The well publicized events in recent months which culminated in the exoneration of Gregory Flint Taylor, wrongly incarcerated for 17 years of a life sentence, fails to express the true magnitude of the problem of wrongful murder convictions in the state of North Carolina. Fortunately the death penalty was not imposed for Mr. Taylor, however, the number of people wrongly incarcerated in capital murder cases is staggering. That is one reason that the former director of the Durham based nonprofit Center for Death Penalty Litigation (CDPL), attorney Ken Rose, is one of the state’s leading advocates for doing away with the death penalty.
Ken Rose’s heroic actions in leading the appellate defense of Levon “Bo” Jones is chronicled in the book “The Last Lawyer,” by John Temple. Jones was sentenced to death for a 1987 murder despite no confession, no informant testimony, no physical evidence, no fingerprints, and no DNA evidence. Through the efforts of Ken Rose and others on the CDPL team, Levon “Bo” Jones was eventually found to be innocent of the murder which nearly cost him is life. Jones is one of but close to a dozen North Carolina inmates who have been on death row, but were later exonerated. Alan Gell, who was successfully prosecuted by prosecutor David Hoke (in large measure due to withholding exculpatory evidence from Gell’s defense attorneys), is another. In fact, the Tar Heel State is third, trailing only Illinois and Louisiana in the number of death row inmates ultimately found to be innocent.
Statistics over a six year period, beginning in July 1, 2001, show that there were 2,612 potential capital first degree murder charges filed. Of these individuals, 396 were later exonerated, a breakdown of this group is as follows: 272 charges were dismissed without leave to reinstate the charges; 9 no true bill was found; 40 no probable cause was found; and 75 were found to be not guilty. (Information from a report by NC Indigent Defense Services entitled: “FY07 Capitol Trial Case Study: PAC and Expert Spending in Potentially Capitol Cases at the Trial Level – December 2008,” and contained in the NC Indigent Defense Services website.)
This averages out to more than sixty innocent people arrested and charged in potential capital cases every year, and accounts for more than 15% of the potential capital cases. And, as you can imagine, they all served time in jail. Unfortunately the media does a poor job in educating the masses about this issue, and the public outrage is thereby minimized.
The death penalty should be removed as a sentencing option if this state and this country is be considered one of civility and compassion. It’s one thing to wrongfully take 17 years of a man’s life, but quite another to wrongfully take a man’s life.