On May 20, Nicholas Kristof wrote the longest opinion piece in New York Times history about Kevin Cooper, a California death row prisoner. Evidence in his case suggests that he was framed by evidence planted by the San Bernadino police.
Kristof spoke with Robert Dunham, the director of the Death Penalty Information Center, for the center’s podcast. In the interview, Kristof noted the significance of federal judges themselves claiming that Cooper was framed. He also compared the case to that of Cameron Willingham, who was executed in 2004. Although the media did not give Willingham’s case significant attention until after his death, Kristof is hoping that his piece can bring some attention to Cooper’s case before it is too late. Kristof also pointed to broader issues in the criminal justice system, such as a lack of accountability for official misconduct on all levels of the system. Learn more here.
The North Carolina state bar has launched an investigation against Florida lawyer Patrick Megaro for his treatment of two North Carolina exonerees, one of whom was exonerated from death row. Henry McCollum and his half-brother Leon served decades in prison for the rape and murder of an 11 year old girl before DNA evidence proved their innocence. The two young mentally disabled teens were coerced into signing false confessions and convicted despite scant physical evidence. They received $750,000 each from the state in compensation. Lawyer Patrick Megaro collected one third of each award after virtually no work on the exonerations or pardons. He approved loans at 42 percent interest for them and a $20,000 payment to two women who described themselves as “advocates.” McCollum lost all of his money and began borrowing more money at 39 percent with the lawyer’s approval. Learn more here.
On April 26, 2018, The Equal Justice Initiative opened the Memorial for Peace and Justice. It also opened the Legacy Museum, which tells the stories of the over 4,000 people killed by racial terror lynchings in the century after the Civil War. The museum highlights the connections between this history of terror to modern manifestations of violence towards people of color, including mass incarceration and the death penalty. The opening drew thousands of visitors from across the country, including prominent civil rights advocates. The memorial and museum were inspired in part by the criminal defense work of the Equal Justice Initiative, which began with the representation of indigent prisoners on Alabama’s death row and later expanded to oppose juvenile life sentences and mass incarceration. Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, hopes that confronting our past can help move us into the future with greater resolve to end the modern manifestations of racialized terror in the criminal justice system and beyond. Learn more here.
The University of Virginia School of Law has created a new online resource that allows users to explore death penalty practices in the United States from 1991 to 2017. The resource consists of an interactive map that provides data about the number of death sentences by county. It allows users to compare and contrast different counties over time, examine how counties compare to each other, and learn how they compare to national trends. The information is drawn from a database created by professor Brandon Garrett. Garret gathered the information to supplement his recent book “End of Its Rope: How Killing the Death Penalty Can Revive Criminal Justice.” This publicly available database contains information on more than 5,000 death sentences. Learn more here.
The American Bar Association has created a new web resource devoted to the clemency process in death penalty cases. The resource, called the Capital Clemency Resource Initiative Clearinghouse, is the result of a collaboration between the ABA Death Penalty Representation Project and the Death Penalty Due Process Project. Misty Thomas, chief counsel for the Death Penalty Due Process Project, said that in every state the project has studied, there were insignificant resources for and attention paid to clemency. The resource is designed to address this issue. Learn more here.
While prosecutors have a large amount of discretion in their work, they are not permitted to hide evidence that could be exculpatory for a defendant.
In a recent Colorado case, prosecutors possessed two reports that that pointed to other suspects since the beginning of the case, yet disclosed them 15 months after defendant David Bueno was convicted.
Bueno and codefendent Alex Perez were charged in 2004 with the stabbing death of inmate Jeffrey Heird at Limon Correctional Facility. The state sought the death penalty against them.
Defense attorneys had specifically asked for evidence relating to the other suspects mentioned in the report. The Colorado Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of charges against Bueno and Perez.
Such prosecutorial misconduct is an example of the importance of holding prosecutors accountable both in the courtroom and at the ballot box.