Monday, March 08, 2010

Meet the Exonerated: Florida Death Row Part One

Since Jeb Bush was elected governor of Florida, he has attempted to do everything in his power to speed up executions, disregarding the fact that Florida leads the nation with 23 death row exonerations, out of 139 nationwide according to Death Penalty Information Center. What is it with the Bushs and racking up executions? Serial killer genes, perhaps?

Florida death row exonerations:

David Keaton was the first person exonerated from Death Row in the United States, when it was discovered he was wrongly convicted, in 1971, on the basis of mistaken identification and coerced confessions, Keaton was sentenced to death for murdering an off duty deputy sheriff during a robbery. The State Supreme Court reversed the conviction and granted Keaton a new trial because of newly discovered evidence. The actual killer of the sheriff was later convicted.

Juan Melendez spent 17 years on death row for a 1983 murder to which another man had repeatedly confessed -- evidence prosecutors withheld. On January 3, 2002 Juan Melendez became the 24th person to be released from death row in the state of Florida, the 99th Nationwide.

Rudolph Holton spent 16 years on Florida's death row. On January 24, 2003, he was released, the 25th person wrongly convicted and sentenced to death by the state of Florida. In Holton's case, prosecutors had withheld evidence, a DNA test had been falsified, and the jailhouse snitches who testified against him later admitted they were lying.

At the very least, one would think, after an innocent man's release from 16-years on death row, political leaders would do everything in their power to make sure they are devoting adequate resources to death penalty cases. Florida's Governor, Jeb Bush, apparently disagrees. At the time of Holton's release, he announced a 40% cut in state funding for legal services for those facing the death penalty, and renewed his call for a time limit on death row appeals.

Requiem for Frank Lee Smith (PBS Frontline) - Mr. Smith spent 14-years on Florida's death row for a crime he did not commit. Unfortunately, Mr. Smith died of cancer before he was proven innocent. "In December 2000, after spending 14 years on Florida's death row, Frank Lee Smith was finally cleared of the rape and murder of 8-year-old Shandra Whitehead.

Like nearly 100 prisoners before him, Smith's exoneration came as a result of sophisticated DNA testing unavailable when he was first convicted. But for Frank Lee Smith, the good news came too late: Ten months before he was proven innocent, Smith died of cancer in prison, just steps away from Florida's electric chair."

According to Southern Newspaper Coverage of Exonerations from Death Row, "exonerated inmates receive less coverage than those who are executed, coverage is apt to portray the exoneration as the result of an isolated mistake and not indicative of systematic failure, and coverage emphasizes the experiences of former inmates after being released, not during their incarceration. Cumulatively, this pattern serves to minimize the seriousness of the innocent on death row situation, and is consistent with media theories suggesting political coverage is generally supportive of moderatism/ mainstream elite political thinking."


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