Texas death row inmate Max Soffar is dying of cancer and could spend the rest of days in isolation all because of a false confession he signed decades ago as a teenager. Despite evidence of his innocence in a triple murder and a confession that doesn’t match the facts, Soffar has languished behind bars most of his life. In an op-ed that appeared in Wednesday’s Trib Talk, a publication of the Texas Tribune, Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck pleads for Governor Rick Perry to intervene by granting Soffar’s release and allowing him to spend his final days at home with his wife. Scheck writes:
Proving that a confession in a death penalty case was false can be extremely difficult. For Soffar, whose case doesn’t have DNA evidence to support his innocence, this has meant decades of legal work — efforts that still need more time. Time that he no longer has. For Soffar and so many others, I wish DNA evidence were as easy to come by as TV shows and movies suggest. In truth, fewer than 10 percent of crime scenes contain DNA that could identify the true perpetrator. The coffee cup, the cigarette butt — these are lucky breaks, not the norm.
While Scheck goes onto say that DNA evidence has led to the release of many innocent people, there are other things that could safeguard the criminal justice and prevent future mistakes, including mandatory video recording of interrogations from Miranda warnings forward.
But Soffar’s only hope to die at home lies with the governor. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recently denied Soffar’s petition for clemency. Citing the absence of an execution date for him, the board said, “It has been determined that Mr. Soffar’s request will not be considered by the Board at this time.” But nothing in Texas law requires Perry to accept the board’s absurd refusal to decide this issue now, before Soffar dies. The governor can and should order a more comprehensive review.
Governor Perry, this isn’t a question of politics, of being for or against capital punishment, or even of whether Max Soffar is guilty or innocent. It’s a humanitarian appeal — an issue of mercy, compassion and human decency.
Please allow Max to die in peace, close to his loved ones who have suffered greatly for so long.