After seeing stories in the news of vicious, disgusting, violent murders
against children, police – people just going about their business, it’s hard
NOT to exclaim, “Let ’em fry!”. I did for years. It’s
human nature – when you see someone as a threat to life you want to protect
yourself and your loved ones from that threat. If a serial killer is
caught, it is anyone’s first instinct to remove any chance that he or she can
ever be in close enough proximity to ever kill again.
And then there is vengeance. We want justice for victims of these
unspeakable crimes. They have taken the life of another and therefore
they must give their life in punishment. An eye for an eye. The
most ancient form of justice.
I believed everything in the above paragraphs. Until today.
The straw that broke the camel’s back? Cornelius Dupree, age 51, of Houston, was exonerated
today after DNA testing of the rape/robbery he was convicted of in 1979 proved
his innocence. I was born in 1979. A then 21 year old man
spent 31 years of a 75 year sentence in prison, his family shamed, his reputation
ruined – his freedom gone. Because a jury made a mistake. Or maybe
the prosecution was vigorous and misleading. Does the reason
matter? It happened.
Then there is Anthony
Graves, who spent 18 years on death row based on testimony that was
false and has since been retracted. Thank God the witness who lied came
forward before his execution was scheduled and carried out.
Then there is Claude
Jones, put to death – executed – in the name of the citizens of the
State of Texas
in the year 2000. This year, one decade after his death – it was proven
through DNA analysis that the one hair fragment found at the scene of the crime
was not his.
Alejandro, Convicted of aggravated sexual assault and sentenced to 12
years: 1990. Exonerated by DNA evidence in 1994. In his original
trial expert testimony linked his DNA to the crime, falsely. He
served 4 years.
Blair, Convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death: 1994.
Exonerated: 2008. DNA proved he did not commit the
crime. He had been identified by an eyewitness. He served 14 years.
Convicted of rape and kidnapping and sentenced to 99 years: 1983.
Exonerated: 2000. He was convicted based on eyewitness and victim
testimony, he was exonerated when DNA cleared him after he served 16 years.
Convicted of rape and sentenced to life : 1985. Exonerated:
1997. He was convicted based on identification four months after
the crime by the victim. DNA cleared him after he served 12 years.
Chatman, Convicted of aggravated rape and sentenced to 99 years in
1981. Exonerated: 2008. After serving 26 years in
prison, he was cleared by DNA testing.
Cole, Convicted of aggravated sexual assault and sentenced to 25 years
in 1986. Exonerated: 2009. Timothy Cole never learned
of his exoneration. He died in prison in 1999, 13 years after his
conviction. The man who committed the rape that Cole was convicted of had
written letters to police and prosecutors in Lubbock, TX,
confessing to the rape that were never acknowledged. The letters were
written in 1995, four years prior to Cole’s death.
Convicted of aggravated sexual assault and sentenced to 99 years in 1990.
Exonerated: 2000. Criner was pardoned by Governor George W. Bush
after it was found evidence of his innocence was withheld by prosecutors.
He served 10 years.
Danziger and Christopher
Ochoa, both convicted of aggravated sexual assault, Ochoa to murder and
sentenced in 1990. Exonerated: 2002. Ochoa confessed to
the crime and implicated Danziger; the confession was false and they were
pardoned by George W. Bush in 2002 after they were cleared by DNA
evidence. They served 12 years.
Want me to keep going? The Innocence project lists 32 more people falsely
convicted and later exonerated, just in Texas.
That we know of. 60%
of exonerated prisoners in the United States are African
American. What makes that even more terrifying is that , according
justicepolicy.org, 70% of Texas
prisoners are either African-American or Hispanic.
There are more African
American men of all ages in prison in Texas (66,300) than in the higher
education system (40,800) 8 A national report published by JPI in August 2003
showed that nearly twice as many African Americans men in their earlier 30s
have prison records (22%) than Bachelors degrees (12%).
So, if 60% of exonerated
prisoners are African-American and African-Americans are incarcerated at a rate
of five times
higher* than their Caucasian counterparts, how can anyone
have enough faith in our system of justice to allow the death penalty to remain
an option? It is enough to not only change my mind but to make me feel
shame that I so strongly held and argued for a position that has cost untold
We could have a debate as to whether this is further evidence of
institutionalized racism in Texas or it is simply just more evidence as to how
people of different races unintentionally have difficulty distinguishing facial
features, leading to multiple false identifications – but I don’t think it
matters. There must be an immediate stay of execution for all death
penalty inmates until these cases are re-examined and the legislature must put
partisan politics aside to protect the freedom of our citizens and the
integrity of our courts.
Please take a moment to write your representative.
*(3,734 per 100,000,
compared to 694 per 100,000 Whites)