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The Innocence Fraud of death penalty opponents by Dudley Sharp
The Innocence Fraud of death penalty opponents
by Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
Death Penalty opponents have proclaimed that 102 inmates have been "released
from death row with evidence of their innocence", since the modern death penalty
era began, post Furman v Georgia (1972). (The number of "innocents" is now 113)
That number is a fraud.
Those opponents have combined the factually innocent (the "I truly had nothing
to do with the murder" cases) and the legally innocent (the "I got off because
of legal errors" cases), thereby fraudulently raising the "innocent" numbers. In
addition, they have included many other cases that cannot be claimed as actually
innocent and others which were prosecuted prior to the 1972 Furman decision and
thereby have no relevance to a discussion of innocence within the modern death
A state's example
Death penalty opponents claim that 24 of those 102 "innocent" cases are from
Florida. The Florida Commission on Capital Cases found that 4 of those 24 MIGHT
be actually innocent -- an 84% error rate in death penalty opponents' claims.
If that error rate is consistent, nationally, that would indicate that 17 of the
alleged 102 innocents MIGHT be actually innocent -- a 0.2% actual guilt error
rate for the 7300 sentenced to death in the US since 1973. None were executed.
Case examples - national
Here are a few examples of those "innocents" removed from death row.
Clarence Smith -- he was removed from the "innocents" list when it was
pointed out that this supposedly innocent defendant was convicted in federal
court of charges which included the murder for which he had been acquitted in
the Louisiana state court.
Delbert Tibbs - the Florida Supreme Court candidly conceded that it should not
have reversed Tibbs' conviction since the evidence was legally sufficient. The
state prosecutor stated that "Tibbs was never an innocent man wrongly accused.
He was a lucky human being. He was guilty, he was lucky and now he is free."
Richard Neal Jones-- At the very least, Jones was present at the murder
scene and a party to the conspiracy leading to the murder. His culpability
would appear to be no less than that of the actual murderers.
Jerry Bigelow-- conviction and death sentence were reversed for a reasons
unrelated to his guilt.
Patrick Croy-- There was no dispute Croy killed the police officer.
John C. Skelton-- the court majority explained: “ . . . the evidence
against appellant leads to a strong suspicion or probability that appellant
committed the capital offense . . ."
Dale Johnston-- Prior to retrial, the court excluded incriminating statements
Johnston made during his initial interrogation as well as incriminating evidence
seized due to the interrogation. The prosecution then dismissed the case.
Jimmy Lee Mathers-- The dissent points out that there was still ample evidence
of Mathers’ guilt
Bradley Scott-- the available circumstantial evidence "could only create a
suspicion that Scott committed this murder."
Jay C. Smith-- the appeals court explained, “Our confidence in Smith’s
convictions for the murder of Susan Reinert and her two children is not the
least bit diminished -- if anything, the courts have repeatedly reaffirmed
their conclusion that Smith was “actually guilty”. Smith’s inclusion on the
DPIC List is a “false exoneration” at its most extreme.
Andrew Golden-- the state court noted as follows: "The finger of
suspicion points heavily at Golden. A reasonable juror could conclude that he
more likely than not caused his wife's death."
Troy Lee Jones--The California Supreme Court held that while the evidence of
Jones’ guilt was not overwhelming, it still suggested Jones’ guilt.
Benjamin Harris--Harris admitted taking turns with Bonds in shooting Turner and
admitted having a motive to murder Turner.
Robert Hayes-- Nothing about Hayes’ retrial changes the appeals court’s original
observation that evidence existed to establish Hayes’ guilt.
Jeremy Sheets-- The appellate court decision explains that Sheets was convicted
of a racially motivated murder of a young African American girl. The evidence
of Sheets’ guilt included the tape-recorded statements of an accomplice named
Barnett, who had died prior to Sheets’ trial. The Nebraska Supreme Court
reversed the conviction because Sheets could not cross-examine the dead
Larry Osborne-- A friend and potential accomplice, who died prior to trial,
implicated Osborne in a grand jury proceeding. However, this witness then died
prior to the first trial. His grand jury testimony was read at Osborne’s first
trial and that conviction was reversed because there was no opportunity for
Osborne to cross-examine the witness. On retrial, without the grand jury
testimony of the dead witness, the prosecution had insufficient evidence to
convince the jury of Osborne’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
A complete review of these and additional "innocent" cases can be found in
Footnote 2, below. Most of the case descriptions, above, are edited from
Campbell's review (2a).
No one disputes that innocents are found guilty, within all countries. However,
when scrutinizing death penalty opponents claims, we find that when reviewing
the accuracy of verdicts and the post conviction thoroughness of discovering
those actually innocent incarcerated, that the US death penalty process may be
the most accurate criminal justice sanction in the world.
Under every debated scenario, not executing murderers
will always put many more innocents at risk. (3)
1. "Case Histories: A Review of 24 Individuals Released from Death Row",
Florida Commission on Capital Cases, June 20, 2002, Revised September 10, 2002
2. a) CRITIQUE OF DPIC LIST ("INNOCENCE:FREED FROM DEATH ROW"), Ward Campbell,
Supervising Deputy Attorney General, California
b) "Bad List", Ramesh Ponnuru, Senior Editor, National Review, 9/16/02 at
c) "Not so Innocent", By Ramesh Ponnuru, Senior Editor, National Review,
d) "The Death Penalty Debate in Illinois", John J. Kinsella, J.D., DCBA
Brief (Online), June 2000, at
3. THE DEATH PENALTY - INNOCENCE ISSUES,
Dudley Sharp, 1/1/03.
A thorough review of the many innocence issues surrounding the
death penalty. Upon request.
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
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2008 Year End Death Penalty Statistics
Current U.S. Department of Justice Statistics
- In 2008, 37 persons in nine states were executed -- 18 in Texas; 4 in
Virginia; 3 each in Georgia and South Carolina; 2 each in Florida,
Mississippi, Ohio, and Oklahoma, and 1 in Kentucky.
- Of persons executed in 2008:
-- 20 were white
-- 17 were black
- All 37 inmates executed in 2008 were men.
- Lethal injection was used in 36 executions in 2008; 1 execution was
2007 Year End Death Penalty Statistics
Current U.S. Department of Justice Statistics
In 2007, 42 persons in 10 States were executed --
26 in Texas; 3 each in Alabama and Oklahoma; 2 each in Indiana, Ohio, and
Tennessee; and 1 each in South Dakota, Georgia, South Carolina, and Arizona.
Of persons executed in 2007:
-- 28 were white
-- 14 were black
All 42 inmates executed in 2007 were men.
Lethal injection was used in 41 executions in 2007; 1 execution was by
Thirty-eight States and the Federal government in 2007 had capital statutes.