Justice Delayed…

The good news:

Anthony Ray Hinton walked out of the Jefferson County Jail at 9:30 a.m. today a free man for the first time in 30 years. “The sun does shine,” he said as he was embraced by family and friends.

The bad:

One of the longest serving death row prisoners in Alabama history and among the longest serving condemned prisoners to be freed after presenting evidence of innocence, Mr. Hinton is the 152nd person exonerated from death row since 1983.

Our justice system is neither just nor, really, a system.  It is instead capricious and often malicious all the way down the line, from cop to court to cell.  It does contain a certain strain of systemized function, of course:  an institutional inability to grasp the meaning of “innocent until proven guilty:

For more than fifteen years, EJI attorneys repeatedly have asked state officials to re-examine the evidence in this case, but former Jefferson County District Attorney David Barber, and Attorneys General from Troy King to Luther Strange, all failed to do so.

Andachtsbild_Gefesselter_Christus_c1720_MfK_Wgt

Only when the Supreme Court forced Alabama officials’  hands did the tests that failed to show a match between the gun Hinton was alleged to have used in two murders and the weapon actually involved did such testing take place.  This man lost 30 years of his life because the engine of justice was rigged that way.  Hinton’s attorney, Bryan Stevenson makes the obvious explicit:

“He was convicted because he’s poor. We have a system that treats you better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent, and his case proves it. We have a system that is compromised by racial bias, and his case proves it.”

Malice has a face — several faces.  Stevenson again:

We gave the prosecutors every opportunity to do the right thing. They just would not do it.”

And one last note:  Hinton could be dead.  The state of Alabama wanted him dead.  The miscarriage of justice, huge as it is, could have been worse — to a certainty, has been worse over and over again. In that context, Hinton’s reaction to this latest turn in his life is almost unbelievably mild:

Outside the jail this morning, Mr. Hinton said he will continue to pray for the families of the murder victims, who together with him have suffered a miscarriage of justice. “I shouldn’t have (sat) on death row for 30 years,” Mr. Hinton told reporters.“All they had to do was to test the gun.” He expressed the wish that prosecutors and judges who were indifferent to his innocence be held accountable.

Punish first; ask questions later.  That’s no way to run a country.

You may consider this an Easter commentary.  Has Passover resonance too.

Image:  Devotional image from Blaindt Abbey, Christ in Chains, c. 1720






44 replies
  1. 1
    Schlemazel says:

    In hospitals when there is a screw up there is a commision that investigates the cause and makes recommendations for avoiding the same mistake in the future. In courts there are several very well known points of failure and they are ignored and repeated over and over and over and over.

    The worst part for society when the wrong person is sentenced is that the real criminal is out free. That outweighs the individual tragedy of the wrongly convicted when the criminal acts again. These are sins that send ripples that damage many lives.

  2. 2
    greennotGreen says:

    What I have never understood about prosecutors and, to some extent, some victims who want to rush to judgement and NOT look at any exculpatory evidence is that if you convict the wrong person, you’re letting the guilty go free. Sometimes it seems people just want to blame somebody, anybody. It doesn’t make sense.

    And no, conviction rate to get elected is no excuse.

  3. 3
    WaterGirl says:

    Lady justice is supposed to be blind, but I didn’t think that meant prosecutors were supposed to turn a blind eye to the possible or likely innocence of another human being.

  4. 4
    WaterGirl says:

    So… if you were arrested for a very serious crime that you did not commit, or if you were innocent out on bail awaiting a verdict that would put you in prison for a very long time, would you take your chances with our “justice” system or would you bolt and run?

  5. 5
    Corner Stone says:

    Read about this in the last few days. The death penalty must be abolished. Period.

  6. 6
    rikyrah says:

    this story just makes me sad, all the way around

  7. 7
    Corner Stone says:

    Spent a good hour yesterday trying to explain to my family units about the perverse incentives society has in place to punish the poor. Very frustrating that they completely buy into the welfare fraud mythology.
    The MHP show on Saturday had a few very good segments on the in-justice system and the way we have set it up for certain segments of society to be rewarded for disenfranchising a whole category of citizens.

  8. 8
    Corner Stone says:

    @rikyrah: I hope he gets all their dollars.
    No way to repay for what they did to him, his family and his community. But they should still pay through the F’ng nose.

  9. 9
    Corner Stone says:

    Speaking of crimes against humanity, who in the world ever thought Julia Stiles was an actress? Why do they keep putting her in things?

  10. 10

    @greennotGreen:

    What I have never understood about prosecutors and, to some extent, some victims who want to rush to judgement and NOT look at any exculpatory evidence is that if you convict the wrong person, you’re letting the guilty go free. Sometimes it seems people just want to blame somebody, anybody.

    Once people make up their minds, they start looking at evidence as a way of proving their point rather than a way of arriving at the right conclusion. This is a very common cognitive failure that occurs in many more places than just criminal trials.

  11. 11
    Eric S. says:

    Punish first. Ask questions … maybe.

  12. 12
    Corner Stone says:

    @greennotGreen:

    And no, conviction rate to get elected is no excuse.

    Of course it is. Many politicians start as prosecutors and DAs. They are incentivized to convict, and it doesn’t matter to them who it is. The darker the better, across a whole swath of the country, and I don’t mean just the South.

  13. 13
    max says:

    Our justice system is neither just nor, really, a system. It is instead capricious and often malicious all the way down the line, from cop to court to cell. It does contain a certain strain of systemized function, of course: an institutional inability to grasp the meaning of “innocent until proven guilty:

    Oh, I’d call it a system – a system for inflicting own societal sadistic impulses on people we think it’s OK to treat badly. Some of the people treated that way deserve, but a bunch more don’t deserve that.

    max
    [‘The system is functioning as it was designed to do – that this is practically Bolshie in application is a mere line of ignorance from being denied.’]

  14. 14
    Corner Stone says:

    Good to see Dwight Howard playing so smooth again coming off a knee.

  15. 15
    Corner Stone says:

    Tom L @ up top and really everyone, if you haven’t seen it yet you should catch some clips from the Saturday show of MHP on MSNBC. Great perspective and some good insight.

  16. 16
    debbie says:

    @WaterGirl:

    She, along with Jesus, weeps.

    @rikyrah:

    I am beyond sad every time there is a story like this. While I still can’t bring myself to forgive Scheck and Neufield, they’ve done a huge service with the Innocence Project.

    Lethal injection is no less barbarous than than beheading. Period.

  17. 17
    raven says:

    This is how the officials were favoring Kentucky last night

    Kentucky-Wisconsin was the crescendo of awful tournament officiating

    #1 How is that anything BUT a flagrant 2? Lyles basically punches Gasser in the face for no reason. It was excessive, extreme, over the shoulders and the ball was live. So what did the refs decide after going to the monitor?

    NO FOUL AT ALL. This is one of the most inexplicable refereeing decisions you’ll ever see, even if you watched the Tuck Rule game.

    #2. This one was more important to the final result. With 2:35 left, time was running down on a wild Wisconsin possession. There were two missed shots, two clean blocks and then, Nigel Hayes getting two points off his own rebound when there was no time on the shot clock. Originally the TBS truck thought it was called a shot-clock violation, as did most of Americans outside Kentucky. They kept the score at 60-58, Kentucky. But then the score changed to 60-60 because the network was told that were was no violation, despite the fact that Hayes was clearly, even in real-time, holding the ball with 0 on the shot clock. The worst part is Kentucky was 41 seconds away from having that play become reviewable as refs can only go to the monitor with under two minutes. (I dislike all replay except for tennis’s Hawkeye. But if you’re going to review calls under two minutes, why not make it five in the tournament. The games count more.) The bucket counted and the game was tied.

    See, so the obvious call that wasn’t made in Kentucky’s favor and cost them the game proves that the officials called the game to that Kentucky would win. It wasn’t that the officials were awful, they were in Kentucky’s pocket. Some people KNOW what they are talking about, it’s not just their opinion.

  18. 18
    Ruckus says:

    @Schlemazel:
    The worst part for society when the wrong person is sentenced is that the real criminal is out free. That outweighs the individual tragedy of the wrongly convicted when the criminal acts again. These are sins that send ripples that damage many lives.
    QFT
    Thirty years in jail, on death row for a crime that he didn’t commit, with the exculpating evidence in the hands of the government. Kind of makes you wonder what the fuck we are doing as a nation that we not only allow this but many think this is proper.

  19. 19
    shell says:

    “Punish first; ask questions later.”
    ********
    That line could come straight out of ‘Alice in Wonderland’

    “`No, no!’ said the Queen. `Sentence first–verdict afterwards.’

    `Stuff and nonsense!’ said Alice loudly. `The idea of having the sentence first!’

    `Hold your tongue!’ said the Queen, turning purple.”

  20. 20
    Corner Stone says:

    @raven: C’mon, friend. It was several calls in a row to get KY back from being down by 8 points late in the game.
    The no call off the flagrant was BS, and that just has to be admitted.
    Wiscy just outplayed both the refs and KY down the stretch, and didn’t leave it close enough for them to make the game.
    I was real time yelling about the calls, not after the fact review and video analysis. And I didn’t attend either college so no rooting interest beyond I have a bias against the way the NCAA shifted the rules a few years ago.

  21. 21
    Ruckus says:

    @WaterGirl:
    A very good question. If you had no or little money then an expensive law firm is not an available option and for bolting, where are you going to go? Running to someplace that doesn’t extradite, money. And you will still have issues with a government that doesn’t want you running around until proven innocent. Hide in plain sight? Well if you are poor you stand a much greater chance of being stopped/checked by law enforcement, which now makes things worse for you. It’s a lose, lose situation.

  22. 22
    ruemara says:

    What sort of justice can be done past his freedom? How do you repay someone whose life you’ve stolen? There simply isn’t enough money in the world.

  23. 23
    raven says:

    @Corner Stone: Of course the the no-call on KY was BS and so was the shot clock no- call against Wisconsin. I hate Kentucky more than Wisconsin but not by that much. It’s my opinion that the officiating was terrible. You know what else? I respect your opinion but I know you don’t “know” any more than any one else. Have a good rabbbit day down there.

  24. 24
    MomSense says:

    This case makes me so sad and angry. Thirty years of incarceration on a wrongful conviction is devastating.

  25. 25
    MomSense says:

    Since the Kentucky Wisconsin game was brought up, I had to leave the room when I caught the MSNBC clip of the aftermath in Kentucky. You could see obvious riots with large fires and it was portrayed as rowdy fans showing their disappointment.
    Fuck that, MSNBC.

  26. 26
    Ruckus says:

    @ruemara:
    Well one suggestion might be that the prosecutors who refused to do their jobs might spend 30 yrs in jail. I think that would be tax money well spent.

  27. 27
    Mike G says:

    @Ruckus:

    This.
    This is going to happen over and over again because there is absolutely no accountability for prosecutors who lie and cheat in their zeal to put away any easy target they can frame when they have a crime to prosecute. To many people in this country want the “justice system” to embody their sadistic urges to punish and don’t care who the target is.

    Even the scumbag former prosecutor in Texas who knowingly withheld exculpatory evidence that put an innocent man away for 20+ years only faces disbarment at worst.

  28. 28

    @ruemara:

    What sort of justice can be done past his freedom?

    Punishing the people who put him in prison unjustly? Reviewing and changing the rules so this kind of thing doesn’t happen again?

  29. 29
    LosGatosCA says:

    “This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent,” Scalia has written.

    Not a bug, feature.

    Someone must pay, if they were the ones that actually did it, well that’s a bonus.

  30. 30
    Cacti says:

    News like this, and the 151 other innocent people sentenced to die by the US judicial system had me SMH from side to side in that jingoistic thread about how messed up the Italian criminal justice system was because Amanda Knox.

    Whatever injustices Ms. Knox endured, getting strapped to a gurney and having a lethal chemical cocktail pumped into her veins for a crime she didn’t commit was never a possibility. “Messed up” Italy got rid of that particular brand of “justice” in 1948.

  31. 31
    Thor Heyerdahl says:

    @raven: Watched the game at a bar with a buddy on Saturday. There were partisans in the Toronto crowd, but both of us had no dog in the fight.

    There was that other foul where Wisconsin sunk a 3 pointer but they called a charging foul on the person who passed the ball, and then UK came back and scored 2 – for a 5 point swing. The penalized player was in the air and the guy he hit wasn’t even planted.

    After the terrible call you mentioned in #2, we both commented how shitty the officiating was – an indelible mark on an otherwise pretty decent game.

  32. 32
    Ruckus says:

    @Mike G:
    Disbarment? Nah, that might make lawyers responsible for the bullshit that they say. Like the one in socal who is trying to put a initiative on the ballot that people should be able to execute gays for sodomy. Has the bar taken any action against him? Not that I’ve heard of. And disbarment would be too much of a reaction, why he’d lose his livelihood and we all know how much money talks.

  33. 33
    Corner Stone says:

    @raven: Whether someone put the refs in a position to have a rooting interest for KY or not, as I obviously can’t prove that allegation, they certainly had their eyes wide shut in the medium to late portion of the second half regarding KY fouls and breaches. Wiscy was up by almost double digits and within forty seconds and a series of calls/non-calls it was a tie ball game. That series was much more important to the potential outcome of the game than one noted shot clock violation. Just because they screwed up a clock call does not equate to a no call on active physical violence by a player on the court. It’s not both sides. It was happening in real time and fairly obvious.
    If they were just a crew doing their best then that’s fine but the NCAA needs to invest in some more strenuous training and other mitigation. That game should not have been tied with a few minutes left. Wiscy was clearly outplaying and outhustling KY down the stretch. Anyone who cares to can watch the tape, it’s all there.

  34. 34
    Arclite says:

    Can he sue? There was a simple way for the state to exonerate him, and they failed.

  35. 35
    WereBear says:

    It’s difficult to imagine the first fifteen years, but the next fifteen spent trying to get them to test the gun? Even worse.

    I, too, find it bizarre that some people are satisfied with the justice that springs from punishing anyone. Whether they did it or not.

  36. 36
    Jebediah, RBG says:

    @ruemara:

    There simply isn’t enough money in the world.

    True. But tje people responsible should still have to pay him. Each one, oit of their own pocket, 25% of their gross income, for thirty years. Let their lives be a little more difficult for long enough to make an Easter Bunny-damned impression.

  37. 37
    RaflW says:

    I don’t think it will happen in our currently f-d up society, but if justice were attainable, the prosecutors who do this sort of shit – rig the convicting evidence, hide exculpatory evidence, etc – would themselves get prosecuted.

    (I think I have seen one or two cases of such justified legal blowback, but its all too rare).

  38. 38
    KH says:

    Justice theater, just like security theater at the airports.

  39. 39
    Glidwrith says:

    I’ve rather thought that we have the equivalent of the “separate but equal” educational system acting within our justice system, but rich vs poor instead of black vs white. Obviously, this didn’t work for education and we’ve seen far too many cases like the one described above, simply because the accused is poor.

    Any lawyer types out there that think we could get a toehold in reforming the “justice” system by coming at this from the direction of case law that separate is NOT equal, viewing the disparity in resources as prejudicing a case?

  40. 40
    hitchhiker says:

    Bryan Stephenson has a brilliant book out about his life working with victims of our ugly system: wrongfully convicted people and people given sentences WAY out of proportion to their crimes and people in prison who don’t have the mental capacity to understand what happened to them.

    And somehow it’s infuriating but not depressing. He’s a hell of a man. The Ted Talk is 24 minutes of your life that you won’t regret.

  41. 41
    jake the antisoshul soshulist says:

    @raven:
    I personally thought the officiating was bad overall. Starting with the invisible flagrant foul, there were three straight questionable call that went Kentucky’s way. In the last three or four minutes there were two or three that favored Wisconsin. I watch a lot of CBB, and I thought the officiating was as bad this season as I have seen.

  42. 42
    wenchacha says:

    Fuck Fat Tony Scalia, while we’re at it.

  43. 43

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