Maurice Possley is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and senior researcher for the National Registry of Exonerations, a project of the University of California Irvine Newkirk Center for Science & Society, University of Michigan Law School & Michigan State University College of Law.
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Waiting Decades to Die
While there still have been no executions in California since 2006 — largely due to a court battle over lethal injection drug protocols — that could change if the state’s proposed single-drug method for lethal injection passes legal muster. More than 15 of the state’s death row inmates have exhausted all of their appeals, so if it does, prosecutors undoubtedly will be asking judges to set immediate execution dates.
Death Penalty for Jesus
In 2009, after moving to Southern California, a neighbor, Tom Rotert, who is an attorney, asked about my reporting on wrongful convictions and wrongful executions while I was at the Chicago Tribune.
I explained that along with my fellow reporter Steve Mills, we had documented numerous wrongful convictions in Illinois and the executions of two innocent men in Texas — Carlos DeLuna and Cameron Todd Willingham.
“You know who the ultimate wrongful execution is, don’t you?” Rotert asked. “It was Jesus Christ. They killed the son of God.”
The crucifixion of Jesus Christ doesn’t come up very often in discussions about wrongful convictions in America, but as California voters prepare to go to the polls to vote on Proposition 34 which would ban the death penalty in this state, two lawyers — one from Chicago and one from Minneapolis — are doing exactly that.
Immigration Court: Broken but Fixable
"A photograph of bikini-clad pop superstar Katy Perry gets more legal protection in our courts than a Chinese rice farmer trying to avoid deportation back to a totalitarian regime that may kill him."
As a journalist I covered state and federal civil and criminal cases for more than 30 years and only occasionally did I find myself in the U.S. Immigration courts. So when I read California attorney Peter Afrasiabi's book, Show Trials: How Property Gets More Legal Protection in Our Failed Immigration System, I found his comparison to the laws protecting property rights to the immigration laws particularly alarming.
Afrasiabi's book is an eye-opening account of his personal experiences as a lawyer representing men, women and children — families — in some of the most confounding cases one can imagine.
Although the names of his clients have been changed to protect their identities, Afrasiabi bases his analysis of the failure of the immigration system on actual cases that he personally handled.
Groundbreaking Report: Exonerees Served More than 10,000 Years in Prison for Crimes They Didn't Commit
Nearly a quarter of a century after DNA testing was used to prove that a defendant had been falsely convicted of a crime, the American public has become familiar with the phenomenon and how the script plays out in our courtrooms.
The exonerated defendant stands before a judge and is informed that the conviction is vacated and the charges are dismissed. And then the former inmate —more than 100 have come from Death Row — is joined by family members and lawyers in a celebration on the courthouse steps.
Yes, it is a joyous occasion to step from behind prison bars after years — as many as 30 years in one case —of being locked up for a crime that was not committed.
But, as a report issued Monday by the National Registry of Exonerations makes clear, behind every one of these jubilant moments are tragedies, some of them of enormous proportion.
The report documents nearly 900 individual cases of exoneration. Combined, these (mostly) men and women served more than 10,000 years in prison for crimes they did not commit. In fact, in more than 100 cases, there was no crime at all — accidents were mischaracterized as murders and crimes were just concocted based on a web of lies and falsehoods.
Justice Delayed? Death Penalty for California Salon Massacre May Mean Waiting for a Generation
Tony Rackauckas, Orange County District Attorney, held a press conference to announce his intent to seek the death penalty for Scott Dekraai, who killed his ex-wife and seven others at Salon Meritage in Seal Beach on Oct. 12.
“There are some cases that are so depraved, so callous, so malignant that there is only one punishment that might have any chance of fitting the crime," said Rackauckas. “When a person, in a case like this, goes on a rampage and kills innocent people in an indiscriminate bloody massacre, I will of course seek the death penalty.”
He added, “This is the only way our society can get anything approaching justice for the victims, their families, the town of Seal Beach, and the larger community.”
If justice means putting Dekraai on a gurney and executing him, the victims, their families and everyone else hoping for that outcome should face the cold hard fact that they are in for a long wait.
Deadlines and the Death Penalty: The Case of Corey R. Maples
By the time someone figured out what happened, the deadline to appeal the denial of his post-conviction appeal had passed. So far, the state of Alabama has successfully argued that despite the mail room debacle, Maples should have been aware -- through his local counsel -- that the clock was ticking and that he just blew it.
Courts have struggled for years over the question of who should bear the penalty for a lawyer's mistakes or incompetence and the Maples case represents an extreme example of the problem of imputing the mistakes of a lawyer to the client.
Troy Davis: Will Georgia Execute an Innocent Man Next Week?
So what makes the Troy Davis case stand out from most other death penalty cases?
Not about whether the death penalty is the appropriate punishment for Davis or has been correctly applied.
The doubt raised in Davis' case is whether he committed the crime at all. And those questions about his guilt have prompted hundreds of thousands of people to raise their voices in opposition to his execution, most recently former FBI Director William Sessions who, in an op-ed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Friday, called on the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to commute Davis' sentence to life in prison.