That's the title of Andrew Cohen's latest post at the Atlantic. It's subtitled, "The Willie Manning case raises some profound questions about capital punishment in America -- how it's perceived, and how it's covered." It's another Cohen must-read:
Before the Willie Manning case moves off your radar screen again, before the media circus moves on to another capital case and another flurry of last-minute appeals, I want to address a few themes that inevitably come up when a condemned prisoner, a convicted murderer, is given any measure of relief from the courts. These issues directly track the questions now raised in the Manning case -- the state's failure to test DNA, questions about the scientific evidence that was introduced at trial, the credibility of key witnesses, the impact of race on jury selection -- but they apply more broadly to other capital cases.
1. Why are you defending a murderer? Anyone who writes about capital cases, anyone who criticizes prosecutors or judges for failing to protect the due-process rights of death-row inmates, almost immediately faces this question from readers. The answer is simple, and I'll answer it for myself alone: I am not defending a murderer. I am instead pushing the men and women in public office who run our justice systems to do better and do right by a rule of law. You can push for the latter without embracing the former. Another way to put it is: I do not focus in my writing on whether a death row inmate "deserves" to live or die. That's not up to me. I try to focus instead on whether the government (which operates in my name) has lived up to its constitutional obligations.
5. The larger view. As I have written before, there is coming soon in the law a reckoning on capital punishment in America. Either there is going to be more fairness and accuracy in death penalty cases, either prosecutors and lower court judges are going to do more to protect the rights of capital defendants, or the United States Supreme Court is again going to preclude it as a sentencing option. The Court is one vote away from such a remedy, and if that happens it will be largely because of cases like the Manning case. It's not just about the law and the facts of these particular cases. It's not just about standards of appellate review. It's about the attitudes of the men and women whose job it is to implement the law.
CounterPunch posts, "Just Test the DNA." It's by Alyssa Rohricht.
On Tuesday afternoon in Mississippi, Willie Jerome Manning was granted a last-minute stay of execution by the Supreme Court of Mississippi, just hours before his lethal injection was scheduled to go through.
Manning, an African-American man, was convicted of murdering Jon Steckler and Tiffany Miller, two white college students, in 1992. The case can be read as a manual for anti-death penalty advocates: racial bias in the original trial, false testimony from snitches, and even faulty science.
The stay comes after prosecutors and state courts refused Manning’s request for new DNA testing that could possibly prove his innocence, which he has maintained from the beginning. Since his trial, the FBI has come forward and admitted that the original analysis it performed on the evidence, such as testing hair samples found at the scene, contained numerous errors and it “exceeded the limits of the science and was, therefore, invalid.” What’s more, the FBI has offered to perform the new DNA testing itself. The FBI and the Department of Justice have also reviewed the ballistic evidence in the case and found that to be invalid as well.
Earlier coverage of Willie Manning's case begins at the link.