Photo Courtesy of AP
The State of Mississippi becomes the latest reason to end the death penalty. A Mississippi man, Willie Manning was scheduled for death by lethal execution on Tuesday evening May 7 after the Mississippi highest court rejected DNA tests to take place. And this denial occurs despite the FBI’s admission that its original analysis of the evidence for the trial testimony contained errors. The Justice Department sent three letters calling certain aspects of the trial testimony of two F.B.I. experts “erroneous.” Manning was convicted of killing two college students in 1992. Manning’s lawyers argue that no physical evidence ties him to the crime. Attorneys for the Innocence Project argue that it is unfathomable that an execution could take place in the absence of now known DNA testing that could prove whether Manning committed the crime or did not commit it. The Mississippi highest court refused to consider a DNA test of the evidence. And then just 4 hours before his scheduled execution, the Mississippi Supreme Court delayed the execution “until further notice.”
Ironically, in a similar Maryland case, former death row prisoner, Kirk Bloodsworth was convicted of rape based on testimony of eyewitnesses. He was sentenced to death. Ultimately, when advances in DNA testing became available between the time of his crime and his wait on death row, Bloodsworth was allowed a DNA test of his case. And as a result, his innocence was proved. Kirk Bloodsworth is now a free man who advocates for the repeal of the death penalty. Bloodsworth served several years on death row before his release and exoneration.
Sending one innocent person to their death is too many. In Maryland, a Commission on Capital Punishment found that for almost every 9 persons sent to death row, one innocent person has been exonerated. Nationally, 130 innocent persons have been condemned to die since the early 1970’s. Some have been exonerated by DNA evidence. In Troy Davis’ case, there was no DNA, only tainted witness testimony. In the Mississippi case of Willie Jerome Manning, there is lack of DNA testing that is available now.
The death penalty does not serve the victim’s families or our society. The death penalty does not serve the families of the victims who often wait often decades for their perceived “justice. One victim’s mother advocates for repeal of the death penalty. Vicki Schieber, the Maryland mother of a daughter who was brutally raped and killed in 1998, has testified before the US Senate and several states, including New Jersey which abolished the death penalty in 2007. She says she never wanted the death sentence for her daughter’s killer even though she was pressured by the prosecutor to endorse it.
New Jersey became the first state in over 40 years to abolish its death penalty in 2007. And in 2013, Maryland became the 18th state to pass legislation banning the death penalty. The momentum is growing and now is the time to keep it going. The Supreme Court has moved towards limiting the death penalty forbidding the death penalty for juveniles and mentally retarded and banning for crimes that did not involve killings. In 2007, the Supreme Court placed on hold all executions for eight months while deciding if lethal injection is a cruel and unusual punishment. The Supreme Court ultimately decided lethal injection was legal.
The death penalty has not been a deterrent to crime, is expensive, racially biased and unfair. Taxpayers spend millions on a failed system. One Maryland commission found that pursuing a death penalty case is three times more expensive to taxpayers than pursuing a non-capital punishment case. In death sentences, almost half of those receiving the death penalty are black. The prison population is over 40% black men while black men make up only 6% of the population. Life without parole should replace the death penalty as the most severe punishment in America. All available means to prove guilt or innocence must be explored in all death penalty cases. Troy Davis’ execution in 2011 marked the beginning of a new resurgence in this country to end the death penalty. The fight must continue to move forward to repeal the death penalty.