On February 11, 2009 the State of Florida put Wayne Tompkins to death by lethal injection at Florida State Prison. Tompkins had spent over 20 years on death row, of which at least the last six years were on “death watch” Through the years there have been many appeals, most of which focused on Tomkins’s consistently pled claim that he was not guilty of the alleged rape and murder of his then girlfriend’s 14 years old daughter.
The evidence against Tompkins was completely circumstantial. There were no witnesses, no physical or forensic evidence, and no confessions to establish that Tompkins actually raped or killed the young woman. At trial the State convinced the jury of Tompkins’s guilt by calling upon another teenage girl who claimed that she had visited the house where Tompkins and the teen victim – her “best friend” – told her to “call the police” This witness then left, but did not call the police or contact anyone.
The body of the teen girl was later discovered concealed beneath the house where they had lived. But arguably because of decomposition no forensic evidence (DNA, hair etc) could be recovered.
At Tompkins’s trial nobody could say that they actually saw Tompkins kill the victim and nobody could say that she was the victim of a sexual assault. But as is only too common in questionably, wholly circumstantial cases, the State called upon a ‘jailhouse snitch” to testily that Tompkins confessed to him that he committed this crime. For those who are unfamiliar with what a “jailhouse snitch” is, it is another inmate who agrees to testify for the state to help convict someone in exchange for a reduced sentence in his (or her) crime.
The courts have consistently recognizes that the testimony of jailhouse snitches is highly unreliable. Basically you have a person in jail for committing a crime who knows that by ageing to testify that another prisoner “confessed” he will have his own sentence significantly reduced. Some courts have went as far as calling such testimony prosecutional prostitution, using these jailhouse snitches as whores paid to knowingly lie and send innocent men to their death just to help themselves.
In the Tampa Bay area where Tompkins was convicted and condemned to death, the local prosecutors had long relied upon “jailhouse snitches” to win convictions. As reflected in published cases a great number of these convictions were later overturned and in many cases it was later revealed that the “jailhouse snitch” deliberately fabricated the incriminating testimony, knowingly sending an innocent person to prison – and even to death row – just to win a reduced sentence on a crime they did commit.
Considering the well established unreliability of jailhouse snitch testimony, and the long history of unethical prosecutors using that they know is false testimony deliberately elicited by the lowest form of scum – those that would sell out their own mother just to avoid prison themselves – should we as moral society to be put to death upon the word of a jailhouse snitch?
I have been on death row myself now for almost 26 years. During that time I came to know Wayne Tompkins personally. As an American Native, he went by the name “Grey Cloud”. A few years back I introduced him to a female penpal who he later married. I think it’s fair to say that me and Grey Cloud were close, even perhaps “friends”. In all the time that I’ve known him he has always insisted that he did not kill that young woman.
Now does it make sense that only one prisoner out of thousands that Grey Cloud came to know through the years said he admitted his guilt? How is it that a man can be convicted and condemned to death on the word of this one inmate when many other prisoners would readily testify that Grey Cloud has always said that he was innocent?
Grey Cloud’s execution bothers me. Many of those that I’ve come to know through the quarter of a century here on Florida’s death row have been executed, or committed suicide, or died of natural causes and it’s never easy when someone you know passes on.
But what about when the state sanctioned execution becomes murder? The death penalty is a punishment imposed under law and exclusively dependent upon first finding that the person to be put to death actually did commit the crime of capital murder. Even then though, the death penalty can only be imposed if additional “ aggravating circumstances” are found and the jury hearing the evidence specifically recommends imposing the death penalty.
But nobody can deny that our judicial system is far less then perfect. In recent years at least 25 prisoners on Florida’s death row alone have been found to have been wrongfully convicted and then judicially exonerated and released from prison. Recently the ‘Innocence Project” has announced that just in the last decade they have proven the innocence of at least 200 men through DNA evidence. This undeniable virtual epidemic of injustice should compel any person of moral conscience to question the validity of any conviction based upon wholly circumstantial evidence. The fact is that as a civilized society we owe it to ourselves to insist that if we are going to put a person to death, there can not be any question of guilt. To allow any execution of a person whose guilt is not in question will inevidently result in the execution of an innocent person.
When capital punishment is carried out in the name of “We, the People” and never one innocent person is wrongfully executed, then we as a society are all guilty of cold-blooded murder. Maybe even in spite of my wrongful conviction I still remain naïve, but I like to believe - I got to believe – that we as a society are better than that.
That brings me to what also really bothered me about grey Cloud’s execution last week – his long pled claim of innocence wasn’t even an issue, not a single newspaper or television station even mentioned it although just a few months ago the Florida Supreme Court specifically addressed the claim of innocence in a published court opinion. Although obviously the court ruled against him on a legal technicality, the legitimate issue of innocence was not fully addressed and resolved.
What if Wayne Tompkins actually was innocent? What if yet again our judicial system made a mistake – only this time that mistake went uncorrected and we, as a society, just murdered an innocent man? Can even one person today step forward and declare under oath with absolute certainty based upon personal knowledge that Wayne Tompkins actually committed the murder that he has now been executed for?
Nobody can. Wayne Tompkins was not executed because the state proved his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Rather, as is only too common, Wayne Tompkins was put to death because he couldn’t prove his innocence. Maybe Tompkins actually was guilty, but how do we know for sure? And if we don’t know for sure, then how do we know with moral certainty that we did not execute an innocent man?
No matter what side of the fence you stand on the issue of capital punishment, I know of no one who would argue that the execution of an innocent person is justified. But if we are not morally certain of the condemned man’s guilt, then how can we be certain that we didn’t just execute an innocent man?
I would ask you to check out my website www.southerninjustice.com and then ask yourself if we can really be sure that our courts are willing to protect against the execution of the innocent – or are our courts so politically corrupted that they will knowingly put innocent people to death?
From The Official Blog of the Innocence Project of Florida, Inc.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
From a friend of Tompkins
Michael Lambrix has been on death row in Florida for 26 years. Today one of his journals is posted on the Death Row Journals blog here. He expresses sadness and disbelief over Wayne Tompkins' execution on February 11 of this year. Having known Tompkins personally, and referring to him by his Native American name "Grey Cloud," Lambrix explains that Tompkins' conviction was based entirely on circumstantial evidence, and he explains his more general misgivings over death sentences that are obtained all the time with such scant evidence. This was a particularly well-written section:
But nobody can deny that our judicial system is far less then perfect. In recent years at least 25 prisoners on Florida’s death row alone have been found to have been wrongfully convicted and then judicially exonerated and released from prison. Recently the ‘Innocence Project” has announced that just in the last decade they have proven the innocence of at least 200 men through DNA evidence. This undeniable virtual epidemic of injustice should compel any person of moral conscience to question the validity of any conviction based upon wholly circumstantial evidence. The fact is that as a civilized society we owe it to ourselves to insist that if we are going to put a person to death, there can not be any question of guilt. To allow any execution of a person whose guilt [is] in question will inevidently [sic] result in the execution of an innocent person.
The Maryland Senate took hesitant steps recently to assure that death sentences could only be handed down in cases where there was biological evidence, a taped confession, or a taped crime. That is a meaningful step, but it does not go far enough.