Cameron Todd Willingham Is Not the First Innocent Man Sentenced to Die -- Here's a List

Cameron Todd Willingham's story is sad and tragic and true, and it's a great thing that there is more and more media coverage of how this innocent man was executed by the State of Texas.   

Hopefully, the travesty of justice in the Cameron Todd Willingham case will remind us all that there are real people setting on Death Row in this country today who are innocent of the crimes of which they are convicted ... and that in some instances, there are correlated evildoers enjoying their freedom while they should be the ones being punished for their acts.

The Innocence Project List

The Innocence Project has started an online list of individuals who have been sitting on Death Row in this country -- convicted and innocent.  Currently, the site has not added Mr. Willingham's name to the list -- and there may be more names out there that aren't shown on the IP's site (I'd appreciate being notified of others, by the way), but these names are there, and it's worth a visit to the Innocence Project page to read their stories:

Kirk Bloodsworth

Rolando Cruz 

Alejandro Hernandez

Verneal Jimerson 

Dennis Williams

Robert Miller

Ron Williamson

Ronald Jones

Earl Washington

Frank Lee Smith

Charles Irvin Fain

Ray Krone

Nicholas Yarris

Ryan Matthews

Curtis McCarty

Kennedy Brewer

Michael Blair

Texas Governor Rick Perry Makes History at 200 Executions with the Death of Terry Hawkins Last Night

The role of state governors cannot be underestimated in any death penalty case: this one man or woman has the ability to save a life by commuting a death sentence to one of life imprisonment. Rick Perry has been known to exercise this power and commute death sentences in the past, but not this week.

Governor Rick Perry Makes U.S. History

This week, Rick Perry far surpasses the infamous 152 executions of Texas Governor George W. Bush with the execution of Terry Lee Hankins on June 2, 2009. In fact, Hankins' death brought Perry's capital punishment total to a record-breaking 200 deaths.

That's right. Two hundred. 200.

With this record, Rick Perry has insured his place in history as the governor who has allowed more executions to take place in his state than any other governor in U.S. history.

A Remarkable Feat, Especially Considering Criminal Justice in Texas Right Now

Amazing as this is, Perry's landmark is even more incredulous given that he is governor of the same state where:


  1. the Innocence Project in Dallas has found a record number of wrongful convictions using DNA genetic testing and analysis (many of them being Death Row convictions of innocent men);

  2. the Harris County (Houston) Crime Lab, which handles a huge work volume, is notoriously known for a "team mentality" that has generated numerous false convictions; and

  3. the Chief Justice of the highest state court overseeing criminal matters, Sharon Keller of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, is being tried AND impeached for her bad acts involving a failed motion to stay the conviction of Death Row inmate Michael Richard.


Protests Against Governor Perry Come From All Over the Globe

Formal protests against this 200th Execution reached all over Texas and the nation, indeed throughout the world, with groups as far as Leipzig, Germany; Paris, France; Brussels, Belgium; and Montreal, Canada, organizing formal demonstrations against the 200th Texas execution. A website has been created to unify the various protests at www.protest200executions.com.

If you would like to voice your opinion to Governor Perry, please feel free to do so: he can be reached at (512) 463-1782.

The Controversial New Reality TV Show - "Dallas DNA"

Later this month, a new reality-TV show will begin to air on the Discovery channel, called "Dallas DNA." Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins is supportive of this new show; he's quoted in USA Today as saying it " '...makes justice better by showing the good, the bad and the ugly.' " Meanwhile, the chief counsel to the Innocence Project of Texas, Jeff Blackburn, is quoted as believing that the show exists merely to boost Watkins' political career.

What is "Dallas DNA"?

The show itself focuses upon the use of DNA testing to discover individuals wrongfully convicted, particularly those on death row. Law students working with the Innocence Project of Texas, and presumably those working with District Attorney Watkins, will be the series' new reality stars. Their work will be filmed and televised for a profit.

Remember, this is a reality TV show. As is "Survivor," "Amazing Race," and "Dancing With the Stars."

What is The Innocence Project?

The Innocence Project has become internationally known for its successful exoneration of innocent men and women across the country. One well-known Florida case involved the exoneration of Frank Lee Smith after he had served 14 years on Florida's Death Row. The work of the Innocence Project of Florida successfully exonerated Smith of the rape and murder of an eight year old girl using DNA evidence. Unfortunately, Mr. Smith died before he was fully exonerated, and never had the opportunity to enjoy the freedom for which he had been wrongfully denied those many years.

Another Example of an Overzealous and Greedy Media Overstepping their Bounds

You read my earlier posts regarding trial by media and media witch hunts. I'm extremely concerned about the media's blatant exploitation of high profile criminal cases for their own profit-motive, and how this harms our basic constitutional rights.

Learning of this new reality-TV show only adds fuel to this fire. Remember, this isn't a documentary of the Innocence Project's work. No. This is a profit-making machine, seeking to boost the ratings of the Discovery Channel.

And, while shining more light onto injustice is to be applauded, as a criminal defense attorney I have to wonder about the risks involved with filming these investigations as they are transpiring. Errors can occur. Bias can be created.

It's reported that District Attorney Watkins is reviewing all the film for ways the pending legal cases could be jeopardized (such as any breaches of the attorney-client privilege) - but that doesn't seem like it's enough, that's more like closing the barn door after the horse is gone.

Imagine the comfort that gives to defendants and defense counsel: the prosecutor is checking to make sure things like privilege have been protected. Right.

From a defense perspective, this isn't a tough call: having reality television involved in the attempts to exonerate a man or woman facing death on any state's death row is very inappropriate, legally dangerous, and just plain wrong.

 
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