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When The Federal Government Admits Error…

May 8, 2013

…you know somebody fucked up big time. Like, extra big, especially when it comes to a criminal case.

But in the case of Mr. Willie Manning, that’s exactly what happened. Manning, who is black, was convicted in 1994 for the 1992 murder of two white university students. He has maintained his innocence ever since, amid troublesome (and growing) questions about the accuracy and reliability of the evidence on which his conviction and death sentence are based. Mr. Manning’s long-ago trial was marked by racial bias in jury selection, which can’t be a big surprise given the area and the crime. All of the actual evidence against him was testimony. Further, one of the two witnesses, a cell block stoolie, has recanted. The second was a cousin of the defendant. “The cousin had accused two other men before Manning, however. More importantly, the Justice Department sent a letter saying one analyst’s testimony at trial “exceeded the limits of the science and was, therefore, invalid,” and another letter “backing away” from the hair and fiber evidence as well as the ballistics evidence. So, you know, all of it.

Mr. Manning was sentenced to death on the basis of this evidence. He was set to be executed yesterday. He came within four hours of death.

Oh and just to make things even more ambiguous, there’s some DNA evidence that hasn’t been tested. It could be tested. The FBI has actually offered to do the testing on behalf of the state.

So to any rational set of human beings all of the above information would have cause a little hesitation i an appeals court. Not in Mississippi. In a 5-to-4 decision in April, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that there was “conclusive, overwhelming evidence of guilty” and that DNA tests would not “preclude his participation in the crimes,” according to the Times.

Let’s review. All of the evidence used in the trial is, at best, questionable and in some cases completely fabricated. The Federal government, admitted that the evidence was flawed. The sent letters to make sure that everyone knew the evidence was flawed.

In a frankly surprising, but very lucky turn of events, Mr. Manning’s execution was stayed by the same court that last month looked at the exact same evidence and felt it was totally rational and right to kill Mr. Manning. Why? i speculate that it had a hell of a lot to do with publicity. This story has gone quite viral today.

Big ups for the power of social media.

But it’s not enough, because now, all the state has to do is wait for the story to die down and then they can kill Mr. Manning.

According to the Innocence Project, 306 people have been exonerated since they started their work. That’s not the only 300 people who were on death row who were innocent. That’s just the number of people they were able to exonerate before the state killed them.

Right now there’s a man on death row in Texas, pretty much because he’s black. That’s actually not uncommon. There are huge racial, economic and regional disparities in how the death penalty is applied. When black people kill white people they are far, far more likely to be sentenced to death than if white people kill black people. As always, it’s about value. White lives are demonstrably more valuable from the point of view of the American legal system and pretty much society in general.

In case I haven’t made it clear, I’m against the death penalty. There are a lot of reasons for this and I’ll probably go into that one day, but the most important reason is, I don’t want anyone killing people they have designated as criminals in my name.

Keep in mind, I was in the military. I’m really fine with killing, given the right circumstances. I just don’t want the government killing people when it’s been shown so very many times that the concept of “guilty” is subject to any number of extralegal influences. Since I think we can all agree that the legal system is not in any way fair or impartial, killing people as a function of said legal system should just be off the table.

 

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 8, 2013 9:47 AM

    I don’t like the death penalty, either. For many reasons. One is the disparity in who gets sentenced to death and who actually gets executed, as you mention. Another is that I don’t get the concept that the way to demonstrate that it isn’t right to kill people is by killing people. That just doesn’t make any sense to me. Also, I’m not willing to have my government killing some innocent people just to make extra sure that all the guilty people get killed – I’m not a fan of the “kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out later” philosophy.

    Another big problem I have with the whole thing, that I think is demonstrated in the case you write about here, is that prosecutors and courts can be really pig-headed and once they decide someone is guilty they aren’t going to let a little thing like lack of credible evidence against them get in their way. I’ve seen this in news reports before, where a recantation of testimony or a confession by the real culprit or DNA testing that rules out the person found guilty as the real perpetrator of the crime pretty much shows that the wrong person got convicted, but the prosecutor will get up on TV and say that they don’t care what the evidence shows, they “know” that the person they convicted is guilty as hell. Or, like in this case, where there is DNA evidence to be tested and the court won’t allow it to be tested becasue they don’t want to be shown to have erred. Like I said, pig-headed. Their fragile, precious little egos would be hurt if they had to admit they had made a mistake. Or if they had to admit that they were biased.

    I’ll stop now. I could go off on this issue at much greater length, but your comments section is probably not the right place to do that. But, I’m glad you wrote about this. This sort of thing needs to be talked about often and loudly until the legal system (I’m not sure I’d call it the justice system, because there is often very little justice served within it) gets its act together and cuts this sort of thing out.

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