The Supreme Court has firmed my resolve

In case you missed the story:

In 1985, John Thompson was convicted of murder in Louisiana. Having already been convicted in a separate armed robbery case, he opted not to testify on his own behalf in his murder trial. He was sentenced to death and spent 18 years in prison—14 of them isolated on death row—and watched as seven executions were planned for him. Several weeks before an execution scheduled for May 1999, Thompson’s private investigators learned that prosecutors had failed to turn over evidence that would have cleared him at his robbery trial. This evidence included the fact that the main informant against him had received a reward from the victim’s family, that the eyewitness identification done at the time described someone who looked nothing like him, and that a blood sample taken from the crime scene did not match Thompson’s blood type.

A jury awarded Thompson $14 million for this prosecutorial misconduct, this civil rights violation, “one for every year he spent wrongfully incarcerated.” Thompson…successfully sued the prosecutor’s office in New Orleans, arguing former District Attorney Harry Connick showed deliberate indifference by not providing adequate training for assistant district attorneys. Yes, it’s the singer’s father.

But the Supreme Court, in a decision written by Clarence Thomas, “tossed out the verdict, finding that the district attorney can’t be responsible for the single act of a lone prosecutor. The Thomas opinion is an extraordinary piece of workmanship, matched only by Justice Antonin Scalia’s concurring opinion…[They] have produced what can only be described as a master class in human apathy.”

This was not the first recent violation of the Brady ruling in Louisiana; it was at least the fifth. “In 1963, in Brady v. Maryland, the Supreme Court held that prosecutors must turn over to the defense any evidence that would tend to prove a defendant’s innocence.”

I find this all oddly comforting. I wrote here concerning a recent conversation I had discussing the death penalty with a work colleague. But I didn’t get much into WHY I oppose it. I admit that much of it is the fact that I am generally queasy about the state as an agent of death.

But even if that were not the case, it’s clear that the state gets it wrong sometimes, and this ruling, making prosecutors seemingly exempt from suffering any consequences of their malfeasance, makes me more resolute in my opposition to capital punishment. If people can literally die from such horrific prosecutorial sloppiness that receives no consequence, then it makes virtually all capital trials inherently suspect to my mind.

0 thoughts on “The Supreme Court has firmed my resolve”

  1. When I was around 14, I decided I was against the death penalty for pretty much the same reason you mention here. All those people on death row in Illinois who turned out to be innocent reinforced my opposition.

    This ruling in this case doesn’t surprise me: It’s a conservative court, after all. Still, we should continue to expect better from the court. If we do, maybe we’ll get better justices—and justice, too.


  2. I totally agree. Coming from Singapore, where capital punishment is dealt out on a regular basis for drug trafficking offences and other serious violent crimes like kidnapping, I often wonder about a society that is so desensitized to the notion of the taking of a life in the name of justice and law enforcement.


  3. I recently finished John Grisham’s book, An Innocent Man, and it was disturbingly eye opening. I think he pulls a lot of his story elements from real events. When I finished, I was appalled at some of the tactics used to keep an innocent man imprisoned and eventually executed. Stories like these do make a person take a second look at capital punishment. Honestly, I waver back and forth on the issue…leaning more towards its use when it involves premeditation or the deliberate death of a child. But, there are huge gray areas where it’s prudent to err on the side of imprisonment instead…just in case.


  4. Thanks for telling this story, Roger. It is beyond my understanding why the elite authorities are so hot to keep facts and evidence out of trials. For example, the suspension of Habeas Corpus in so-called “terror” cases. Without facts there is no rule of law, just arbitrary dictatorship.

    I came to the conclusion long ago that people like Antonin Scalia, and his obedient pet Clarence, who was allowed to sign his name to the opinion quoted in the post, are working constantly to destroy the US Constitution. They are America’s enemies.

    Who will stop America’s enemies?


  5. When I see examples like the above I am tempted to say the society doesn’t want justice, but rather the illusion of justice. As long as we have someone to blame for a particular crime, we can feel that some kind of recompense has been provided and order has been restored. Society, as a stable, ordered system, is then free to move unassailably forward to the place where it supposedly can obtain the bliss of unfettered goods. The fact is, however, that when we are not very careful to offer due process, then any goods that the momentum of society procures will be ironically at the expense of the very human lives for which it exists.

    I’m just saying.


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