USA | States Continue to Oppose DNA Testing in Death Penalty Appeals, Attorneys Ask Why Don’t They Want to Learn the Truth?

The last 3 men scheduled for execution in Georgia said they did not commit the killing and that DNA testing that was not available at the time of trial could prove it. In 2 of the cases, victim family members supported the request for testing. Prosecutors opposed the requests, and the courts refused to allow the testing. 2 of the 3 men were executed, with doubts still swirling as to their guilt.
Shawn Nolan, a federal defender who represented Georgia prisoner Ray “Jeff” Cromartie, summed up the sentiments of the prisoners, families, and defense attorneys in these cases. “I’d like to know what the state is so scared of,” he said. “Why are they afraid of the truth? This is sad and so disturbing.”
“We have the capability of testing a wide range of forensic evidence that we couldn’t test in the past,” said Death Penalty Information Center Executive Director Robert Dunham. “It is a powerful tool to get to the truth and to get important answers as to whether the criminal legal system has b…

Exonerated Oklahoma death-row inmate included in John Grisham book dies

Greg Wilhoit
Greg Wilhoit
Greg Wilhoit, a former Oklahoma death-row inmate from Tulsa and nationally-known anti-death penalty advocate whose story was included in author John Grisham's "The Innocent Man," died Feb. 14 in Sacramento, Calif., family members said. He was 59.

A celebration of life is set for 1 p.m. Friday at the First United Methodist Church in Tulsa.

Grisham's nonfiction book, released in 2006, focused on fellow exonerated inmate Ron Williamson of Ada but also featured Wilhoit, who was on death row at the same time.

A 1972 graduate of Tulsa's Edison High School, Wilhoit was convicted and sentenced to die for the 1985 rape and murder of his estranged wife, Kathy Wilhoit, who was found dead at her Tulsa apartment.

Wilhoit proclaimed his innocence from the beginning.

He was finally released from prison in 1993, having been cleared by bite-mark evidence.

He emerged with what eventually became a new mission in life: Previously a supporter of the death penalty - even as he had faced death himself - Wilhoit had undergone a change of heart on the issue.

The change started, he recalled, in 1990 when Charles Troy Coleman was put to death, becoming the first man executed in Oklahoma since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977.

Wilhoit, whose cell was about 100 feet from the death chamber at the state penitentiary, said he had an epiphany the night Coleman was given a lethal injection.

"I realized that the sun was not going to shine any brighter and the world was not a safer place just because Chuck had been put down," he said, speaking at an anti-death penalty rally in Tulsa in 2001.

It would be a few years, though - after his release and a move to Sacramento - before Wilhoit would start speaking out against capital punishment.

As he began to realize how many exonerated former death-row inmates were out there, he appeared frequently at rallies as a speaker and on such television shows as ABC's "20/20."

Sharing his experience and calling for change, he credited his faith with helping shape his thinking: "I'm not opposed to the death penalty because I was almost a victim of it. The cornerstone of Christianity is forgiveness."

Wilhoit recalled how for his first few months in prison, he would seldom venture out of his cell because he didn't want to interact with the other inmates.

But that attitude changed, as well. After his release, he kept in contact with many of them and attended their funerals.

The late Williamson, who was ultimately cleared by DNA evidence and released, was Wilhoit's 1st friend in prison, and the 2 remained close.

Wilhoit was active with a number of efforts to abolish the death penalty, including Witness to Innocence - a group founded by anti-death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean for exonerated death-row survivors and their loved ones.

"Greg genuinely believed this all happened to him so that he could educate people," said his sister Nancy Vollertsen of Edmond, a Witness to Innocence board member.

She and the rest of Wilhoit's family stood by him from the beginning, visiting him while he was in prison.

Betsy Moore of Tulsa, another sister, said it was like her brother "was living in this parallel universe (on death row). It was surreal."

But they dealt with it, sharing laughter and faith and always believing that God had a purpose.

Eventually, Moore added, her brother was even able to get over his hard feelings against the justice system.

Said Moore: "He believed forgiveness is a choice. If he had not forgiven, he might have been out of prison physically but still imprisoned by his bitterness."

Wilhoit's survivors include his wife, Judy Wilhoit; 2 daughters, Krissy Zarn and Kim Wilhoit; a stepdaughter, Victoria Bulman; three grandchildren; his parents, Guy and Ida Mae Wilhoit; and 2 sisters, Nancy Vollertsen and Betsy Moore.

Source: Tulsa World, Feb. 24, 2014

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