California’s Latest Exoneration: Further Evidence That the Death Penalty Should Be Abolished

“You can release a man from prison, but you can’t release him from the grave.” – Randy Steidl, 2004 Illinois exoneree

On October 10th, 2014, having spent 17 years in prison, Susan Mellen was exonerated by a Los Angeles County judge, who described the case as a “failure of the criminal justice system.” In effect, Ms. Mellen was wrongfully convicted of the murder of Rick Daly, a man she once dated. Her trial was based on the testimony of a renowned “pathological liar,” June Patti, and she was found guilty five hours after the testimony was provided. In 2013, attorney Deirdre O’Connor stumbled upon her case, and after a thorough investigation, was able to prove the falseness of the main witness’ testimony.

While this was not specifically a death penalty case, there is common ground between this case and exonerations that do concern capital punishment. Wrongful convictions are not infrequent in the United States as shown in the table below.

Table 1: Exonerations in 2013 by State

Texas – 13

Michigan – 5

Massachusetts –3

Arkansas – 1

New Jersey – 1

Illinois – 9

Missouri – 5

Maryland – 2

Arizona – 1

Pennsylvania – 1

New York – 8

Connecticut – 4

North Carolina – 2

Florida – 1

Tennessee – 1

Washington – 7

Georgia – 4

Wisconsin – 2

Indiana – 1

Utah – 1

California – 6

Virginia – 4

Wyoming – 2

Kansas – 1

Vermont – 1

The National Registry of Exonerations, February 4, 2014

California alone had 6 exonerations in 2013, coming in fifth behind Texas, Illinois, New York and Washington and three of those top five states with exonerations in 2013 still have the death penalty.

Prosecutorial misconduct, as highlighted in Ms. Mellon’s case, is one of the foremost causes of wrongful conviction. Often times, prosecutors overstep boundaries of the law, fail to provide evidence as required and/or present evidence that they know to be deceptive. California also has its share of other wrongful convictions based on misleading eyewitness testimony. One such victim of false testimony is Herman Atkins, who was convicted of forcible rape and robbery in 1988, serving 11.5 years in prison, before being exonerated in 2000. Kevin Baruxes is yet another victim who served 7.5 years. He was convicted of rape in 1996 and was released in 2003 when lawyers reinvestigated the case and found troubling inconsistenties in statements given by his accusor. After 14 years behind bars, Johnny Williams was exonerated in March 2013. He was initally convicted of attempted rape based on the false testimony of an eyewitness.

These are a few examples of people whose innocence was proven and who were eventually released, yet there are others who are currently on death row who may also be innocent. A system of justice that risks executing innocent people is a questionable system at best. This latest exoneration in California is yet one more reason why California cannot afford to have the death penalty.

The NCADP has created the 90 Million Strong campaign to unite the voices of those who believe the death penalty is wrong. We need to demonstrate that the broad public support to end this practice is already here in America, and 90 million people speaking up can make a difference.

The 90 million people who oppose the death penalty are organized, energized, and ready to end capital punishment. Join us today.

Source:: National Coalition to End the Death Penalty