When it comes down to it, the difference between administering justice and pursuing vengeance is that the primary objective in the administration of justice is to protect the innocent, while the pursuit of vengeance is as easily satisfied by the sacrifice of the innocent as it is the guilty.
If history has taught us nothing else, it is that those blinded by their need to seek vengeance can seldom, if ever, see the error of their ways. To seek justice is a honorable thing and reflects the best of our moral conscience. But to inflict vengeance reflects only the worst of who we are not only as an individual, but as a society. And yet, often we quickly are blinded by that thirst for vengeance and the result is that we inflict an incomprehensible injustice under that pretense of administering justice.
In the past month, not just once, but twice, the Florida Supreme Court issued formal apologies to the victims of past injustices - crimes committed by those acting upon behalf of the state under the pretense of administering justice. In both cases, these apologies came only many years later and those responsible for inflicting the injustice were never held accountable for their own state-sanctioned crimes.
The first case involved what has become known as "The Groveland Four" in which back in 1949 a 17 year old white woman (and her husband) claimed that 4 black men had raped her. The rural community of Lake County (just north of Orlando) quickly came together as vengeance fueled lynch mobs, unquestionably consumed by common racial motivations, as Florida was, and still is, part of the traditional "deep south" and these good ole boy redneck - a contemporary evolution of the infamous Ku klux Klan - weren't about to tolerate any black man touching a white woman.
Of the 4 accused, Ernest Thomas initially escaped and fled to Madison county (Florida) only to be hunted down and killed by a local sheriff's posse. Of the other three, Charles Greenlee received life in prison, convicted solely on the testimony of that one woman while Walter Irvin and Samuel Sheppard were sentenced to death but had their convictions overturned by the Supreme Court and a few months later both Irvin and Sheppard were shot by a local sheriff and his deputy (who claimed they acted in self defence). Sheppard died, then Irvin was again convicted and sentenced to death again. That death sentence was later reduced to life by then governor Leroy Collins and eventually Irvin and Greenlee were paroled from prison.
The Florida legislative recent admission of injustice came about only because in 2012 author Gilbert King wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning book "devil in the Grove" that exposed this case nationally, to the embarrassment of the state of Florida.
In the other case, the Florida Senate passes a resolution already previously adopted by the other branch of the legislative, publicly apologizing for decades of physical, sexual assaults and murder of juveniles in stet custody, primarily at what was known as the "Dozier School for Boys"
Again, under the pretense of administering justice, these state facilities housing young boys systematically beat, raped and killed their wards and while this dark history was known for many decades, only in recent years, through the relentless efforts of surviving victims (Wikipedia: "White House Boys") was the now closed state facility searched and the bodies of at least 55 victims were exhumed, and at least 31 of the bodies were identified as those who has allegedly "escaped".
While the formal apology may seem to be a step in the right direction, what cannot be ignored is that in both cases - as well as countless others in which injustices were only recognized decades later - those who were responsible for inflicting the injustices were held accountable, and those who suffered the injustices were never compensated.
To me, the bigger issue is why does it take so long before these representing the state are willing to acknowledge that an injustice occurred? And why is it that the only time these injustices even come to light is when a journalist or author exposes the injustice long after the damage has been done?
Here on death row there's a saying that goes around..you're only innocent when you're either dead or exonerated. Or in other words, nobody is willing to listen as long as you're alive and still on death row. Maybe that reflects how our society has become indifferent and even openly hostile to claims of innocence.
Often, I've heard the scepticism voiced by the media, as well as the courts, that everybody on death row claims they are innocent.
Of course, this absurd perception is categorically false...of the thousands and thousands of homicides committed each year, all but relatively few actually plea guilty and are sentenced to 'life" or less. Only a fraction of one percent actually continue to insist on their innocence, and demand their right to be tried by a jury.
If you know you did not commit the crime alleged by an overzealous prosecutor, it is highly unlikely you'd ever plea guilty to a crime you did not commit, not even when the state is promising you that if you don't accept the offer for a reduced sentence by pleading guilty, they will condemn you to death - as the prosecutor in my case did to me many times.
I just don't have all the answers. But what i do know beyond any doubt is that who we are as a society really has not changed that much in recent generations. While it is politically correct to no longer openly practise racism, it still exists within the hearts of too many. Even to this day it is a historical fact that while Florida will only too quickly condemn and execute (or lunch) a black for killing a white person, Florida has never - not even once - executed a white person for killing a black.
If the death penalty is about administering justice, then how come you will almost never find a rich person on death row? Rich people do commit murder too. But they can afford quality legal representation to avoid the death penalty while those condemned can not.
Still under an active death warrant, I know well that I may soon face execution for a crime I did not commit. I also know that for over three decades I've done all I could to get the media to conduct an independent investigation into my case, but they simply won't.
My only remaining hope seems to be in the above cases, long after I'm dead, maybe future generations will finally look back on the evidence and expose the injustice that has been so deliberately perpetuated against me and maybe the politicians of that day will posthumously apologize for murdering me...but at the end of the day, I'll still be dead.