When Justice Backfires: At Least 4.1% Of Death Row Convicts Are Innocent

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Michael Ransom, Contributing EditorLast Modified: 20:38 p.m. DST, 6 May 2014

"Operating Room" Photo by: StudioTempuraWASHINGTON, DC - Until last week, the accuracy of death penalty application in the United States had been the subject of speculation. Given to the trades of debate and guesswork, even prominent thinkers with important positions in the judicial system add to the growing body of conjecture. In 2007, Justice Antonin Scalia calculated that the American legal system is correct 99.973% of the time. His math, data and motives are altogether dubious, and his claims carry very little weight in both judicial and scientific circles. 

Rate of false conviction of criminal defendants who are sentenced to death is a landmark study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and written by Gross, O'Brien, Hu and Kennedy, who are researchers at University of Michigan Law, Michigan State Law, American College of Radiology and University of Pennsylvania Medicine, respectively. They conclude that no less than 4.1% of death row inmates have been wrongly convicted, a percentage they say is the most conservative calculation possible, according to records from 1989 to 2012.

These experts use data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics from the Department of Justice and numbers from The Death Penalty Information Center to arrive at their findings. Using survival analysis, the team is able to isolate the frequency at which wrongful convictions are overturned, and apply that ratio to the death row population. Resources and legal expertise are rationed to inmates nearing their scheduled execution, and survival analysis standardizes the effects of these efforts in uncovering groundless convictions across the board. The authors of the study and many in the national conversation agree that the true number of innocent convicts living on death row is much higher.

Meanwhile, executions throughout the country have gained considerable media attention. As European producers of lethal drugs have stopped supplying their products to the United States for the express purpose of execution, officials have struggled to obtain injections that are neither cruel nor unusual. Last week, convicted murderer and rapist Clayton Lockett was put to death in Oklahoma with a needle that introduced only certain ingredients of the drug cocktail into his bloodstream. Lockett's execution was halted midway, and he died ten minutes later of a heart attack. Charles Warner is the next to be executed in Oklahoma, and he is seeking postponement while Lockett's proceedings are investigated by a third-party.

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Published: 6 May 2014 (Page 2 of 2)

The Supreme Court of Oklahoma has recently sounded off on inmates' request for the names and types of substances that they will be administered. The court found that it is constitutional to withhold this information from convicts. Justice Steven Taylor responded that they had no more right to this disclosure than "if they were being executed in the electric chair, they would have no right to know whether OG&E or PSO were providing the electricity; if they were being hanged, they would have no right to know whether it be cotton or nylon rope; or if they were being executed by firing squad, they would have no right to know whether it be by Winchester or Remington ammunition."

Well, that sounded poetic, and almost made sense. But Lockett's inadequate execution is just one of many similar cases recently, ever since untested American drugs have taken the place of better-researched European counterparts. This national experiment has yielded cruel results, such as the Ohio inmate who cried "I can feel my whole body burning" during his lethal injection earlier this year. So, Taylor's statement would be more accurate if he offered comparisons that mirror the humane nature of former injections and the inhumane reality of newer concoctions. Surely Taylor would agree that death row convicts should know whether they would be killed by high voltage or low voltage electric shocks; nylon rope or barbed wire; Winchester rounds or rubber bullets. Similarly, Taylor should acknowledge the inherent difference between the type of injection that renders the individual unconscious before killing him, and the type that leaves people writhing on the gurney, slowly dying from a heart attack. 

True, the crimes of these two men in Oklahoma are heinous, and true, they should never be free to walk the streets again. But soon the nation will have to come to terms with the costs of capital punishment, and not in terms of dollars and cents. Of the 121 inmates on death row in Arizona, at least 5 are innocent according to Rate of false conviction. In Texas, the national sanctuary of  the death penalty, 273 are awaiting execution and no less than 10 of these individuals are innocent. California's collection of convicts numbers 746, which includes at least 29 innocent people. Nationwide, 3,108 offenders are waiting on death row. The only problem? 124 of these people did not commit the offense. And probably more.

A common and intelligible rallying cry behind the death penalty is "if your loved one was senselessly taken by a vicious predator, maybe then you would understand." Certainly. It is a tragedy that anyone should be taken before their time. Inherent in that statement, though, is the value of human life, especially moral and upright people. Americans will need to address issues in the application of the death penalty and the conditions in society that make murder and rape commonplace. When the stakes are life and death, why perpetuate the injustice to 124+ more victims? Why extend that pain to countless more family members?

These 124 and more upcoming executions are preventable deaths. The desire to apply justice to reprehensible perpetrators should not turn us into criminals ourselves.

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Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Editor: @MAndrewRansom

CNN: Silent Running on Call to Retract Sympathy For Steubenville Rapists

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Patrice Ellerbe, Staff WriterLast Modified: 01:00 a.m. DST, 23 March 2013

Trent Mays, Steubenville, OH Rape Victim

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio - Two high school football players, Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’lik Richmond, 16, were found guilty of raping a heavily intoxicated 16-year old girl in Steubenville, Ohio last August. According to CNN reports, the victim was noticeably intoxicated as the rape occurred. Although the two teens were found guilty early this week, it is interesting to hear how the media has responded to the controversial case.

Adam Mordecai, a contributor to Upworthy news site, suggests CNN focused more on the convicted rapists rather than the victim. On the Upworthy site, Mordecai lists the gist of the statements made as the press somewhat sympathized with the football players. CNN correspondents made at least six statements in reference to the teen boys’  “impressive resumes”, altered decisions as an effect of underage drinking, bravery, and more. One statement even mentioned the reporter felt the boys’ lives will be harder after they are convicted.

It becomes shocking when the media defends men for raping a young woman. The boys were aware of what was going on. Not only have they destroyed their futures, but they scarred a young woman for eternity. Although teens will be teens, there is no excuse for what these teens have done. The media has been insensitive to the victim as well as her family. It seems as if the media is behind the teens, hoping they recover and are less concerned about the victim.

Candy Crowley, a journalist for CNN, stated on air, “I cannot imagine how emotional the sentencing must have been....a 16-year-old, sobbing in court, regardless of what big football players they are, they still sound like 16-year-olds. What is the lasting effect of two young men being found guilty in juvenile court essentially of rape?"

Poppy Carlow, a CNN reporter, said outside the courtroom after the sentencing, “It was incredibly difficult to watch as these two young men who had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watch as they believed their lives fell apart.”

Another CNN correspondent, “Paul Callan”, said “There's always that moment of justice when lives are destroyed. But in terms of what happens now, the most severe thing with these young men is being labeled as sex offenders. That label is now placed on them by Ohio law. That will haunt them for the rest of their lives.”

According to the Huffington Post, CNN reported a statement from the victim’s mother who said the verdicts are “the start of a new beginning for my daughter. We need to stress the importance of helping those in need and to stand up for what is right.” It doesn’t seem as though CNN has taken her advice.

The teen girl was highly sedated and practically unconscious when Mays and Richmond were performing the ruthless sexual acts. Reports read Mays was given a longer sentence because he released photos through text messages, of the rape.

Recollection of that night was given by numerous teen witnesses. According to an unidentified witness, the girl was seen hunched over and violently vomiting. She was then seen sitting in the middle of the street where the party was located. She was ridiculed and eventually left there for the time being.

When questioned in the court room, teen witnesses clearly showed they were unaware of the definition of rape. When asked why they didn’t stop the rape, a teen witness responded “It wasn’t violent”, insinuating it was only considered rape if they were forcing themselves on the female. The male witness that gave this respond also stated he walked in the room during the time the victim was being violated. He could see she was unresponsive to the acts, however, he did not stop it.

Earlier that night, teens witnessed Richmond and Mays in the back seat of a car with the 16-year-old female. Video of the setting was obtained by police, where they saw Richmond and Mays fondling the girl and passing the video camera around.

Even with increased public outcry and pressure on the network, CNN has remained silent on its original stance of focusing more on the perpetrators than the victim. Richmond received a minimum of one year in a youth correctional institution, but is eligible to receive a longer sentence. Mays receive one year for the rape and an additional year as well. Both boys will have to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives, and can remain incarcerated until they turn 21.

UPDATE 26.3.13: As Editor-in-Chief it was my decision to publish the article with the selected title. The substance of the article is about the fact that CNN should have focused more on the victim than on the perpetrators.

In the ensuing controversy CNN and other media outlets no longer continue to solicit sympathy for the perpetrators, but for many it is not enough. A verbal, written retraction is being sought via a petition; however, whether this occurs or not, CNN has retreated into silence on this issue.

We appreciate all constructive criticism, but personal attacks are unwelcome. The title and post have been edited to clarify our position.

Thank you, Ayanna Nahmias Editor-in-Chief **********************************************

Follow Patrice Ellerbe on Twitter
Twitter: @nahmias_report Staff Writer: @PatriceEllerbe