USA TODAY US Edition
Journey from execution sentence to exoneration
Several condemned men recently exonerated from death row bring to life the issues raised in Justice Stephen Breyer’s dissent from the Supreme Court ruling that upheld lethal injection:
Henry Lee McCollum was a black teenager with an intellectual disability when he was convicted of raping and murdering an 11-year-old girl in North Carolina. He spent 30 years in prison before DNA found on a cigarette butt led to his exoneration. This month, he won $750,000 in compensation from a state commission. “I represented him for 20 years and could not get anyone’s attention,” says Ken Rose, senior staff attorney at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in Durham. “It is the most frustrating experience to know that you might have an innocent client and that there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Ricky Jackson served 39 years in prison for murder in Ohio based on the false testimony of a 12-year-old boy. He holds the record for time in prison before being exonerated, though his death sentence eventually was commuted to life without parole. “If Ricky’s sentence had not been commuted, he already would have been executed by the time we proved his innocence,” says Brian Howe, one of his lawyers at the Ohio Innocence Project.
Glenn Ford languished on death row for nearly 30 years in Caddo Parish, La. — home to half the death sentences rendered in the state — after inexperienced lawyers couldn’t convince an all-white jury in 1984 that he did not murder a Shreveport jeweler. His exoneration produced a mea culpa from one of the prosecutors, A.M. “Marty” Stroud. “At the time this case was tried, there was evidence that would have cleared Glenn Ford,” Stroud wrote in The Times of Shreveport. After 15 months of freedom, Ford died of lung cancer June 29, the same day the Supreme Court upheld lethal injection.