An op-ed by John Thompson, who spent fourteen years on death row after being wrongfully convicted of murder only to be exonerated later by withheld evidence:
Over the years, I was given six execution dates, but all of them were delayed until finally my appeals were exhausted. The seventh — and last — date was set for May 20, 1999. My lawyers had been with me for 11 years by then; they flew in from Philadelphia to give me the news. They didn’t want me to hear it from the prison officials. They said it would take a miracle to avoid this execution. I told them it was fine — I was innocent, but it was time to give up…
Amazingly, I got a miracle. The same day that my lawyers visited, an investigator they had hired to look through the evidence one last time found, on some forgotten microfiche, a report sent to the prosecutors on the blood type of the perpetrator of the armed robbery. It didn’t match mine; the report, hidden for 15 years, had never been turned over to my lawyers. The investigator later found the names of witnesses and police reports from the murder case that hadn’t been turned over either.
this kind of thing terrifies me, keeps me up at night. we have a complicated system to ensure the rights of criminal defendants, but it’s clear from cases like this that there are massive gaps in compliance and it’s up to the incarcerated inmate (or the family of the executed inmate, to be real) to take on investigation and enforcement actions.
the existence of countless stories of an inmate’s team finding exculpatory evidence or prosecutorial misconduct or major problems with the legal proceedings after execution dates have been scheduled should indicate that the process is so fundamentally flawed that there’s no way we can implement a penalty as significant and irrevocable as execution based on these flawed proceedings. and that even if we do eliminate the death penalty, there’s still a whole lot that needs to be done to address the legal system’s tendency to force low-income and/or minority defendants into convictions whether or not the evidence is there.