Death Row Exonerations, Crooked Lawyers and Police Misconduct

Terrance WilliamsThere is no doubt that there are many parts of our legal system that are broken. From wrongful convictions, illegal search and seizure, coerced confessions, corrupt prosectors, uncaring public defenders, and torturous prison conditions it is imperative that people stay as far away form the prison system as possible. 

This post spotlights 3 of the many cases that highlight the gross miscarriages of justice that may befall you when caught up in the legal system.  Fortunately these cases were caught before people were executed at the hands of the justice system.

Damon Thibodeaux

Damon ThibodeauxThibodeaux was convicted in 1984 of the rape and murder of his 14-year-old step-cousin Crystal Champagne.  His conviction was solely based on his confession and he spent 16 years in prison; 15 on death row.  Thibodeaux was exonerated last week after it was revealed that his false confession (which was not taped) was coerced by police after over 9 hours of interrogation.  Ten years after the conviction an independent review of the case showed that the confession was completely wrong in almost every significant aspect including the method of the murder and the fact that the girl was not raped. There was no physical evidence in the case and ultimately it was the lack of DNA that exonerated him.

So what about restitution for Mr. Thibodeaux?  Louisiana pays those wrongfully convicted a measly $25,000 for each year they were held in error for up to a decade.  Full story

Terrance Williams

Terrance WilliamsIn 1986 Terrence Williams of Philadelphia was convicted of murder in the beating death of Amos Norwood.  Williams spent 16 years on death row before his execution (scheduled for last week) was halted after it was revealed that prosecutors deliberately withheld evidence at trial.  The victim Norwood was known to have been having sex with underage boys, including Williams, and this mitigating factor was not presented to the jury as a reason for the beating death of Norwood.

"That we were talking about executing somebody who meets his lawyer a day before trial is an indictment of the system," Public Defender Victor Abreu said. "The fact we're talking about this new evidence a week before execution is a bigger indictment of the system."  Full story

Harry Miller

Harry MillerMiller was convicted in 2003 of a Utah robbery that had been committed three years earlier. At the time of the robbery, the victim stated that her attacker was 18 to 21 years old and fit. Miller was 47 years old and had medical and employment records proving that he was in Louisiana recovering from a stroke both two weeks before and the week after the robbery.   The stroke had left Miller partially paralyzed and he couldn't even walk a flight of stairs on his own, much less commit a robbery.  For reasons still not disclosed Miller's medical documentation was not presented to the jury.  Neither were the dozens of witnesses who saw him in Louisiana.  Family members who were his caretakers during the stroke also were not allowed to testify.  Miller served three and a half years in prison before he was released.  It would be another two years before the Utah Court of Appeals would reverse the conviction and call for a rehearing. 

Because Utah did not have an exoneration statute at that time, upon his release, Miller was given no assistance from the state. He was destitute and could not afford to return home to Louisiana. Full Story

All three cases highlight situations where either police or prosecutors deliberately withheld information or manipulated the system to get a conviction.  Reading like something out of a bad movie, the acts of misconduct were so brazen that you would not believe they actually happened if they were not so tragically true. 

This piece is not written to suggest that all prosecutors and police are corrupt.  Clearly these are exceptions to the rule.  What we do suggest is that these events happen much more often than the public might want to believe and that innocence is no guarantee that you will not be locked up for years at a time or maybe even die on death row; murdered for crimes that you did not commit.

In Louisiana alone, six people have been exonerated from Louisiana’s death row since 2000, versus just three executions. There is of course no count of those innocent men who were wrongfully executed.

Return to Black News

No votes yet