Justice Stevens: We Executed an Innocent Man

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens gave a talk recently where he said it’s a virtual certainty that the state of Texas (of course) executed an innocent man in 1989. That case was made in a book about the case many years ago and Stevens says the evidence is overwhelming.

During a lecture at the University of Florida on Jan. 20, retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens acknowledged evidence that proved “beyond a shadow of doubt” that Texas executed an innocent man in the 1980s.

Stevens referred to a book The Wrong Carlos by Columbia Law School professor James Liebman, saying that it had sufficiently demonstrated that “there is a Texas case in which they executed the wrong defendant and the person they executed did not in fact commit the crime for which he was punished.”…

Scalia stated, “[There has not been] a single case – not one – in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit. If such an event had occurred… the innocent’s name would be shouted from the rooftops.”

Stevens, while referring to Scalia’s comments, said, “But now I think Jim (Liebman) has found a case that one cannot deny.”

In advocating for abolishing the death penalty, Stevens said, “I think it’s a sufficient argument against the death penalty… that society should not take the risk that that might happen again. Because it’s intolerable to think that our government, for not really powerful reasons, runs the risk of executing innocent people.”

I think this is exactly right. We now have nearly 350 people who have been exonerated by DNA evidence after spending years, sometimes decades, in prison for crimes they did not commit. The fact that we only have DNA evidence in a small percentage of cases makes it a virtual certainty that there are thousands, tens of thousands, of innocent people in prison. But at least in prison, there is a chance they can be exonerated and set free. Once in a grave, there’s nothing we can do. The death penalty should be abolished.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • D. C. Sessions

    They got a fair trial and all due process. The law does not, as the SCOTUS points out, deal in “objective innocence.” So quit complaining.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Wrong! This is a red herring from you Soft on Crime bleeding hearts! The real question is “How are all these criminals changing their DNA?”

  • Abdul Alhazred

    Texas executes so many, it’s a sure bet there will be someone innocent in there, just by law of large numbers.

  • Francisco Bacopa

    Not only have people been executed in Texas form crimes they did not commit, Cameron Todd Willingham was executed when there was not even a crime.

  • weaver

    That’s not the only time that Texas executed an innocent man.

    Cameron Todd Willingham was also innocent of the crime for which he was convicted and executed.

  • dingojack

    And yet videos of IS members beheading people is ‘inhumane’ — hello, Texas!

    @@ Dingo

  • weatherwax

    Whenever I hear ‘Texas Justice system’ I remember a case from 20 – 30 years ago, that sadly I can never find a reference for.

    An African American man, who’d committed crimes in Texas and done time, had moved to southern California to straighten his life out. While he was here, an armed robbery was committed back in Texas, somehow his name came up, and Texas extradited him.

    During his trial his attorney presented his time card and testimony from his co-workers and boss that he was at work, in Chula Vista, California, at the time of the robbery.

    They CONVICTED HIM ANYWAY, and sentenced him to a lengthy jail term. The state of California had to put up a major stink to get him released and sent back.

  • Stevarious, Public Health Problem

    And yet videos of IS members beheading people is ‘inhumane’ — hello, Texas!

    I wonder if there’s some sort of difference between the ISIS victims and the Texas executions that could explain the disparity of reaction. Sort sort of, you know, characteristic that makes a particular murder more or less ‘inhumane’. Maybe some sort of visual cue, perhaps? Like, a color-coding system for perpetrators and victims that a particularly lazy person might avail themselves of to identify who the ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ are in a situation?

  • doubter

    @ Stevarios: Hear, hear! The possibility (now a near-certainty) that innocent people have been executed is horrible, but is ultimately a side issue. Even if we had a 100% reliable method for determining guilt, killing is still wrong. And a state execution, carried out after years of deliberation and procedure, is the coldest of cold-blooded murders. I can accept killing in the immediate defense of your own or another life, but that’s it.

  • https://www.facebook.com/JohnnyRuin Chris Walker

    @ weatherwax

    The case you’re thinking of involved Rickey Dale Thomas. You can find the story here:

    http://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Pages/casedetail.aspx?caseid=3964

  • gshelley

    Given the large number of exonerations of people sentenced to death where there was DNA, we should expect something similar in cases where ther is no DNA and unless you think that somehow the system magically only proceeds to execution with people who actually committed the crime, innocent people will be executed.

  • weatherwax

    Chris Walker, Thank you.

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org Area Man

    Scalia stated, “[There has not been] a single case – not one – in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit. If such an event had occurred… the innocent’s name would be shouted from the rooftops.”

    That has got to be one of history’s all-time greatest bullshit statements.

    I mean, can Scalia prove that his dog didn’t eat someone? With 100% certainty?

  • D. C. Sessions

    I mean, can Scalia prove that his dog didn’t eat someone? With 100% certainty?

    It doesn’t matter whether his dog (or Scalia himself) ever ate someone. Only whether the proper (as currently defined by SCOTUS) process was followed in determining that said dog (or said Associate Justice) did in fact consume said person as charged.

  • Stevarious, Public Health Problem

    If such an event had occurred… the innocent’s name would be shouted from the rooftops.”

    Based on this statement, I’m guessing a person would be forgiven for climbing onto Scalia’s roof and shouting some names, right?

  • https://www.facebook.com/danny.lampley Danny Lampley

    @ weatherwax Or equally likely, Lenell Geter. http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20197110,00.html

  • StevoR

    Shit!

  • StevoR

    This. Should. NOT. Happen.

  • StevoR

    I still support the death penalty – used properly and for only the very worst of the worst offences of all and only when there is no doubt of guilt at all.

    But, yeah, this is horrifyingly and sickeningly wrong and should NOT have happened.

  • llewelly

    “Wrong! This is a red herring from you Soft on Crime bleeding hearts! The real question is “How are all these criminals changing their DNA?”

    They’re eating Monsanto foods.

  • llewelly

    “… the innocent’s name would be shouted from the rooftops …”

    You’ll be amazed to learn that the evidence that lots of innocent people have been executed is all over the fucking internet, which a lot better way to get people’s attention than shouting from a rooftop.

    In other words, either Scalia doesn’t know how to use technology that’s been around more than 15 fucking years, or he’s just fucking lying again.