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Capital Punishment in the United States Explained

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In our Explainer series, Fair Punishment Project lawyers help unpackage some of the most complicated issues in the criminal justice system. We break down the problems behind the headlines - like bail, civil asset forfeiture, or the Brady doctrine - so that everyone can understand them. Wherever possible, we try to utilize the stories of those affected by the criminal justice system to show how these laws and principles should work, and how they often fail. We will update our Explainers monthly to keep them current. Read our updated explainer here.
To beat the clock on the expiration of its lethal injection drug supply, this past April, Arkansas tried to execute 8 men over 1 days. The stories told in frantic legal filings and clemency petitions revealed a deeply disturbing picture. Ledell Lee may have had an intellectual disability that rendered him constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty, but he had a spate of bad lawyers who failed to timely present evidence of this claim -…

SCOTUS Overturns Louisiana Death Row Conviction

Prosecutors failed to disclose evidence that could have helped his defense.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Monday reversed the 2002 murder conviction of a Louisiana death row inmate after ruling that prosecutors failed to disclose evidence that could have helped his defense.

The ruling came in the case of Michael Wearry, who was convicted in the 1998 death of a 16-year-old pizza delivery driver near Baton Rouge.

The justices said in an unsigned opinion that prosecutors should have turned over evidence casting doubt on the credibility of a prison informant and another witness who testified against Wearry. 

The court also said the state failed to disclose medical records raising questions about a witness' description of the crime.

Lower courts had rejected Wearry's post-conviction appeals.

Wearry was implicated in the case nearly two years after the victim, Eric Walber, was found lying face down on the side of a gravel road in a rural area of Hammond, Louisiana. Officials said Walber was beaten to death. Wearry claimed that he was at a wedding reception 40 miles away at the time of the murder.

The high court said the state's trial evidence "resembles a house of cards" built on the questionable testimony of a prison informant who other inmates said was seeking revenge against Wearry. It sent the case back for a new trial.

"Beyond doubt, the newly revealed evidence suffices to undermine confidence in Wearry's conviction," the court said.

Justices Samuel Alito filed a dissent joined by Justice Clarence Thomas. Alito said the jury might have convicted Wearry even with the additional evidence. He said the high court should have taken up the case on the merits to give the state "the opportunity to make its full case."

Source: The Associated Press, March 8, 2016

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