OpEd Project Junior Fellow Ravenna Koenig weighing in:
News of the Supreme Court’s denial of a stay of execution in the case of Troy Davis and his subsequent death by lethal injection Wednesday night has been the cover story of publications across the country.
Just a day before his death Yale scholar Laura Wexler (a member of The OpEd Project at Yale Public Voices Fellowship Program) published a piece on CNN Opinion, calling attention to the unreliability of eye witness identifications. In the Troy Davis case seven of the nine witnesses recanted their testimony. In her op-ed, Wexler described her own experience as a witness in a criminal case where she found herself unable to identify a man she had seen at close range. This caused her to doubt the notion of the “rational spectator.”
“You can still choose an innocent man,” she wrote in a chilling acknowledgment of just how much is at stake when a witness points the accusatory finger.
In Wexler’s troubling account we heard echos of an op-ed written by another member of our community. But this time from the other side of the bars.
In April The OpEd Project worked with John Thompson, an Echoing Green fellow (like us) and former prisoner who was exonerated after spending 18 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit (14 of them on death row). Thompson’s op-ed in the New York Times, “The Prosecution Rests, but I Can’t,” described how he was seized in his grandmother’s home and sent to prison thanks to false eye witness testimony. In addition, the prosecution in his case buried exculpatory blood evidence that eventually exonerated him. Thompson sued the prosecutor and his case went to the Supreme Court earlier this year. He is the founder of Resurrection After Exoneration, a nonprofit established to help exonerated prisoners reintegrate into society.
Both Wexler and Thompson bring essential, first-hand perspectives to the ongoing public debate on the complicated notion of “truth” in our legal system.
Following the execution of Troy Davis, demonstrators across the country have rallied to protest. President Jimmy Carter suggested that the Davis conviction calls the whole death penalty into question. With stories like Wexler’s and Thompson’s, it’s easy to understand why.
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