts Plea Deal; Will be Released Soon
The final chapter of the Cory Maye case is nearly closed. After spending nearly 10 years in prison, Cory Maye will finally be released in a matter of days. Maye accepted a plea deal to a lesser charge of “culpable negligence” manslaughter which carries a 10 year sentence but will be given full credit for the time he has served.

While this is not the ideal, just outcome this is probably about the best that could be hoped for. Yes the double standard between non-cops shooting cops by mistake vs. cops shooting non-cops by mistake is extremely frustrating but this is the world we live in. From a letter Maye provided Radley Balko to share with his supporters Maye explains:

I realize a lot of people are going to wonder why I accepted a plea. We just felt that regardless of the facts and evidence that pointed in my favor, there was the possibility that one or more jurors could not see it my way, causing a mistrial. That could leave me sitting here another nine months or more, or longer if it keeps repeating that way.

This is Mississippi, and some people refuse to let go of their old ways from the old days. I just didn’t want to put my family through any more heartache, and didn’t want to have to wait any longer. It was take a chance of a mistrial, or grab hold of my future and be the man/father/friend that I can be, and that my family loves and misses.

Given the shenanigans the prosecutors and their witnesses got away with in the original trial, one can hardly blame Maye for taking the deal, securing his release, and getting as far away from Mississippi as possible.

The Cory Maye case is the case is one that has transformed how I view the criminal justice system over recent years. The idea that an individual could be convicted and put on death row for defending his home against who he believed to be unlawful intruders who turned out to be police conducting a no-knock raid made me question everything I thought I knew about the system. As I followed this case at The Agitator, I was introduced to many other similar cases of injustice and concluded that our system is far too prone to error for me to continue supporting the notion of the death penalty. I’m hopeful that many others were similarly touched by this case and that this will eventually lead to reforming the system for the better.

As these three cases demonstrate, justice may not be possible but with people in high places doing the right thing (often from pressure from regular concerned citizens) a semblance of justice is possible.

Disturbed Offers New Single Download to Support ‘West Memphis 3’

The heavy metal band Disturbed has stepped up in a big way to not only educate their fans of the miscarriage of justice that occurred in West Memphis, Arkansas in a new song entitled “3”, but also to give their fans an opportunity to help. Their new single is available for download only for $.99 ($1.03 after taxes); all proceeds for this single will go toward Damien Echols’ legal fees.

From Distrubed’s official website:

It all began May 5, 1993 when three eight-year-old boys were found mutilated and murdered in the Robin Hood Hills area of West Memphis, Arkansas. Under tremendous pressure to find the killer despite physical evidence pointing to anyone, West Memphis officers coerced an error-filled “confession” from a mentally handicapped teenager, Jessie Misskelley Jr., questioning him for hours without counsel or parental consent, only audio-taping two 46-minute fragments. Jessie recanted his statement the same night but it was too late: Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols and Misskelley all were arrested on June 3rd, and have been incarcerated ever since.

Local media said the murders were part of a satanic ritual; human sacrifices in the wooded areas of West Memphis, Arkansas. The police assured the public the three teenagers in custody were definitely responsible for these horrible crimes. There was no physical evidence, murder weapon, motive, or acquaintance with the victims so the State stooped to presenting Damien’s black hair and clothing, heavy metal t-shirts, and Stephen King novels as “proof” the children were sacrificed to the devil. In early 1994, Echols was sentenced to death by lethal injection, Baldwin received life without parole, while Misskelley got life plus 40 years.

[…]

With the steadfast support and financial help of their supporters, there is now factual, scientific evidence of their innocence. Damien, Jason and Jessie still must fight to gain their freedom but there are major differences now: the “satanic cult sacrifice” motive is now an embarrassment the prosecution doesn’t even embrace. More important, forensic technologies have progressed to the point where previously untested items yielded definitive results: Not one molecule of DNA from the crime scene matches that of Damien, Jason or Jessie. The DNA does match of a pair of individuals (one of them a victim’s stepfather) that were admittedly together on the day the children disappeared.

[…]

In November of 2010, the State Supreme Court of Arkansas finally ruled in the WM3’s favor for the first time, ordering new hearings wherein all post-conviction DNA, forensic evidence or testimony that could lead to their exoneration will be heard. Judge David Laser was assigned to be the judge of this evidentiary hearing which will begin on December 5, 2011.

While it’s true the WM3 can see the light at the end of this tunnel, they still desperately need your financial help. Judge Laser ordered all remaining DNA is to be tested and we must pay for it, as well as additional forensic investigations and legal work. Please visit wm3.org for more information on the case and make your tax-deductible donation to the defense fund.

The case of the West Memphis 3 is one of the most disturbing cases I’ve ever followed; this is a worthy cause. If you are unfamiliar with this case, in addition to visiting wm3.org, watch the HBO documentary Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, the follow-up Paradise Lost 2: Revelations, and the 48 Hours Mystery episode “A Cry for Innocence.”In closing, here are the lyrics to the new Disturbed single entitled “3” below the fold. » Read more

Last Call to Meet Our $500 Goal/Life After Exoneration

Disclaimer: The views expressed here at The Liberty Papers either by the post authors or views found in the comments section do not necessarily reflect the views of The Innocence Project nor its affiliates.

In support of our fundraising efforts for The Innocence Project, I had tried to dedicate at least one post per week over the last four weeks to the cause of criminal justice reform – many of which are the very reforms The Innocence Project are working to bring about. With today being the last day of this fundraising campaign, 228 “Innocence Partners” combined efforts has raised nearly $15,000 of the $20,000 target. As of this writing, you readers have already donated $375 – 75% of our $500 goal! Thanks to everyone who has donated so far or plans to donate. Remember: your donations are 100% tax deductible.

Believe it or not, in the time we joined this campaign nearly a month ago to help The Innocence Project, 2 individuals have been exonerated as a direct result of The Innocence Project’s help!

In case you are wondering what $20,000 can accomplish (the overall campaign’s goal), this is how far The Innocence Project says the money can go:

• Pay for post-conviction DNA testing that may prove innocence for 4 clients.

• Provide 16 exonerees with basic needs including food, rent, and transportation for the first month after release.

• Cover the costs to send 20 exonerees to testify before state legislatures to reform the criminal justice system.

• Send 25 local advocates to an Innocence Project training to learn how to advance wrongful conviction reforms in their state.

• Allow a staff attorney to represent 5 clients.

• Enable staff to advocate for wrongful conviction reforms in 6 states.

In this series of posts, I covered some of the reforms and issues The Innocence Project has been trying to bring to light such as compensation for the wrongfully convicted, eyewitness misidentification, and false confessions. Rather than doing a rush job writing a final piece for the series, I encourage everyone to follow this link for the Frontline episode entitled “Burden of Innocence” (I couldn’t find a nifty player to embed the episode into this post but you can watch the episode in its entirety there). This episode deals with life after these individuals have been exonerated and their struggles to reenter and rejoin free society. It seems that there is much work that needs to be done here as well.

You Would Never Confess to a Crime You Did Not Commit? Don’t Be So Sure

Disclaimer: The views expressed here at The Liberty Papers either by the post authors or views found in the comments section do not necessarily reflect the views of The Innocence Project nor its affiliates.

In support of our fundraising efforts for The Innocence Project, I have decided to dedicate at least one post per week over the next four weeks to the cause of criminal justice reform – many of which are the very reforms The Innocence Project are working to bring about. With just 2 weeks left of this fundraising campaign, 208 “Innocence Partners” combined efforts has raised over $10,000 of the $20,000 target. As of this writing, you readers have already donated $375 – 75% of our $500 goal! Thanks to everyone who has donated so far or plans to donate. Remember: your donations are 100% tax deductible.

One more brief note before I get into this post’s topic of false confessions. Just three days ago, Thomas Haynesworth became The Innocence Projects’ 267th exoneree and was released from prison after serving 27 years for three rapes that DNA tests and other evidence prove he did not commit (well, technically he was paroled; The Innocence Project is now trying to have his conviction overturned via the Virginia Court of Appeals or by a pardon from the governor who says he will consider pardoning Haynesworth).

False Confessions

A skilled interrogator knows all sorts of ways to persuade individuals guilty of committing a crime to confess. The problem is, the same interrogator’s methods can often persuade individuals who are innocent to confess as well.

But why would an innocent person confess to crimes as serious as rape and murder, you ask? This is some of what The Innocence Project has learned:

In about 25% of DNA exoneration cases, innocent defendants made incriminating statements, delivered outright confessions or pled guilty.

These cases show that confessions are not always prompted by internal knowledge or actual guilt, but are sometimes motivated by external influences.

Why do innocent people confess?
A variety of factors can contribute to a false confession during a police interrogation. Many cases have included a combination of several of these causes. They include:

•duress
•coercion
•intoxication
•diminished capacity
•mental impairment
•ignorance of the law
•fear of violence
•the actual infliction of harm
•the threat of a harsh sentence
•Misunderstanding the situation

The documentary series Frontline episode “The Confessions” (below) profiles a case where eight individuals were charged in large part due to five confessions for a rape and murder of a Norfolk, Virginia woman. Only one of the five confessions turned out to be true and the actual perpetrator admitted he acted alone.

Watch the full episode. See more FRONTLINE.

How can false confessions be minimized? One common sense reform The Innocence Project is pushing is simply passing laws which would require all interrogations to be recorded. If the men in the above case had their confessions recorded, the interrogators wouldn’t have the ability to have each rehearse their confessions until it fit with their theory. Every lie and every threat by the interrogators would be replayed for the jury to hear. Only then could the jury have a more complete context of the interrogation.

Additional Thoughts on Recording Interactions with the Police

In response to the above post, Tom Knighton made some very good points in a blog post of his own regarding mandatory recording of interrogations that bear repeating here:

Littau suggests simply recording interrogations as a tool for preventing false confessions as the jury would hear the whole situation and perhaps make up their own minds regarding the so-called confession. I’m going to go so far as to suggest this as a tool for protecting law enforcement officers, as well as suspects. Recorded interrogations can also tell that an officer didn’t coerce a confession, assault a suspect, or anything else they may be accused of.

Transparency is always preferable to non-transparency when it comes to government, even in the law enforcement sector. By recording interviews, an agency opens a window on the process and protects everyone involved.

As the old saying goes, there’s three sides to every story. In the criminal justice system there’s the suspect’s side, the state’s side (or referred sometimes to as “the people’s” side), and the truth. Recording all interactions between the police and the suspect provides something very close to the truth (I say close because even video evidence can be limiting due to a variety of factors).

Really I think that all police interactions should be required by law to be recorded if the person doesn’t have access to a lawyer at that particular moment (and even then, the interaction should be recorded unless the lawyer wishes otherwise). Every police stop, every search warrant, and every raid on a person’s home should be fully* recorded; resulting video should be kept unedited** so both sides can examine the evidence fairly.

Of course, this all assumes that the purpose of our criminal justice system is to get to the truth.

*In the case of police raids, something that Radley Balko advocates (which I agree with fully) is that every SWAT or police officer who takes part in a raid should be required to have a camera mounted on his/her person – preferably helmet mounted. This would present the events how they happened from multiple points-of-view.

**Editing, destroying, or omitting such a video should be considered a crime akin to any other tampering or destruction of evidence.

Eyewitness Misidentification: Revisiting a Previous Discussion

Disclaimer: The views expressed here at The Liberty Papers either by the post authors or views found in the comments section do not necessarily reflect the views of The Innocence Project nor its affiliates.

In support of our fundraising efforts for The Innocence Project, I have decided to dedicate at least one post per week over the next four weeks to the cause of criminal justice reform – many of which are the very reforms The Innocence Project are working to bring about. As of this writing, you readers have already donated $310 – 62% of our $500 goal! Thanks to everyone who has donated so far or plans to donate. Remember: your donations are 100% tax deductible.

With that out of the way, now I will turn your attention to the topic at hand: Eyewitness Misidentification.

Back almost three years ago to the day, I wrote a post about Troy Davis who had his death row appeal denied despite seven eyewitnesses recanting their testimonies (this case is still winding its way through the courts; here is an update on where the case stands today). As is often the case whether here at The Liberty Papers or at other blogs, the discussion that followed my post was actually a great deal more interesting than the post itself IMHO. Jeff Molby, a person who comments on a somewhat regular basis, really got the discussion going with several Liberty Papers contributors and readers.

The part of the post that Jeff believed to be “misleading” was the following statement I took from The Innocence Project webpage that dealt with the role eyewitness misidentification plays in wrongful convictions:

Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in more than 75% of convictions overturned through DNA testing.

While eyewitness testimony can be persuasive evidence before a judge or jury, 30 years of strong social science research has proven that eyewitness identification is often unreliable. Research shows that the human mind is not like a tape recorder; we neither record events exactly as we see them, nor recall them like a tape that has been rewound. Instead, witness memory is like any other evidence at a crime scene; it must be preserved carefully and retrieved methodically, or it can be contaminated.

This was Jeff’s response:

Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in more than 75% of convictions overturned through DNA testing.

That’s a misleading stat. The relevant stat would be the percentage of convictions based on eyewitness identification that were later overturned due to DNA testing.

Comment by Jeff Molby — March 17, 2008 @ 12:51 pm

Perhaps the reason Jeff found the quote was misleading was my fault rather than The Innocence Project’s. The page that I took the quote from goes into greater detail complete with links for further reading. From my reading of their material, it seems to me that the statistics they are dealing with are from their now 266 exonerations. As the discussion unfolded, this forced me to do some additional research outside of The Innocence Project [Thanks a lot Jeff : ) ] to see if I could find more data to support –or refute The Innocence Project’s claim. Fellow contributor and lawyer by trade, Doug Mataconis also weighed in with his thought about the reliability of eyewitness testimony.

The highlights from this discussion are below the fold.
» Read more

With Gov. Pat Quinn’s Signature, the Death Penalty is Abolished in Illinois

ABC News reports:

In a ceremony behind closed doors today Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill that will make Illinois the 16th state to abolish the death penalty.

“I have concluded that our system of imposing the death penalty is inherently flawed.” said Quinn in a statement issued after the signing.

“Since our experience has shown that there is no way to design a perfect death penalty system, free from the numerous flaws that can lead to wrongful convictions or discriminatory treatment, I have concluded that the proper course of action is to abolish it.” he said.

This is precisely the same reasoning that brought me to my anti-death penalty position. Can anyone really argue the system is “good enough” when it comes to the state’s legal ability to kill?

Exonerated After 18 Years on Death Row, Anthony Graves Will Not Be Compensated on a Legal Technicality

Anthony Graves, the 12th death row inmate to be exonerated in Texas, will not receive his $1.4 million compensation for serving 18 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. The sum of $1.4 million might sound like a lot of money until one considers all the years of lost income potential, time pursuing his dreams, time with family and friends, and basically enjoying the everyday freedoms most of us take for granted. When considering what Anthony Graves has lost, $1.4 million is a mere pittance of what he deserves and an insult to any notion of justice.

But Anthony Graves will not get $1.4 million pittance from the State of Texas despite this injustice.

Why?

The Texas Comptroller’s office’s rationale is that the phrase “actual innocence” is nowhere to be found in the judge’s ruling that set Graves free. Apparently, none of the other combinations of words to which most reasonable people would reach that very conclusion in the judge’s ruling doesn’t matter. As Donald Pennington put it writing for Yahoo! News, Anthony Graves has been “Twice Robbed by the State of Texas.”

Pennington writes:

Why weren’t state employees, such as the prosecutor, as adamant about following the rules when they were trying the case? It was discovered by the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals in 2006 that prosecutors had withheld evidence and elicited false testimony in their case against Anthony Graves from 1994. If the “rule of law” is so important to these sorts of bureaucrats, why are those rules so subjectively applied?

For that matter, when prosecutors commit these sorts of abuses, why aren’t they brought up on charges? Isn’t this sort of case a perfect example of unlawful imprisonment, kidnapping, and felony conspiracy? Since Anthony Graves was, in fact, on death row for something he did not do, shouldn’t those people working in the prosecutor’s office (at the time) be charged with attempted murder?

I couldn’t agree more with Pennington’s sentiments here. Why can’t the prosecutor and those working for him be charged with these above crimes? I imagine that if prosecutors were actually held criminally responsible for what would be crimes if committed by anyone else, we might then (finally) hear some talk of reforming the system. Let one prosecutor receive a death sentence for falsely putting someone else on death row, just one…

Gov. Pat Quinn to Decide Fate of the Death Penalty in Illinois

Both houses of the Illinois legislature passed a bill which would end the death penalty in the state. However, Gov. Pat Quinn (D) has reportedly stated he wants to “reflect” on the issue before deciding whether or not he will sign the bill into law.

(Reuters) – Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said on Wednesday he would “reflect” on the death penalty ban passed by the state legislature before deciding whether to sign it.

“Anyone in Illinois who has an opinion, I’m happy to listen and reflect and I’ll follow my conscience,” Quinn told reporters. If he agrees to the ban, Illinois will be the first state since 2009 to abolish executions.

The Illinois Senate voted for the ban Tuesday afternoon. The House had approved it last week. Quinn said the opinion of the members of the legislature is “very serious indeed.”

Illinois has not executed anyone for more than a decade after former Republican Gov. George Ryan imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in January 2000. This followed a series of revelations that more than a dozen people had been sent to Death Row who were later found to be innocent.

Quinn, a Democrat, has said in the past that he approved of the death penalty for the most heinous crimes, but wanted to continue the moratorium.

I can certainly respect Gov. Quinn’s honesty here. This is an issue that does deserve some reflection but unfortunately for many death penalty advocates, there seems to be a lack of reflection. Admittedly there are pros as well as cons with the death penalty and Gov. Quinn is going to have to weigh these carefully.

Considering that, as mentioned in the article, more than a dozen individuals were wrongfully convicted and put on death row, and considering that former Gov. George Ryan took 167 prisoners off death row and pardoned 4 others (mentioned elsewhere in the article), I would like to think that upon this reflection, Gov. Quinn will determine that the risk of wrongful execution is too great. The question then becomes: “How many innocent individuals am I willing to sacrifice in order to execute those who have truly committed the most heinous of crimes?”

The fact that there are very bad people who do very evil, heinous things (Jared Lee Loughner comes to mind) is the reason why most death penalty supporters support the death penalty.

With this in mind, the article continues:

Lawrence Marshall, a Stanford Law School professor who had represented several freed Illinois Death Row inmates, said the problem with trying to limit the death penalty to “heinous” crimes is that the emotion surrounding those crimes can lead to errors.

“It’s the very kind of passion that triggers the desire for the death penalty in a particular case that does have the potential to be blinding,” said Marshall, who co-founded the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University.

Among Marshall’s clients was Rolando Cruz, who was on Death Row for years for the 1983 murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico, even though another man, Brian Dugan, admitted to the crime. After Cruz was freed, Dugan was convicted and is now on Death Row.

Personally, I think even one wrongful execution is too many and Illinois has demonstrated far too high of an error rate (and these of course are only the errors we know about). Illinois is in no way special in this regard. We have to remember that our criminal justice systems at each level are in fact human systems subject to human error. When the question is a matter of life and death as is the case here, I would urge Gov. Quinn to err on the side of life.

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