There is a reason the death penalty is rarely enforced anymore, particularly in the federal judicial system. Too many innocent victims are being convicted, based on cover-ups and the withholding of exculpatory evidence by some federal and state prosecutors. A recent study published in the National Academy of Sciences concludes that some 4.1 percent of inmates on death row are innocent. More than four percent. If that were the rate of airplanes crashing, would you fly?
Legal scholar John Whitehead, who writes about the pursuit of justice for The Rutherford Institute, and who has appeared on my nationally syndicated radio program, says the criminal justice system in the U.S. is consistently error-bound and flawed. He writes of a recent Columbia University study on 5,760 capital cases where “the report found an overall error rate of 68%. In other words, courts found serious reversible errors in nearly 7 out of 10 capitol cases….with the most common errors involved prosecutorial suppression of evidence and other misconduct.”
Receiving the death penalty is a regular occurrence in my home state of Louisiana. What also is becoming the norm is the fact that a number of those convicted, and on their way to the gas chamber, are eventually found to be innocent. For years, the Bayou State has held the title of having the highest incarceration rate in the world. It now has taken on the dubious title of having case after case of death row inmates being convicted based on the withholding of evidence that would prove their innocence.
New Orleans has become the cesspool for the innocent being convicted of capital crimes and sentenced to death. One of the most egregious is the case of New Orleanian John Thompson, who was convicted back in 1982 of first-degree murder and given the death sentence. He came within days of being executed after spending 14 years on death row and 18 year’s total in prison. Five different prosecutors were involved in the case and all knew that a blood test and other key evidence had been hidden that showed Thompson was innocent.
On his deathbed and dying of cancer, one of the prosecutors confessed to a colleague that he had hidden the exculpatory blood sample. The colleague waited five more years before admitting that he too knew of the hidden evidence. Thompson, after 18 years, received a new trial, and his lawyers were finally able to produce ten difference pieces of evidence that had been kept from Thompson, that overwhelming showed he was innocent. The new jury took less than 35 minutes to find him not guilty.
Hiding evidence that can find the accused innocent is nothing new for prosecutors in New Orleans, both in state and federal court as well as with the FBI. The Innocence Project of New Orleans reviewed a number of convictions over the past 25 years in the city and concluded that prosecutors have a “legacy” of suppressing evidence. The Project said 36 men convicted in Orleans Parish alleged prosecutorial misconduct. Nineteen have since had their sentences overturned or reduced as a result. In 19 of 25 capital cases, the prosecutors withheld favorable evidence.
Then there is the chilling case of Dan Bright, convicted and put on death row for a murder he did not commit. Evidence came out years after his conviction that the FBI, thanks to a credible informant, had been in possession of the name of the actual killer all along. Luckily for Bright, because of the unconstitutional withholding of key evidence by the prosecution and the FBI, his conviction was thrown out, and he now is a free man.
The foreman of White’s jury, who recommended that he be put to death, was Kathleen Norman, who was a guest on my radio show on several occasions before her untimely death several years ago. She was so incensed over White’s wrongful conviction and the hiding of evidence that would have cleared him by the FBI, that she became head of the Louisiana Innocence project, helping others like White mount a credible defense.
Questionable conduct by rogue prosecutors who withhold information that could prove the innocence of an accused is far too prevalent. Whether one is for or against the death penalty, there is ample evidence that convictions of a capital crime can be a crapshoot based on the whims of some prosecutors who too often withhold exculpatory evidence. Tough luck if you are innocent. Too often, justice is being compromised. And that’s just not right!