A new poll shows Americans overwhelmingly oppose the death penalty for people with mental illness. Yet, a delusional man barely escaped execution in Texas today, and many severely mentally ill inmates remain on death row in N.C.
Yet another innocent man is exonerated after more than three decades in prison for murder. How many will it take before our state accepts that systemic changes are needed? And that the death penalty is unconscionable in a system that cannot even convict the right people?
Nationally, many studies have shown that the death penalty does nothing to deter crime. But the best evidence in North Carolina is the fact that our state has gotten safer since we stopped using the death penalty. Since 2007, when N.C. stopped executing prisoners, the murder rate has gone steadily down.
We should not underestimate the bravery it took for Johnson Britt to not just stand up for justice for Henry McCollum and his brother, Leon Brown, but to also speak the truth about the death penalty: that it serves no good purpose in our criminal justice system.
As we celebrated a happy ending, the family of Sabrina Buie was beginning a new chapter of grief. Our broken criminal justice system has never allowed this family to heal. Instead of justice, they got a corrupt investigation and decades of painful court hearings that ended in nothing.
Henry McCollum’s attorney writes about defending an innocent man for 20 years. “I am angry that we live in a world where two disabled boys can have their lives stolen from them, where cops can lie and intimidate with impunity, where innocent people can be condemned to die and where injustice is so difficult to bring to light.”
30 years, 11 months, 5 days. That’s how long it took for Henry McCollum and Leon Brown to finally prove their innocence in a rape and murder for which they were sentenced to death. A judge declared both men innocent Tuesday and ordered their release.
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. Most of the condemned live on death row for decades, making the punishment a costly farce.
An Ashe County man was spared death last week after prosecutors acknowledged a serious mistake in his case. The deal was unusual, and commendable, in a system where prosecutors often try to hold onto death sentences no matter what.
We like to think that a capital appeals process that lasts years weeds out all the wrongly-convicted inmates. Sadly, that’s just not true. No jury has ever heard the evidence that could prove Johnny Burr innocent.