Would you rather see a guilty man walk free or an innocent man sent to prison?
It’s theoretically up to you, but consider the following: between 2.3 percent and 5 percent of all prisoners in the U.S. are innocent, roughly 100,000 people. They have spent spend decades in prison for crimes that they took no part in committing, if they are exonerated, government compensation is minimal, and their lives are hopelessly distorted. The perpetuation of capital punishment only increases the severity of the problem; if, as a society, we believe that we can punish absolutely, then we cannot tolerate a court system that puts innocent people on death row.
Verneal Jimerson and Dennis Williams were sentenced to death in Illinois for two 1978 murders that they did not commit. Jimerson spent ten years on death row before being exonerated through DNA testing in 1995. Williams spent seventeen years on death row before being exonerated in 1996.
Charles Irvin Fain spent seventeen years on Idaho’s death row for a murder and rape that he did not commit. DNA testing proved his innocence in 2001.
Curtis McCarty spent 21 years in prison, including almost eighteen years on Oklahoma’s death row, for a murder that he did not commit. He was exonerated through DNA testing in 2007.
Ledell Lee was sentenced to death for the sexual assault and murder of 26-year old Debra Reese more than twenty years ago. Lee insisted throughout his prison sentence that he was innocent. Both the ACLU and the Innocence Project filed motions asking for a stay of Lee’s execution until post-conviction DNA testing could be conducted. The state of Arkansas, on the other hand, hoped to execute Lee without consulting DNA evidence. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the state.
Lee was executed at 11:44 pm on April 20, 2017.