Don’t know if anybody was every curious about the death certificate of a person that has been executed by the state but is more often than not listed as Homicide. Legal homicide that is. However, it is not a homicide that is prosecuted to the full extent of the law. A prosecution that would have to start with the governor who signs the execution.
There is very little middle ground on the subject of the death penalty or wrongful convictions. What is ignored and no positive research has been done on is the number of people that have died on death row without being executed. Compounding this issue is the number of people that have come off of death row because DNA alone proves that they were not the perpetrators.
In 2011, there was an initiative offered up in the congress of the US to do a top to bottom examination of the criminal Justice system which was thwarted by some such organization of State Prosecutors.
This month’s Mother Jones (February 2012) has a very good article on the Death Penalty in Texas title ‘No Country for Innocent Men.” The focus is on Timothy Cole who was sent to prison for 25 years and died after 13 years. The man who actually committed the crime had been trying to confess for a number of years but the system would not work with the confession.
There is a second point raised in the article that is well worth remembering. Only about 12 percent of those that go to prison do so after a plea bargain. Timothy Cole would not take a plea bargain and went to trial. The odds were stacked against him and he went down for 25. I suspect the biggest odds were that he was black and in the south.
It seems as if the next logical step after Gideon v. Wainwright would be require that any guilty plea that could result in incarceration should require a trial by jury. After all, what good is a lawyer if the deal is cut over a phone and the only job for the lawyer is sell the deal so he does not have to spend time in court and preping for a trial.
There is the case of Frank Lee Smith. The good news came too late: Ten months before he was proven innocent, Smith died of cancer in prison, just steps away from Florida’s electric chair. What is not often mention is that it was his mother who was making the effort even after his death that finally got him cleared of the crime. What we don’t know is how many others have died there and in prison as innocent men.