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The Death Penalty
by
Lester S. Garrett

(Published in "Liberty" Magazine, March 1996)


In the last twenty years at least forty-two men have been removed from death row after having been wrongly convicted.

  • Despite the fact that the same safeguards, the same legal procedures and criteria, are applied in each and every instance, in one case a brutal killer is sentenced to death; in another an innocent man is sent to the executioner.  Let me emphasize that:  The same legal procedures, coupled with a jury's determination that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, are applied in each and every case.  Yet they result in sending the innocent as well as the guilty to death row.

  • It took thirteen years to prove that Freddie Lee Gains was not guilty of murder. Thirteen years before an innocent man was freed. Keep that in mind the next time you hear someone demand that we shorten the appeals' process. Years after his trial, conviction and death sentence in Birmingham, Alabama, one of the actual perpetrators, who was arrested for another crime in Florida, confessed. Gains, who had insisted all along that he was innocent, would be dead now if the advocates of shorting the appeals' process had had their way.

  • In the summer of 1984 a nine year old girl was tortured, sodomized, and murdered near her home in Baltimore County, Maryland. Based only on circumstantial evidence, twenty-three year old Kurt Bloodsworth was convicted and sentenced to death. Bloodsworth spent two years on death row awaiting execution before an appeal on a technicality resulted in a new trial. Once again he was convicted. This time, however, he received a life sentence. That sentence was literally a life-saver for Bloodsworth. Nine years after his first trial, conviction, and death sentence, DNA analysis of the child's garments proved that he could not possibly have been the man they were after. The wrong man had been sentenced to death.

    Unknown to Bloodsworth, three days after his 1st conviction police and prosecutors learned about David Rehill. Hours after the girl's murder Rehill showed up at a mental health clinic with fresh scratches on his face and told one of the therapists that he was "in trouble with a little girl". Rehill resembled the police composite, and not unsurprisingly looked remarkably like Bloodsworth. But then Bloodsworth was already behind bars. Six months passed before the lead was investigated. While Rehill was eventually interviewed, police records indicate that his alibi was never checked. Nor was he ever placed in a lineup. Despite the fact that the state had known about Rehill for two years prior to Bloodsworth's second trial, that information was withheld from the defense until just days before the second trial. (His attorneys did not have time to investigate and failed to ask for a postponement. The second jury never learned that there was another potential suspect.)

    CBS correspondent Edie Magnus covered the Bloodsworth case for a segment of "Eye To Eye" which was broadcast on October 28th, 1993. Asked to respond "to the criticism that the system closed in on one guy with some evidence, and that everybody just stooped looking at other things that didn't fit", lead prosecutor Robert Lazzero stated: "I would say that unfortunately that is not all that rare of an occurrence in our criminal justice system." Magnus added that the Bloodsworth case demonstrated that "it is eerily easy with a weak case to convict an innocent man." "Yes," said Lazzero thoughtfully, "in retrospect it is."

  • You might want to talk to Matthew Conner who was convicted of the rape, murder and brutal mutilation of a twelve-year old girl. Conner spent twelve and a half years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. Eventually, boxes of concealed evidence were discovered in the possession of the District Attorney -- evidence which, had it not been denied to his lawyer at the time of his trial, would have established that he was not guilty.

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