Today's New York Times publishes the editorial,"The Innocent on Death Row."
Cases of capital prosecutions based on flimsy evidence or marred by prosecutorial misconduct, not to mention racial bias, are distressingly common. Yet, even as death-penalty supporters insist that only guilty people are sent to their death, it is now clear that Justice Scalia was prepared 20 years ago to allow the execution of a man who, it turns out, was innocent.
How many more remain on death row today? Can the American people be assured that none will be killed by the state? For this reason alone, the death penalty must end.
"A death penalty symbol goes free," is the Charlotte Observer editorial.
Perhaps you remember Henry Lee McCollum.
His is a name that comes up regularly when the death penalty is discussed, because the crime for which he was convicted – the brutal 1983 rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl – tests the thresholds many of us have regarding when someone should or shouldn’t be put to death.
McCollum, of Robeson County, was part of a death penalty debate between U.S. Supreme Court justices in 1994, and he was featured in a 2010 mailing from the N.C. Republican Party that attacked a Democratic state senator for being soft on the death penalty. The mailing featured a picture of McCollum and described his crimes in detail.
And now, it turns out those crimes are not his.
Can there be a clearer argument against the death penalty? It is this simple: Be it sloppy police work or prosecutorial misconduct or flawed eyewitness testimony, people are wrongly convicted of murder. Some are sentenced to death. And it is not rare.
"DNA frees the innocent, raises questions," is the Fayetteville Observer editorial.
Authorities missed or ignored previous signs of their innocence. They signed police-prepared statements only after hours of aggressive interrogation. Both have been described as mentally impaired. Some aspects of their "confessions" include impossible details that don't fit the known facts. When police did have belated doubts, fingerprint analysis they requested wasn't carried out prior to their trial.
We're glad they have been set free and thankful for DNA. But more of a reckoning may be in order. Maybe we should question everything about the system that failed in 1983, some of which is still with us today.
Dahlia Lithwick writes, "A Horrifying Miscarriage of Justice in North Carolina," at Slate.
Those who believe that we don’t execute the undeserving in America—or who aren’t too concerned about that possibility anyhow—have an ally in Justice Antonin Scalia. He famously insisted in Kansas v. Marsh that “"it should be noted at the outset that the dissent does not discuss a single case—not one—in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit. If such an event had occurred in recent years, we would not have to hunt for it; the innocent’s name would be shouted from the rooftops by the abolition lobby.”
That same Scalia, in an unrelated case before the Supreme Court 20 years ago, name-checked McCollum as the reason to continue to impose the death penalty. In that case, Callins v. Collins, Justice Harry Blackmun famously announced in dissent that he would no longer “tinker with the machinery of death” and would never again vote for the death penalty in any case. As Blackmun put it at the time: “The problem is that the inevitability of factual, legal and moral error gives us a system that we know must wrongly kill some defendants, a system that fails to deliver the fair, consistent and reliable sentences of death required by the Constitution.” In response, Scalia questioned why Blackmun hadn’t chosen a more grisly murder to make this announcement, specifically citing McCollum’s case as the more appropriate vehicle to announce that position. Scalia noted that all sorts of cases of truly horrendous murders came before the court, “For example, the case of an 11-year-old girl raped by four men and then killed by stuffing her panties down her throat. How enviable,” he wrote, “a quiet death by lethal injection compared with that!” Never mind that “quiet death by lethal injection” has little to do with how our executions are carried out these days.
When McCollum’s own case came before the high court, Scalia voted not to hear it. Blackmun again wrote a dissent from that decision, again chastising Scalia for failing to understand the stakes: “Buddy McCollum is mentally retarded,” he explained. “He has an IQ between 60 and 69 and the mental age of a 9-year old. He reads on a second grade level. This factor alone persuades me that the death penalty in his case is unconstitutional.” Interestingly, Blackmun never seems to have doubted McCollum’s guilt. He simply believed the man was mentally unfit for execution. What a difference a few decades of DNA exonerations make!
"I just freed an innocent man from death row. And I’m still furious," is the Washington Post OpEd written by Ken Rose, one of the attorneys in the case.
It took the Innocence Inquiry Commission, working for four years and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, to finally prove my client’s innocence. Sadly, only a handful of defendants ever get that kind of attention and resources. In many other cases, biological evidence is lost, contaminated or never existed to begin with.
Now, with Henry finally free, some people expect me to feel satisfied, or even happy. The truth is: I am angry.
I am angry that we live in a world where two disabled boys can have their lives stolen from them, where cops can lie and intimidate with impunity, where innocent people can be condemned to die and where injustice is so difficult to bring to light.
As I lie awake at night, mulling over the maddening details of this case, I wonder: How many more Henry McCollums are still imprisoned, waiting for help that will never come?
"DNA shows a fifth confess to crimes they never committed," is Jerry Mitchell's column in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.
When I was younger, I presumed anyone who confessed to a crime was guilty — but DNA is now teaching us that is far from the case.
About a fifth of those proven innocent by DNA testing in recent years in the United States had confessed to crimes they never committed, according to studies by the Innocence Project and others.
The latest case comes from North Carolina, where two mentally disabled half-brothers confessed to the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl in 1983 — only to insist later the confessions were coerced.
Earlier coverage of the North Carolina exonerations begins at the link.