News 11.19.09

The Innocent on Death Row

The case of

Cameron Todd Willingham

, who was executed in Texas in 2004, had drawn headlines around the world recently. The case starkly underscores the risk of overlooking clear signs of wrongful conviction and allowing innocent people to be executed. A decision in Texas yesterday demonstrates that this issue is extremely timely and could have life-or-death consequences.

Texas’ highest criminal court yesterday rejected the appeal of a Max Soffar, a mentally ill prisoner on the state’s death row for a crime he has long said he didn’t commit.

Soffar was convicted of a 1980 murder based in part on a confession that he later said was false. His attorneys, at the American Civil Liberties Union and the Texas Innocence Network, say he has been denied the chance to present evidence demonstrating that his confession was false.

"This case represents a textbook example of a miscarriage of justice," said David Dow of TIN. "From a false confession to two unfair trials and death sentences, the problems with Max Soffar's case show the grave failures of the criminal justice system. With the court's ruling today, Texas comes closer to executing another innocent man."


Read more about Soffar’s case here

.

The Innocence Project is not involved in Soffar’s case, but our work has demonstrated that false confessions are indeed a common cause of wrongful conviction. More than 25 percent of the wrongful convictions overturned through DNA testing involved false confessions. False confessions played a role in the cases of 12 of the

17 people exonerated through DNA after time on death row

.

This conversation has continued across the country, and especially in the 35 states with the death penalty.

A column in Florida Today

argues that exonerations prove that the death penalty is unreliable and that the possibility of executing an innocent person is very real.

The Innocence Project advocates for a moratorium on executions while the causes of wrongful convictions are fully identified and remedied.

Read more about our position on the death penalty here.

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