If you have been paying attention at all, you know that the Texas death penalty machine has been operating at full tilt – 508 executions since 1982, with 16 in just 2013. This includes the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, and it has become abundantly clear that Willingham was actually innocent.
Texas is now getting ready to execute Rodney Reed for a murder that it is likely somebody else committed. This could be confirmed by simple DNA testing of items from the crime scene, and has been requested by his attorney and The Innocence Project. But the state of Texas has steadfastly refused to do the testing, and in a hearing held just last Tuesday, a Texas judge has ruled that no further DNA testing is warranted. See the report on that hearing by The Intercept here.
CNN has posted a story by Dan Simon about the case, and you can read that story here.
This from the CNN story:
“Why on earth, one wonders, would Texas battle fiercely against conducting the testing? Would it be naive to propose the state should welcome it?
The answer cannot be the meager costs of running the tests or the negligible time they would take to run. Nor could the state claim to be acting out of respect for the victim’s loved ones — a dubious justification from the outset — given that numerous members of her (the victim’s) family are campaigning publicly on Reed’s behalf.
The best explanation for the state’s aversion to the testing may be the dread of learning the truth. The prospect of finding that Reed is innocent would deliver a resounding condemnation of the state’s criminal justice process — its detectives, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, jurors and appellate courts.”
There is significant case detail in the original story by The Intercept, which you can read here.
It’s been my belief that the media have done a “pretty good” job of making us aware of some of the flaws in the justice system Just as an example, I believe their coverage of exonerations has been quite good. But I also believe that one of the major obstacles to justice system reform is that the typical John and Jane Q. Public (aka: the electorate) are of the opinion that the justice system is just fine the way it is. Now there is a new group, with a new website, that is dedicated to seeing that journalism is perhaps even more active in addressing the issues with the justice system. This is The Marshall Project.
The Marshall Project’s mission statement speaks for itself, and appears below. (The bolding emphasis is mine.)
The Marshall Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization founded on two simple ideas:
1) There is a pressing national need for high-quality journalism about the American criminal justice system. The U.S. incarcerates more people than any country in the world. Spiraling costs, inhumane prison conditions, controversial drug laws, and concerns about systemic racial bias have contributed to a growing bipartisan consensus that our criminal justice system is in desperate need of reform. The recent disruption in traditional media means that fewer institutions have the resources to take on complex issues such as criminal justice. The Marshall Project stands out against this landscape by investing in journalism on all aspects of our justice system. Our work will be shaped by accuracy, fairness, independence, and impartiality, with an emphasis on stories that have been underreported or misunderstood. We will partner with a broad array of media organizations to magnify our message, and our innovative website will serve as a dynamic hub for the most significant news and comment from the world of criminal justice.
2) With the growing awareness of the system’s failings, now is an opportune moment to amplify the national conversation about criminal justice. We believe that storytelling can be a powerful agent of social change. Our mission is to raise public awareness around issues of criminal justice and the possibility for reform. But while we are nonpartisan, we are not neutral. Our hope is that by bringing transparency to the systemic problems that plague our courts and prisons, we can help stimulate a national conversation about how best to reform our system of crime and punishment.
We certainly welcome their contribution, and I look forward to following them.
On Wednesday, November 19, Nancy Petro reported on this blog about the exoneration of Ricky Jackson after 39 years in prison. See that story here.
CNN has posted a great video of his release from prison. See the 2 minute CNN video here.
It has been a remarkable week for Innocence work, and this is only Wednesday.
Yesterday, November 18, Ricky Jackson’s murder conviction was vacated in Ohio after Jackson had spent 39 years in prison. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty acknowledged the case against Jackson had disintegrated when the key witness, who was 12 years old at the time of the crime, recanted. The district attorney does not expect to retry Jackson, 57, who broke into sobs as it became clear that the charges against him were being dropped. He is expected to walk free on Friday. Continue reading
It was reported today in Japan that a man who was sentenced to 12 years in prison had been released. He was accused and convicted of rape and indecent assault, but filed a motion for a retrial.
The Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office has decided that he was actually innocent and already submitted a statement to the Osaka District Court.
It is said that the testimony of the victim which was the main evidence of his guilt was found to be false.
More news will follow…
Radley Balko, investigative reporter for the Washington Post, has just published an article dealing with the justice system’s refusal/inability to deal appropriately with false, fake, unscientific, and discredited forensic evidence post conviction.
The focus is on a case that involves the infamous Dr. Steven Hayne, a now thoroughly discredited expert witness, who was sole medical examiner for the state of Mississippi for 20 years. I urge you to read the entire article, but I’ve extracted a few particularly telling quotes:
• “The courts and the people who operate in them seem to feel that the integrity of the system demands the preservation of verdicts.”
Addressing the fact that the body of scientific knowledge grows as a process, rather than an event; coupled with the legal time restrictions for introduction of new evidence ————
• “From the perspective of the wrongly convicted, you can see the trap here. File too soon, and the court may conclude that you haven’t presented enough evidence that the forensic theory upon which you were convicted has been discredited. If you then try to file more petitions as more evidence comes out to bolster your argument, you risk the court concluding that this is an issue you’ve already raised, you lost, and you’re therefore barred from raising it again.”
• “Koon was convicted due to testimony from an expert the court now admits isn’t credible. For the same court to nevertheless uphold his conviction because he missed a deadline is to keep him in prison on a technicality. It’s a cynical outcome that suggests the criminal justice system values process more than justice.”
Read the story by Radley Balko of the Washington Post here.