Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
Posted: 09/4/2014 12:59 PM | Comments: 0
Perhaps you remember Henry Lee McCollum.
His is a name that comes up regularly when the death penalty is discussed, because the crime for which he was convicted — the brutal 1983 rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl — tests the thresholds many of us have regarding when someone should or shouldn’t be put to death.
McCollum, of North Carolina, was part of a death penalty debate between U.S. Supreme Court justices in 1994, and he was featured in a 2010 mailing from the N.C. Republican Party that attacked a Democratic state senator for being soft on the death penalty. The mailing featured a picture of McCollum and described his crimes in detail.
And now, it turns out those crimes are not his.
McCollum and his brother, Leon Brown, were released Wednesday after DNA evidence tied the 1983 rape and murder to someone else. McCollum and Brown, both of whom are mentally disabled, had signed confessions after hours of questioning with no lawyers present. There was no physical evidence tying either to the rape or murder.
Can there be a clearer argument against the death penalty? It is this simple: Be it sloppy police work or prosecutorial misconduct or flawed eyewitness testimony, people are wrongly convicted of murder. Some are sentenced to death. And it is not rare.
Just last month, a Durham, N.C., judge freed Darryl A. Howard from death row, calling the prosecution that led to his conviction the most "horrendous" he had seen in 34 years as a judge. Also last month, a Superior Court judge and a U.S. District Attorney in Washington, D.C. said that DNA evidence showed Kevin Martin, who had served 26 years for murder, was innocent.
Since 1989, 18 people who have served time on death row have been exonerated by DNA evidence, according to the non-profit Innocence Project. Another 16 were exonerated after being convicted of capital crimes but not sentenced to death. Overall, DNA has overturned more than 300 wrongful convictions nationally. Dozens, like McCollum’s, were the result of false confessions.
Certainly, there are far more confessions that are true and murder convictions that are legitimate — some for truly abhorrent crimes. Such is what Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia argued in 1994 when the court declined to review a death row case in Texas.
Scalia, in arguing that the death penalty was not cruel or unusual punishment, cited the gruesome crime for which McCollum had been convicted a decade before. "How enviable a quiet death by lethal injection compared with that!" the justice wrote.
Now, the murderer is not a murderer, and those who were so sure he deserved to die must ask: How many more Henry Lee McCollums might there be?
—The Charlotte Observer
Having problems with the form?Contact Us Directly
China wrestles to mimic, contain Hong Kong
Mediocrity in, mediocrity out
PLEASE! A little perspective on byelections
Democracy run off the road in Cuba
Dangerous pandering to public on Ebola
Pinkwashing the cancer risk
Where have all the mayors gone?
Trudeau charm unlikely to woo Quebecers, polls suggest
U.S. leaders want to arm Ukraine
Not all Albertans thriving in booming economy
Drug treatment for female sexuality not about equality
Reworking Canada's prostitution law
No instant solutions for complex problems at city hall
The world's war on Ebola
Mulcair, Trudeau wrong on Islamic State
Subjugation, humiliation ultimate male power trip
Straight talk on Ebola risks
Chipping away at Hong Kong’s protests
A disservice to Murray and the museum
Russia’s real economic threat: falling gas price
Iran draws hard line on nukes
Solar gets cheap, challenges energy markets
Brandonites to vote on trust?
Make our child-care policy about education
Texas hospital ignorant, incompetent, indecent
Robot car: hit the shopping cart or stroller?
Other Opinion: Jolt globe out of economic mediocrity
The 311 black hole
Manitoba can lead climate debate
Housing co-ops can help solve crisis
Other Opinion: Pope shows willingness to adapt
Germany gets taste of own medicine