Innocent People on Death Row - Carlos Gamino

Nebraska’s electric chair is seen in Lincoln, Neb., Monday, April 16, 2007. When the state of Nebraska tries to kill death row inmate Carey Dean Moore with 2,450 volts in the electric chair May 8, some expect movement after the jolt, from Moore’s heart. The macabre image of an inmate in the chair with a beating heart possibly several minutes after the state tries to put him to death isn’t drawn by somebody trying to scuttle the execution. It comes from the Florida doctor who devised the new, untested execution protocol that Nebraska has adopted after a judge rejected the old one. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

By Carlos Gamino

Ready for a shock? One in 25 inmates currently on death row are innocent.

According to a study that the National Academy of Sciences conducted, at least 120 of the approximately 3,000 U.S. citizens waiting to die at the hands of the state have been wrongfully convicted.

These findings, as supported by the most comprehensive empirical study in the history of capital punishment, indicate that about 52 of the 1,320 defendants executed since 1977 were completely innocent of the charges against them, representing a colossal failure of the legal process. (Wisconsin was the first state to permanently abolish the death penalty, but in Alabama, judges can override unanimous jury decisions in favor of a death sentence.)

Ricky Jackson sat on Ohio’s death row for 39 years. After a key witness in his 1975 capital murder trial recanted his testimony in 2013, the state reopened the case, which ultimately led to Jackson’s release. Nearly four decades after his incarceration at age 19, Ricky Jackson became the longest serving exoneree in U.S. history.

Jackson owes his freedom to the Ohio chapter of The Innocence Project (we have a chapter in Wisconsin, as well), which is a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing. There was, however, no DNA evidence in Jackson’s case. In fact, there was no physical evidence whatsoever involved in his conviction for the 1975 murder of a Cleveland man during a convenience store robbery. Nevertheless, after receiving a letter from Jackson in 2006, the organization agreed to take on his case.

Operating out of an obscure corner of the University Of Cincinnati College Of Law, the Ohio Innocence Project relies almost exclusively on law students to investigate cases and devise strategies to overturn the convictions of wrongfully accused prisoners. More than a dozen such students worked tirelessly on Jackson’s case over the past eight years, driven by the compelling facts—or lack thereof which had initially led to his conviction and condemned him to die in the electric chair (Jackson’s sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment.)

Then in 2013, Eddie Vernon—the prosecution’s only eyewitness to the murders in 1976 confessed to his pastor that as a 13-year-old boy, he had been coerced by Cleveland police investigators and prosecutors when giving both his statement and subsequent testimony, and that he had never in fact witnessed the murder at all.

What Do You Think?

Is it fair that organizations such as The Innocence Project have to find innocent people and fight for their freedom, or should the country abolish the death penalty in favor of sparing 4 percent of inmates who are actually innocent?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please, share them on my Facebook page or Twitter.

Carlos Gamino