Sunday, April 5, 2015

A Holy Season and Capital Punishment

Today is one of the days of the season of Passover, when Jews gather at the seder meal and tell each other the story of how their ancestors were delivered from bondage and oppression in Egypt.

This brings two recent news stories to mind.

Anthony Ray Hinton

Anthony Ray Hinton, 58, was released from prison Friday, about nine hours before the first evening of Passover.  He had spent 30 years on death row in an Alabama prison.

Hinton was convicted in the shooting of three men, two of whom died, based on forensic bullet evidence that was first called into question many years ago.  Witnesses at the time said he had been at work with them when the shootings occurred.

Alabama refused for years to reconsider the evidence. Finally, after the U.S. Supreme Court said Hinton's defense had been "constitutionally deficient" and ordered a retrial, Alabama authorities dismissed his case.

One of Hinson's attorneys said that independent forensic experts in 1999 "were quite unequivocal that (Hinton's) gun was not connected to these crimes," he said. "That's the real shame to me. What happened this week to get Mr. Hinton released could have happened at least 15 years ago."

According to the New York Times, Hinton said this upon his release:  "I've got to forgive.  I lived in hell for 30 years, so I don't want to die and go to hell.  So I've got to forgive.  I don't have a choice."

Glenn Ford

Less than a month before Hinton's release, another innocent black man was released after serving almost 30 years on death row at a prison in Louisiana.

Glenn Ford, 64, was convicted by the testimony of people who robbed and killed a jewelry store owner.  New information revealed that he had not participated in the crimes but had pawned some of the stolen jewelry and tried to sell the gun used in the shooting death.

Neither of Ford's actual offenses has been proven in a court.  Neither offense is a capital crime.  Still, Louisiana has denied compensation for Ford's false imprisonment.  The judge said Ford knew of the plans to rob and kill and therefore was "proven to be guilty of lesser crimes and was not an innocent man."  (The state's maximum payout for people wrongfully imprisoned is $250,000, not much for 30 years spent in a cell on a false conviction.)

Ford's lawyers say he was convicted because of suppression of evidence by the prosecution and poor representation by his own lawyer.

Ford now is dying of stage 4 (final stage) lung cancer, which was not diagnosed or treated during his years in prison.  He is in hospice and is not expected to live out the year.


With the possible exception of North Korea, The United States imprisons more of its population than any other country, 716 of every 100,000 people.

An October Gallup poll found that 60 percent of Americans support the death penalty, down from 80 percent in 1994.

More than 150 death-row prisoners have been released in the last 40 years when their convictions were reversed or dismissed. Very few of the releases have been based on new DNA evidence.

Death-penalty cases are prosecuted with greater care and more appeals because the consequences are permanent.

You have to wonder how many other prisoners -- whose cases do not require the automatic appeals and reviews guaranteed in capital murder cases -- are innocent and yet confined in American jails and prisons today.


Today is Easter, the day when Christians celebrate Jesus' resurrection and its promise of eternal life.

For the sake of people like Anthony Ray Hinton and Glenn Ford, we all should hope there is a wise and knowing god who offers greater justice than American court systems.   

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