Don’t you just hate it when inconvenient truths get in the way of killing people? Where do people get off thinking that carrying out executions has anything to do with such concepts as “truth and justice”? When it comes down to it, capital punishment is not about whether someone is guilty or actually innocent – it’s about the “politics of death” and feeding our twisted societies primitive need for vengeance. When a brutal crime occurs, we need to know someone will be held accountable and we are driven to find great satisfaction in knowing the crime has been avenged. That’s just human nature, and whether or not the person we ultimately put to death for the crime actually committed the crime really is not even relevant. The only thing that really matters is that we get our proverbial ‘pound of flesh”
In fact, we don’t even want to know that we may have executed an innocent man. Such an inconvenient truth completely undermines our fundamental need to believe in our judicial system. If we are forced to confront the truth then our own support for the death penalty makes us personally complicit in this morally and legally justified act of murder carried out in our name.
But most of us are good people of moral character and we would find it troubling that an innocent person was put to death for a crime he did not commit. We really don’t need to be weighted down by that moral baggage and so we choose to learn form the ostrich – we stick our heads in the sand and pretend it didn’t happen.
But the tragic truth is that it does happen and ignoring this truth won’t make it go away. By choosing to ignore the imperfection of our judicial system, we do become personally responsible for the execution of an innocent person. This truth can not be denied as if only more people would stand up and speak out against a system that refuses to admit its own mistakes then those we entrust to prosecute questionable cases will be forced to understand that both as individuals and as a civilized society, even the execution of one innocent person is not acceptable.
This past week, renowned bestselling author John Grisham released his latest book, entitled “The confession”. In this fictional story, Grisham writes of a 19 year old Donte Drumm, who found himself accused of the brutal murder of a local pretty young cheerleader in the small town of Slone, Texas.
Donte Drumm insisted that he is innocent – but what does innocence have to do with it? Without any real evidence, Drumm went straight to Texas death row. As the years pass, Drumm’s desperate appeals proclaiming his innocence are denied by one court after another and 8 years later Drumm finds himself facing imminent execution. Only then does the real killer have a crisis of conscience and comes forward to confess. But nobody wants to hear it. As we know only too well, prosecutors absolutely never admit they were wrong, and our courts never admit that a person might be innocent. Although innocent, Drumm never had a chance, as in our judicial system the puppet master would much rather execute an innocent person than to admit even the possibility of error.
This is not the first time Grisham wrote a bestselling book that tells the story of an innocent man being wrongly convicted and condemned to death, only to have evidence substantiating innocence deliberately ignored by the courts and the injustice intentionally perpetuated by the very people (judges and prosecutors) we trust to protect the innocent.
In John Grisham’s 2006 work, “The Innocent Man” Grisham told the true story of Ron Williamson, an aspiring high school athlete with a promising career ahead of him – until he suddenly found himself charged with capital murder in the state of Oklahoma and quickly convicted and condemned to death in spite of his innocence.
Only years later was DNA evidence discovered that not only proved Williamson was innocent but also revealed the true killer. But nobody wanted to hear it and both the prosecutor and the courts refused to admit that they could have made such a mistake. The only possible explanation was that either the DNA evidence had to be wrong, or maybe Williamson acted with this other person. To silence these claims of innocence, the state became that much more determined to expedite Williamson’s execution.
This is not at all surprising. For too long now this is how the American judicial system protects itself from having its mistakes exposed…they simply create new court rules and laws to limit post conviction appeals so that the evidence of innocence cannot be heard. By denying the wrongfully convicted any chance of proving their innocence, the errors are forever concealed.
Most recently this was the case in Texas when Cameron Todd Willingham was put to death. Willingham was convicted and condemned to death for allegedly setting fire to his own home, killing his own two young daughters. There were no eyewitnesses or confessions – but the local, small Texas town fire Marshall conducted his own investigation and concluded that the fire was deliberately set. This fire Marshall had no actual training in arson investigations, but that didn’t stop him from testifying in court that there was no question that the house was deliberately set on fire. To seal Willingham’s fate, the state brought in a prisoner from the local county jail who testified that Willingham told him that he had indeed set the house on fire to kill his two young daughters and did it to strike back at his wife after they had an argument.
Willingham insisted that he was innocent and that he didn’t know how the fire actually started. He testified that after seeing the smoke, he tried to get into the house to save his children, but couldn’t. The jury refused to believe him and court after court rejected his claim of innocence.
Shortly before Willingham was executed, some of the top arson investigators in the country were brought in to re-examine the case. Virtually every one of these experts concluded that the local fire Marshall was wrong and that the evidence showed that the fire was started by an electrical short – it was a tragic accident, and Willingham was innocent of murder as no murder occurred.
But the Texas courts didn’t want to hear it and refused to allow the evidence to be heard. Willingham was executed in 2004. Only after his execution did the evidence of his innocence catch the attention of the media, and the question of whether Texas executed an innocent man started to be taken seriously.
As the controversy build, Texas governor Perry formed a panel of experts to finally review the evidence to determine whether Willingham was innocent. This “commission on forensic science” thoroughly studied the evidence and reached the inconvenient conclusion that Willingham was innocent – that the State of Texas had deliberately put an innocent man to death.
But it was an election year and Perry was running for re-election. In Texas the death penalty is all about politics and you cannot win an election by seeming soft on convicted murderers or admitting you made a mistake. Using the power of his office, shortly before the Texas “commission on forensic science” was to public ally release its report declaring Willingham innocent, Governor Perry abruptly fired the panel and appointed his own hand picked political insiders. Once again, the inconvenient truth of innocence was suppressed by the insidious politics of death.
In John Grisham’s book “The Confession” he writes that “death row is a nightmare for serial killers and ax murderers – but for an innocent man, it’s a life of mental torture that the human spirit is not equipped to survive”
I know only too well of the eternal mental anguish of being a condemned man, convicted and sentenced to death for a crime I did not commit. In my main website, www.southerninjustice.net my supporters have posted my entire case – complete trial transcripts, appeal briefs, etc and the evidence supporting my actual innocence.
In my recently published book “To Live and Die on Death Row” by C Michael Lambrix (available online for free at www.lulu.com) I graphically detail what life is like on death row, the never ending torment of being in solitary confinement for over 27 years and the relentless struggle to maintain my sanity as one court after another refuses to even hear the wealth of evidence substantiating my innocence, see also my secondary blog, www.doinglifeondeathrow.blogspot.com.
The past month my lawyers filed a “last ditch” appeal to the United States Supreme Court arguing specifically that they must order the lower courts to allow my evidence of innocence to be heard – or I will be executed for a crime I did not commit. But will the Supreme Court even listen? I can only hope they will. You can personally read this recently filed appeal at www.supremecourtinnocenceappeal.blogspot.com
But my faith in our judicial system to protect the innocent and even in the nature of humanity in general is suffering. If I have learned nothing else over the many years, it is that too many feel “screw the truth – just execute the innocent”
Please check out my website http://www.southerninjustice.net