Kharey Wise was wrongfully convicted of beating and raping a female jogger in Central Park in 1989 and spent 15 years in prison. He was released when the real assailant confessed to the crime (Photo Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images).
For many who remember the terrible crime, the huge outcry and the media circus around the 1989 “Central Park Jogger” case, which was BIG national news, it may have come as a surprise to learn that all 5 of the teenagers convicted were in fact innocent.
But it probably shouldn’t have.
The film The Central Park Five, recently premiered on PBS, offers an important cautionary tale about how a rush to judgment, fueled by all-in media coverage of a particularly heinous crime, increases the chances that criminal justice officials will make critical mistakes, or engage in deliberate misconduct. The Reggie Clemons case, tainted by allegations of police abuse during the investigation and prosecutorial misconduct during the trial, is a reminder that a process compromised in this way can result in a death sentence.
At the other end of the spectrum, a rush to judgment can occur when there is a callous indifference on the part of authorities toward a crime they may perceive as less important because it was committed in a marginalized community. That’s what seems to have happened in the Carlos De Luna case, where an almost certainly innocent man was put to death for a crime another man named Carlos probably committed.
Damon Thibodeaux was released after 15 years on death row.
Damon Thibodeaux lived under the threat of execution for more than a decade.
Now 38, Damon was convicted of the murder of 14-year-old Chrystal Champagne, his step-cousin, and sentenced to death in 1997. But he always insisted on his innocence and after spending 15 years in prison, he finally walked out of Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola – one of the harshest prisons in the country – a free man. This is his story.
While we often write about urgent news and actions about alarming abuses, today, we want to share some positive news – three major victories activists like you helped make happen.
You demanded justice for all women – not some.
You stood up to shameful efforts by some members of Congress to deny protection against domestic violence for Indigenous women, the LGBT community and immigrant women. Thanks in part to Amnesty activists, an inclusive Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized and signed into law on March 7. Find out more.
Even though most of the world has turned its back on the death penalty, some countries continue to impose capital punishment for acts like having consensual sexual relations outside marriage, opposing the government, offending religion and even drinking alcohol.
This is despite international law barring states from handing out death sentences for any of these crimes.
Here’s a list of some “crimes” that, in some parts of the world, can get you killed.
Iran’s Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery (Photo Credit: Etienne Laurent/AFP/Getty Images).
1. Consensual Sexual Relations Outside Marriage
In Sudan, two women, Intisar Sharif Abdallah and Layla Ibrahim Issa Jumul, were sentenced to death by stoning on charges of “adultery while married” in separate cases in May and July 2012. In both cases, the women were sentenced after unfair trials involving forced “confessions.” The sentences were subsequently overturned on appeal, and both women were released.
In Iran at least 10 individuals, mainly women, remain on death row having been sentenced to stoning for the crime of “adultery while married.”
The state of Delaware is known as the “Small Wonder”, but it has a surprisingly large death row. With 17 men (10 of them African American) facing execution, Delaware’s death row is more than twice as big as Virginia’s, and more than 3 times the size of Maryland’s. And Delaware has the third highest per capita execution rate of any state in the U.S. (behind Oklahoma and Texas).
But now, a bill making its way through the state legislature may mean than no one else will be sent to Delaware’s death row. A death penalty repeal bill has already cleared the Delaware Senate, and will be taken up by the House on April 24.
By Samir Goswami, Director of Amnesty International USA’s Individuals & Communities at Risk Campaign
Last week, we issued an Urgent Action to the disturbing news that Saudi Arabian national Abdullah al-Qahtani was at imminent risk of execution.
Abdullah was convicted of robbery and murder under Iraq’s Anti-Terrorism Law. While in custody, he was viciously beaten, burned and asphyxiated into “confessing” to being a member of al-Qaida. Four of Abdullah’s six co-defendants were executed last week and for a time, it seemed as though Abdullah was next.
But then, an amazing thing happened. We emailed a petition out to our Amnesty members and within 24 hours, received over 30,000 signatures.
Abdullah is still alive and pressure from activists like you likely helped spare his life. Today, Abdullah’s petition has over 40,000 signatures. But make no mistake – his execution is imminent. Abdullah’s attorney urges continued vigilance:
Abdullah al-Qahtani, a Saudi Arabian national, faces imminent execution in Iraq - a sentence based on “confessions” he says were false and obtained through torture. His story is a perfect illustration of why the death penalty is the ultimate violation of human rights; how ceding to the state the power to kill prisoners is connected to unfair trials, torture, and other abuses.
As Amnesty International’s survey of the death penalty worldwide in 2012 reports, Saudi Arabia and Iraq are both among the top executioners in the world, along with China, Iran, and, yes, the United States. The U.S. was once again the 5th most prolific executioner in 2012, and its death penalty continued to be plagued with bias and error and misconduct by the state (as has been exposed in the Reggie Clemons case).
With 15 executions in 2012, Texas would have ranked 8th in the world, between Sudan and Afghanistan.
The abolition of the death penalty in Maryland mattered to many victims’ families; that’s one of the reasons it passed. Also important for these families was the funding originally attached to the repeal bill that would have provided real tangible support for families who lose loved ones to homicide. Support that pays for counseling, that helps mitigate the loss of a breadwinner, or that helps pay for funeral costs.
The funding provision was stripped from Maryland’s repeal bill, but promises were made, by the Governor among others, that the funding would be covered in the state’s budget. Well, the first supplemental budget has been submitted, and funding to support victims’ families is NOT included.
New evidence has emerged reinforcing the contention that Reggie Clemons’ trial was marred by misconduct; a judge’s recommendations are expected by June 1 (Photo Credit: Color of Justice).
On March 18, the final oral arguments in the “Special Master” investigation of Reggie Clemons‘ case were held in Independence, Missouri. Reggie Clemons was sentenced to death in 1993 after a disturbingly flawed investigation and trial.
At the Clemons hearing before Special Master Judge Michael Manners last September, evidence of police brutality and prosecutorial misconduct in his case was presented, and this month that evidence was reinforced by new testimony of a bail investigator named Warren Weeks.
In a video-taped deposition, Weeks said that he saw evidence that Clemons had been brutalized – a golf-ball sized bump on his head – and that he submitted a written report of this observation. Weeks testified that prosecutor Nels Moss attempted to intimidate him about the report. The report obtained by Clemons’ current attorneys and presented to Judge Manners had the word “bump” or “bruise” scratched out.
More have mobilized against the death penalty as more innocents have been exonerated, and as the death penalty abolition movement has gained in strength and sophistication (Photo Credit: Pierre Verdy/AFP/Getty Images).
Brian Evans is the DPAC Acting Director. This blog series tells the story of Amnesty International’s involvement in Maryland’s historic death penalty repeal campaign, featuring the memories and insights of volunteers and staff who played critical roles over more than three decades.
I started working for abolition of the death penalty when I lived in Texas. Texas is not a place where you can ignore capital punishment. They use it, at notorious levels. At the time of my initial involvement, in the late 1990′s, executions and death sentences were surging, both in Texas and across the country.
Little did I know that this was the peak of America’s love affair with the death penalty. As the century turned, as more and more innocents were exonerated, and as the death penalty abolition movement gained in strength and sophistication, support for and use of the death penalty began to decline.