Justice Stevens: We Executed an Innocent Man

Justice Stevens: We Executed an Innocent Man January 29, 2015

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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