Countless books have been written and movies made about “the perfect murder” with fictional plots that ingeniously weave a web of diabolical motive and opportunity so creatively twisted that the reader must wonder what the truth really is, but in the end there’s always that one small detail that trips up the cold blooded killer and the heinous crime is exposed and the murderer quickly brought to justice. In this fictional world, truth and justice always prevail, as that’s how we always want a story to end. In a fundamental and inherent way, we delight in the gratification of knowing that justice was done.
If only this were true in the real world. All too often the truly diabolical cold-blooded killer can so easily twist our own perception of the truth so that all we really see is nothing more then what they want us to see, and then they commit an act of cold-blooded murder right before our own eyes, as in our ignorance of the truth, we even cheer them on and applaud them for taking another life in our own name. I’m talking about the state sanctioned serial killers who spent their careers methodically preying upon the innocents and without conscience, exploiting the overwhelming power of the almighty state to deliberately perpetuate the most inconceivable of injustices – the intentional execution of an innocent man.
What is truly remarkable is just how deliberately ignorant we choose to be, refusing to see the inconvenient truth that innocent people are being executed - and these executions are being carried out in our name. We – you and me, and all of us who silently stand by and say nothing as these executions are being carried out – are the cold blooded killers committing the quintessential “perfect murder” (please read “Where do we draw the line of moral responsibility”)
Incredibly, most of us will find that statement offensive, as our own conscience will conveniently create excuses as to why we are not responsible. After all, none of us actually pulled the switch, or put the needle in the arm to bring about the execution of an innocent man. “We” had nothing to do with it and probably didn’t even know about it. But make no mistake, if you really want to see the face of a cold blooded killer committing the perfect murder, then all you have to do is just look in the mirror. In our constitutional democracy our government only has the power “we” the people give them. And when the state carries out an execution, they do it in our name. By choosing to remain silent and refusing to speak out against the continued practice of pursuing executions in cases of questionable innocence, we become the cold blooded killers.
The truly tragic commentary on the state of our contemporary society is that there are those intimately familiar with the dynamics of the administration of our judicial system who have now for years spoken out and admitted that we are executing innocent people, but nobody wants to listen, their words go unheard and they are even labeled “bleeding heart liberals” and openly ridiculed by pro-death penalty politicians and rabid judicial activists only too eager to invoke and inflame the lynch mob frenzy that all too often makes inconvenient truths and reason irrelevant as this intoxication of blood-lust and vengeance take control – and they know it.
Numerous Supreme Court Justices have now openly admitted that innocent people have been and will be put to death. Recently US Supreme Court Justice Sandra day O’ Connor public ally admitted that we are executing innocent people (see. “Justice has doubts about death penalty: Justice O’ Connor says “The system may well be allowing some innocent defendants to be executed’ St Petersburg Times, July 4 2001), only to subsequently be ridiculed by pro death penalty politicians and coerced into silence.
Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Gerald Kogan, who spent his career as both a prosecutor and judge, also made it clear that there is no doubt that we are executing the innocent. In a speech given in Orlando, Florida on October 23, 1999 (see also “Justice questions guild of executed” Gainesville Sun, December 24, 1998) former Chief justice Kogan proclaimed;
“I estimate that, in the last 40 years, I have participated either as a prosecutor, as a defense attorney, as a trial judge, or as an appellate judge to the Supreme Court in the deposition of more than 1200 capital cases….There is no question in my mind, and I can tell you this having seen the dynamics of our criminal justice system over the many years that I have been associated with it; prosecutor, defense attorney, trial judge and supreme court Justice, that convinces me that we certainly have, in the past, executed those people who either didn’t fir the criteria for execution in the state of Florida or who in fact were factually not guilty of the crime for which they have been executed”
With such an unequivocal declaration by someone so intimately familiar with the judicial process, can any of us actually say with absolute certainly that innocent people are not being executed?
It is human nature to become conveniently blind to what we don’t want to see, especially it the inconvenient truth makes us morally uncomfortable. It is only too easy to say that there is no way innocent people are being executed as every capital case goes through countless state and federal appeals challenging the validity of the conviction before the person can be put to death. But we know now with absolute certainty that this appellate review process does not weed out the innocent and protect them from execution.
A few years ago United States District Court Judge Rakoff dared to confront this inconvenient truth in united States v. Quinones, 205 F.Supp.2d 256 (S.O.N.Y 2002) when the Federal government attempted to seek the death penalty against an accused murderer. After an exhaustive analysis of the issue, Judge Rakoff concluded that the government must be prohibited from even attempting to seek the death penalty as the evidence conclusively shows that the system itself has become so corrupted by errors that even allowing the government to seek the death penalty would itself create a “constitutionally intolerable” risk of executing innocent people.
In reaching this conclusion Judge Rakoff looked at irrefutable evidence that shows that despite the protracted appeal process in capital cases, it is clear that a substantial number of innocent people do still face execution in spite of having their capital cases reviewed by numerous state and federal.
Judge Rakoff stated in United States v. Quinones;
“What DNA testing has proved, beyond cavil, is the remarkable degree of fallibility in the basic fact-finding processes on which we rely in criminal cases. In each of the 12 cases of DNA exoneration of death row inmates referenced in (the earlier) Quinones, 196 FSupp 2d 416, the defendants had been found guilty by an unanimous jury that concluded there was proof of his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; and in each of the 12 cases the conviction had been confirmed on appeal, and collateral challenges rejected, by numerous courts that had carefully scrutinized the evidence and the manner of conviction. Yet, for all this alleged “due process”, the result, in each and every one of these cases was the conviction of an innocent person who, because of the death penalty, would shortly have been executed - some came within days of being so – were it not for the fortuitous development of a new scientific technique that happened to be applicable to their particular cases.”
Since Judge Rakoff wrote that opinion in 2002 numerous others have been proven to be innocent by conclusive DNA testing.
The problem is that in most capital cases there is no forensic evidence that would allow a person’s guilt or innocence to be proven conclusively by DNA evidence. In recent years at least 135 men and women have been wrongfully convicted and condemned to death only to be subsequently exonerated and ordered released by the courts. See www.deathpenaltyinfo.org ) and only a handful of these cases involved the use of exoneration by DNA evidence.
Another troubling factor that substantially increases the likelihood that innocent people will be executed is that even in cases in which DNA evidence proved the innocence of the person on death row, and revealed the identity of the true killer, not even once has the state even so much as conceded to the possibility of error. In virtually every one of these cases, no matter how strong the evidence was of innocence, the state continued to uphold the conviction and pursue the execution of an innocent man.
Think about this for a minute. If those representing the state are unwilling to admit to even the possibility of error in cases in which the evidence of innocence becomes overwhelming – such as DNA evidence – how can we trust the state to protect the innocent from being put to death by execution in cases where new evidence undermines the moral certainty of guilt?
A good example of this is the last two executions carried out in Florida. Wayne Tompkins was executed in early 2009. Please read: (When does execution become murder) and John Marek was executed on August 19, 2009. Both cases were remarkably similar in that they were both “wholly circumstantial” cases – meaning that there wee no eyewitnesses, no physical or forensic evidence, and no confessions to support the state’s specious case. Both cases relied upon testimony given by witnesses who had a personal interest in helping the state convict and condemn them. And in both cases a substantial wealth of evidence was presented to show that a legitimate claim of innocence existed.
In Wayne Tompkins case the only person actually testifying that Tompkins admitted to committing the crime was Kenneth Turco, a “jailhouse snitch” who only agreed to testify against Tompkins because the state attorney agreed to help Turco with his own criminal charges. Prior to Tompkins execution irrefutable evidence was presented to the court to show that the prosecutor Michael Benito had actually told the jailhouse snitch to lie and fabricate evidence, a fact that the prosecutor (Benito) admitted. Even though the Florida Supreme Court admitted that Kenneth Turco’s testimony was “the most crucial evidence of Tompkins guilt” and there was no question that the prosecutor deliberately instructed Turco to provide false testimony, the court denied relief and Tompkins was executed.
In the more recent case of John Marek, not a single person could say that Marek killed the victim. Marek had consistently claimed for over 25 years that John Wigley, his acquaintance at the time who was also in the company of the woman shortly before the body was found, had committed the crime. Wigley was convicted of the crime, but sentenced to ‘life”, Marek was sentenced to death presumably because he refused to admit guilt.
Prior to Marek’s execution at least six witnesses came forth providing sworn testimony that John Wigley had told them - in graphic details – how he had killed the woman, not John Marek. But since all of these witnesses were “convicted felons” the court decided that they were not credible.
You see, in Florida – and many other states – it only takes one jailhouse snitch to provide the necessary testimony to convict and condemn a person, and even if that testimony is later proven to have been deliberately fabricated the conviction will stand. But if the defendant attempts to prove his innocence by presenting the testimony of at least six prisoners, then that testimony is rejected as not credible. This blatant hypocrisy openly invites error.
Another tragic similarity between Tompkins and Marek’s cases was that even though both cases involved legitimate claims of innocence, there was virtually no organized opposition to their execution prior to their execution. Presumably there are millions of people who oppose the death penalty on philosophical and moral grounds, especially when a legitimate claim of innocence is raised. And there were those who opposed both executions on these broader grounds. But there was virtually no organized opposition to these executions based specifically on their innocence.
Thus, my dear friends, I give you the quintessential “perfect murder” - a cold blooded killing committed right before our very eyes, and even in our own name. I cannot say with absolute certainty that either Tompkins or Marek were innocent. But I can say with absolute certainty that our judicial system is not perfect – and is not willing to admit to its own imperfection – and that makes the execution of the innocent absolutely inevitable, as we cannot count on the state, or the courts, to protect the innocent. Therefore, it is our moral duty to speak up and express our opposition in questionable cases before the state carries out that execution.
Please check www.southerninjustice.com