by Stephen Lendman
Capital punishment is barbaric, unjust and unconscionable. It's the ultimate denial of human rights. Nothing justifies state-sponsored murder. Wrongfully executing innocent victims alone explains why.
David Protess heads the Chicago Innocence Project (ChIP). It investigates wrongful convictions. On March 19, he headlined "Executing the Death Penalty," saying:
"Since 1973, 142 death row inmates have been officially exonerated." Many others should have been but weren't. Most countries abandoned capital punishment. America uses it abusively.
On May 6, Protess headlined "Murder in Mississippi," saying:
Willie Manning is Black. In 1994, he "was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1992 murders of two white college students. (He) steadfastly professed his innocence." He still does.
Prosecutors didn't give him a chance. They claimed "Negroid" hairs "in a car used in the crime were likely his." District Attorney Forest Allgood opposed DNA testing.
He did so despite a Justice Department lawyer saying "testimony containing erroneous statements regarding microscopic hair comparison analysis was used in the case."
FBI officials offered to run more sophisticated tests. Mississippi's Supreme Court agreed with Allgood. In April, they ruled 5 - 4 against Manning. They claimed "conclusive, overwhelming evidence of guilt."
"What, exactly, was the powerful evidence that incriminated Manning," asked Protess? Mississippi's star witness was a "jailhouse snitch."
He claimed Manning admitted the killings. He lied. He later recanted. His girlfriend was also involved. She falsely "linked Manning to the murder weapon."
In court, she omitted saying "prosecutors cut (her) a sweet deal." It was on unrelated criminal charges. She got "nearly $18,000 in reward money." She was paid off to help convict Manning.
He "was further implicated by witnesses who said he tried to sell items from the female victim's car." They didn't see him remove any. His fingerprints weren't on the car. No evidence linked him to the crime scene.
Allgood's record is disturbing. In 1992, he prosecuted Kennedy Brewer. He did so on rape and murder charges. Brewer spent seven years on death row. Belated DNA evidence exonerated him.
"Allgood also wrongfully prosecuted Lavon Brooks." He was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder. He was incarcerated for 16 years. DNA evidence cleared him.
How many others wrongfully rot in gulag hell? How many nationwide? How many are guilty by accusation? How many are executed unjustly?
In America, disadvantaged Blacks and Latinos suffer most. Prosecutorial injustice denies them due process and judicial fairness.
America's the only Western country enforcing capital punishment. In December 2012, the ACLU headlined "The Case Against the Death Penalty."
It "inherently violates the constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment and the guarantees of due process of law and of equal protection under the law."
"(T)he state should not give itself the right to kill human beings - especially when it kills with premeditation and ceremony, in the name of the law or in the name of its people, and when it does so in an arbitrary and discriminatory fashion."
"Capital punishment is an intolerable denial of civil liberties and is inconsistent with the fundamental values of our democratic system. The death penalty is uncivilized in theory and unfair and inequitable in practice."
Avoiding what's unfair largely depends on available resources, the ability to enlist skilled counsel, race, and where the crime occurred.
"People of color are far more likely to be executed than white people, especially if the victim is white."
Executions waste taxpayer money. No public safety benefit is gained. Violent crime isn't deterred. The FBI found states enforcing capital punishment have the highest murder rates.
Innocent victims are harmed. "Since 1973, over 140 people have been released from death rows in 26 states because of innocence. Nationally, at least one person is exonerated for every 10 that are executed."
The ACLU "oppose(s) capital punishment on moral, practical, and constitutional grounds."
It's "cruel and unusual" punishment.
It "denies due process of law."
It "violates the constitutional guarantee of equal protection."
It's "not a viable form of crime control."
It "wastes limited resources."
"Opposing the death penalty does not indicate a lack of sympathy for murder victims."
"Changes in death sentencing have proved to be largely cosmetic."
"A society that respects life does not deliberately kill human beings."
"Capital punishment is not a deterrent to capital crimes."
Death sentences reflect racial bias.
In 1972, the Supreme Court's Furman v. Georgia ruling banned capital punishment. It said:
"(T)he imposition and carrying out of the death penalty constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments." Doing so is "harsh, freakish, and arbitrary." It's constitutionally "unacceptable."
In Gregg v. Georgia (1976), the High Court reversed its earlier ruling. It called capital punishment not inherently cruel. It's only "an extreme sanction, suitable to the most extreme of crimes."
In 2000, former Illinois Gov. George Ryan declared a moratorium on capital punishment. He did so after 13 prisoners were found innocent and released.
On January 11, 2003, two days before leaving office, he cleared death row. He commuted sentences for 163 men and four women to life imprisonment. He declared a moratorium on future executions, saying:
"The facts that I have seen in reviewing each and every one of these cases raised questions not only about (their innocence), but about the fairness of the death penalty system as a whole."
"Our capital system is haunted by the demon of error: error in determining guilt and error in determining who among the guilty deserves to die."
He called capital punishment "arbitrary, capricious, and therefore immoral." He ended his tenure by pardoning four men.
He issued a blanket commutation for all state death row prisoners. He said "(t)he legislature couldn't reform it, lawmakers won't repeal it, and I won't stand for it - I must act."
In January 2011, Illinois' legislature voted to end capital punishment.
In March, Gov. Pat Quinn signed the legislation. Doing so officially abolished it. He said it's impossible "to create a perfect, mistake-free death penalty system."
Currently, 18 states and the District of Columbia have no death penalty statute. Mississippi still does. Manning's execution was scheduled for May 7.
On May 6, the ACLU headlined "Tomorrow, Willie Manning Is Scheduled to Die. Shouldn't Mississippi Find Out If He's Innocent First," saying:
"Manning's case has many of the hallmarks of those other innocent death row exonerees: false snitch testimony, junk science, and racial bias."
Prosecutors "stacked the deck" against him. They "systematically" excluded African-American jurors. Evidence used to convict him "turned out to be a sham." Justice was denied.
Protess explained the execution process. He'd "be strapped to a gurney and injected with chemicals that (would) paralyze his lungs and stop his heart."
Doing so constitutes torture. What better definition of cruel and unusual punishment.
Protess asked, "It would be nice to know if he were guilty?" What's known suggests he's not.
Perhaps we'll learn for sure. On May 7, hours before he was scheduled to die, Mississippi's Supreme Court stayed his execution. They ruled 8 - 1, saying:
"After due consideration, the Court finds that the Motion to Stay Execution should be granted until further Order of this Court."
"IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the Motion to Stay Execution filed by Willie Jerome Manning is hereby granted pending further Order of this Court."
"SO ORDERED, this 7th day of May, 2013."
"ANN H. LAMAR, JUSTICE FOR THE COURT."
Days earlier, the Justice Department sent three letters. They explained erroneous trial testimony. Defense attorneys used them. They urged staying Manning's execution until DNA tests are conducted.
State attorney general Jim Hood denied their request. He claimed "overwhelming evidence of guilt." High Court justices disagreed. Manning's execution was stayed. It remains to be seen if they'll order DNA testing. Doing so perhaps will exonerate Manning.
Justice in America is deeply flawed. On April 16, 2012, the Washington Post headlined "Convicted defendants left uninformed of forensic flaws found by Justice Dept."
DOJ "officials have known for years that flawed forensic work might have led to the convictions of potentially innocent people, but prosecutors failed to notify defendants or their attorneys even in many cases they knew were troubled."
Many defendants nationwide "remain in prison or on parole for crimes that might merit exoneration, a retrial or a retesting of DNA evidence because FBI hair and fiber experts may have misidentified them as suspects."
Innocent victims are wrongfully imprisoned. Some face capital punishment. Blacks and Latinos are most vulnerable.
Flaws have been known for decades. A "veil of secrecy" conceals them. According to National Whistleblower Center general counsel David Colapinto:
"The government has hidden behind (it) to shield these abuses despite official assurances that justice would be done."
The American Bar Association and others want stronger ethics rules. Prosecutorial injustice casts doubt on many convictions.
They urge permitting defense access to laboratories and other files. They also want clearer reporting and evidence retention, greater involvement of scientists in setting rules for testimonies, and giving lawyers and judges scientific training.
Others propose more oversight. Many federal, state and local prosecutions are inherently flawed.
Defense lawyers and forensic experts want police and prosecutors excluded from overseeing scientific analysis. Their bias to convict taints them.
A Final Comment
More information on Manning can be found at Justice4Willie.com. It explained he's locked in a small, single person cell. In summer, it's extremely hot and uncomfortable.
He's allowed exercise outside five times weekly. Each time it's for an hour. He's placed in a one-person yard pen. It resembles a cage. He can walk in circles or do exercises.
Outside his cell or pen yard, his hands and ankles are shackled. He's allowed visitors twice monthly. A glass partition separates them.
He's not allowed to work. He can't earn what little it pays to make incarceration somewhat more bearable.
He gets one small bar of prison-made soap weekly. He's not given toothpaste or other personal hygiene items. In 2010, he wrote:
"This is one of the worst things that any person could ever go through in their life."
"I would have never thought that I could last 16 years in a small cell and still (somehow) be able to hold on to a small bit of my sanity."
"I think that people just have to continue to find ways to keep their mind occupied and try to stay as focused as one possibly can under the circumstances."
He's seen other death row inmates taken away to be executed. He's held up best he can. He studied law. He did so to fight for his rights. He's also written poetry. It's based on death row experiences.
One he titled "When Death Row Speaks."
"When death row speaks
It comes truly from the heart â€¦
It's a lonely situation
The frustration's just a start
How many times have I shed tears â€¦
How many people have to die â€¦
Before this nation starts to realize
That this system's all a lie?
You got the Money and the Power
Then your Rights will be protected
If you're Poor and if you're Brown â€¦
Then your Rights will be rejected
The innocent is being caught up â€¦
People falling through the cracks â€¦
Witnesses are being bought up â€¦
Law enforcements pulling 'jacks'
Then you tell me I'm entitled
To have a jury of my peers â€¦
Eleven whites all over 40 â€¦
You've just reaffirmed my fears
Because I came up in the ghetto â€¦
Everyone I saw was black â€¦
All my peers were in their 20's â€¦
And they're the ones who had my back
Most have known me all my life
Know that I'll never take another â€¦
So you can save that 'Killer' shit â€¦
'cause they're not buying that, my brother
So you can run up to the mountain
And you can yell it from the peak â€¦
But it's all real when fly* come at'chu â€¦
And when death row starts to speak
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His new book is titled "Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity."
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.
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