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Kristin Collins of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation authored the following post for the NC Center for Alternatives to the Death Penalty blog today:

Let’s punish lawyers who put innocent people in prison, instead of those who free them

Chris Mumma with Joseph Sledge on the day of his exoneration.

Chris Mumma with Joseph Sledge on the day of his exoneration.

Joseph Sledge spent 37 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. At his trial, the state paid a lying snitch to testify against him. While he was in prison, the district attorney opposed the DNA testing that would eventually prove Sledge’s innocence. And when the long-delayed tests showed Sledge wasn’t the culprit, the state waited another two years to release him from prison.

Now that Sledge is finally free, the only person being punished is the lawyer who fought to prove his innocence, Chris Mumma. On Thursday, the State Bar found that Mumma violated professional ethics by testing a water bottle for DNA without permission from its owner — all in an attempt to gain an innocent man his freedom against long odds. (The test of the water bottle was inconclusive and had no impact on the final outcome.)

We can’t say it better than the N&O’s Barry Saunders:

“It seems like something out of a dystopian, Twilight Zone world that the woman whose efforts rectified a three-decade miscarriage of justice is the only person being held accountable.”

More disturbing, Jon David, the Bladen County district attorney who fought to keep Sledge behind bars, was involved in filing the bar complaint against Mumma. It appeared to be payback for her exposing the many errors in Sledge’s case to the media. The woman from whom the bottle was taken has strongly supported Mumma and her work to free Sledge, and did not want her to be punished.

Again and again, the prosecutors and cops who put innocent people in prison — even send them to death row — face no consequences, even when their misconduct is glaring. Read More

Commentary

[This post originally appeared on the blog of the NC Center for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.]

N.C. prosecutor who sent five to death row: It’s time to end death penalty

By Kristin Collins

Twenty five years ago, as an assistant district attorney in Forsyth County, Vince Rabil helped put Blanche Taylor Moore on death row. Today, Rabil says it is time to end the death penalty and calls Moore — a frail 82-year-old still sitting on death row — “a living monument to the failure of a vanishing legal remedy.”

In an op-ed published Sunday, Rabil repudiates a punishment that he spent nearly two decades of his career fighting to uphold. In the 1990s, he prosecuted a dozen people for the death penalty and put at least five on death row. Four remain there today.

Rabil believed so strongly in the death penalty that, in 1997, he became the first prosecutor in the country to seek death for a drunk driver. “This will seriously make everyone stop after the first drink or the second one,” he said at the time.

Now, Rabil says the death penalty is a broken system that costs taxpayers dearly, threatens innocent defendants, and does little to comfort the grieving families of victims. He says life with no possibility of parole is a more appropriate replacement.

Rabil’s transformation reveals how much our state has evolved since the 1990s, when a blind faith in the capital punishment system allowed us to sentence dozens of people a year to die. This year, N.C. juries didn’t hand down a single death sentence, executions remained on hold for a ninth year, and public opposition to the death penalty reached its highest point since the 1970s. In North Carolina, even a Republican legislator came out against capital punishment.

At the same time, Rabil’s courageous stance against the death penalty marks a turning point in North Carolina. While many prosecutors, current and former, no doubt have serious concerns about the death penalty, Rabil is the first in our state to take such a public stand.

We applaud Rabil for speaking the truth that so many others are afraid to admit.

Commentary

090309-1854-memotodeath1.jpgThe global and national trend is unmistakable and, let’s hope, irresistible: the death penalty is on the way out and increasingly confined to authoritarian/theocratic states and lawless regions controlled by criminal bands.

In case you missed it, yesterday’s lead editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer rightfully lauds Nebraska’s courageous repeal vote from last week and urges North Carolina to get on board with this encouraging and fast-growing bandwagon. Here’s the excellent conclusion to the N&O essay:

“The death penalty also smacks of revenge punishment, something to give satisfaction to the family and friends of a murder victim. That’s not what the court system is about. It is about justice, not revenge.

And to argue, as many politicians have over many decades, that the death penalty is important because it is a deterrent to crime is simply disingenuous. It’s political convenience, because there’s little evidence to show a connection between the establishment of the death penalty and a decrease in crime. States without the death penalty have lower murder rates than those with it.

Sadly, North Carolina’s Republicans continue to lead the state away from enlightened thought on the issue. Legislators now are moving to restart stalled executions in the state by eliminating the requirement that a doctor be present.

North Carolina’s People of Faith Against the Death Penalty offered a good summation here: “It is no longer conservative to support the death penalty – it’s just outdated. The legislators in Nebraska voted their consciences. They voted their values. They value life and creation and justice for all and recognize that the death penalty is, in fact, contrary to these values.”

It has been more than 40 years since a state acted to abolish the death penalty. Let us hope Nebraska’s action will be followed by other states sooner than that.”

Also, be sure to check out this op-ed from Fridays’ Asheville Citizen-Times in which a contributor explains his own evolving views on the death penalty.

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Death penalty(Cross-posted from the blog of the NC Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty).

By Kristin Collins

Yesterday, a California court confirmed what we have known in North Carolina for years: The death penalty is so dysfunctional as to be not just unconstitutional, but futile.

The ruling said of a system in which inmates sit on death row for decades, and only a tiny percentage of those sentenced to death are ever executed:

“… for too long now, the promise has been an empty one … It has resulted in a system in which arbitrary factors, rather than legitimate ones like the nature of the crime or the date of the death sentence, determine whether an individual will actually be executed.”

Lest anyone offer the “simple” solution of executing people more quickly, let’s pause to remember the more than 140 innocent people who have been freed from death row. Seven of them were in North Carolina, and some spent more than a decade on death row before their innocence was recognized.

North Carolina’s system is no different from California’s. Since 1977, when the modern death penalty began, nearly 400 men and women have been sentenced to death, and only 43 have been executed. Read More

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Willie WombleHow many times is a North Carolinian previously convicted of murder going to have to be found to be innocent before it’s universally acknowledged that the death penalty is a hopeless relic of a bygone age?

Let’s hope today’s unanimous recommendation by the state Innocence Inquiry Commission that Willie Henderson Womble was wrongfully convicted 38 years ago for a murder in Granville County adds more fuel to the fire. The decision provides more powerful evidence that our justice system remains hugely flawed and that it is simply impossible to guarantee that our state does not commit the most heinous of all imaginable acts by a government — i.e. the execution of an innocent human being.

And while it’s obviously true that Mr. Womble did not receive the death penalty, it’s also clear that he has been forced to endure something just short of it with the loss of 38 years of freedom. Moreover, as Mr. Womble’s case also makes clear, there’s every reason to believe that numerous innocent humans have been executed in all of our names down though the decades.

The bottom line: Womble’s case once again highlights a deplorable reality that must be brought to an end and set right as soon as possible.