The Next Troy Davis?
The execution by lethal injection in September of Troy Davis still reverberates through the criminal-justice system. With a string of prosecution witnesses recanting their testimony and Davis professing his innocence to the very end, many still wonder: Did the state of Georgia execute an innocent man? No one can say for sure, but there were serious questions about the case against him. Adding to the recent wave of unease about capital punishment is the fact that there are many more Troy Davises — death row inmates whose guilty verdicts have been questioned — awaiting execution.
Abu-Jamal, who has awaited execution in Pennsylvania for 29 years, has become something of a death row celebrity since he was convicted of murdering a Philadelphia police officer during a street altercation. Prosecutors say that Abu-Jamal, who has published books and become a respected commentator while in prison, emptied his revolver into the face of Officer Daniel Faulkner as the man lay on the ground, despite having sustained a gunshot wound to the chest. On Oct. 11, the U.S. Supreme Court left in place a ruling that allows a new jury to decide whether Abu-Jamal will be put to death or serve a life sentence.
Anthony Ray Hinton
Convicted of two murders in separate robberies at fast-food restaurants in Birmingham, Ala., Hinton has been on death row for 25 years. There were no witnesses to the murders, and fingerprints from the crime scenes did not match Hinton’s, but he was convicted on questionable ballistics evidence from a third robbery. Gun experts testified that retrieved bullets could not have been fired by a gun found at the home of Hinton’s mother, but Alabama appeals courts still upheld the conviction.
He was one of four youths charged with raping two young white women, then pushing them off a Missouri bridge to their deaths in the Mississippi River in 1991. Testimony against Clemons came from a man who had originally confessed to the crimes himself and a fellow defendant who accepted a plea bargain. Represented at trial by inexperienced lawyers, Clemons was sentenced to death despite being acknowledged by prosecutors to be only an “accomplice.”
On death row for 11 years, Swearingen was convicted of the kidnapping, sexual assault and murder of a 19-year-old college student in 1998 in Montgomery County, Texas. The victim’s body was found in a national forest more than three weeks after she and Swearingen were seen together on a college campus. Expert testimony demonstrated that she had been dead for no more than two weeks, a period during which Swearingen was incarcerated in an unrelated matter.
Bell faces the death penalty for alleged involvement in the shooting death of a Mississippi convenience store clerk during a robbery in 1991. His inexperienced defense never introduced testimony that he was in Memphis, Tenn., on the day of the crime. Eyewitnesses were prepared to confirm Bell’s story, but affidavits were never introduced, and a videotape showing him in another state at the time of the crime never made it into evidence. The state continues to press for execution.
He is accused of participating in the murder of a man in Boca Raton, Fla., in 1979. It’s clear that Scott accompanied another defendant in a botched mission to rob the victim. But Scott’s accomplice confessed to beating the man to death with a champagne bottle after Scott had departed the scene. Both defendants were convicted of murder. The difference: Co-defendant Richard Kondian’s family hired a seasoned defense attorney, who got him a plea bargain (he was released after 15 years). Scott, represented by public defenders, got the death penalty.
Wolfe’s death sentence for alleged involvement in the 2001 killing of a drug dealer in Virginia has been overturned in federal court, but he remains on death row as prosecutors appeal the decision. Convicted of murder, Wolfe was accused of ordering the assassination of Daniel Petrole Jr., head of a $6 million-a-year drug operation in northern Virginia. But the only testimony connecting Wolfe to the murder came from the hit man, who testified in exchange for immunity from the death penalty.