FEATURED POST

Pope Declares Death Penalty Inadmissible in All Cases

Image
ROME — Pope Francis has declared the death penalty inadmissible in all cases because it is “an attack” on the “dignity of the person,” the Vatican announced on Thursday, in a definitive shift in Roman Catholic teaching that could put enormous pressure on lawmakers and politicians around the world.
Francis, who has spoken out against capital punishment before — including in 2015 in an address to Congress — added the change to the Catechism, the collection of beliefs for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
The revision says the church would work “with determination” for the abolition of capital punishment worldwide.
“I think this will be a big deal for the future of the death penalty in the world,” said John Thavis, a Vatican expert and author. “People who work with prisoners on death row will be thrilled, and I think this will become a banner social justice issue for the church,” he added.
Sergio D’Elia, the secretary of Hands Off Cain, an association that works to abolish capital puni…

A haunting chronicle of life after death row in Mississippi

Levon Brooks (left) and Kennedy Brewer
Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks spent decades in prison for crimes they didn’t commit

MAYBE the best argument against capital punishment is that it can kill an innocent man. This almost happened to Kennedy Brewer, who in March 1995 was convicted of the abduction, rape and murder of Christine Jackson, his girlfriend’s three-year-old daughter. After a brief trial, the jury condemned him to death.

Mr Brewer was driven to Mississippi’s notorious Parchman Penitentiary, fitted with a red jumpsuit and locked in a maximum-security cell. His execution was originally set for May of the same year.

Levon Brooks was also at Parchman, convicted of the similarly gruesome rape and murder of Courtney Smith, another three-year-old girl, only a few miles from Mr Brewer’s house. Mr Brooks was sentenced to life imprisonment. Both convictions largely relied on two witnesses. One was Steven Hayne, a medical examiner formerly responsible for up to 80% of Mississippi’s annual autopsies; for a spell Mr Hayne performed over 1,500 a year, six times the professional standard. The other was Michael West, a dentist with a record of controversial testimony.

After spending a combined 29 years in prison both men were exonerated in 2008, thanks to the painstaking work of lawyers at the Innocence Project in New York, which investigates wrongful convictions. A DNA test in Mr Brewer’s case pointed to Justin Johnson, a convicted sex-offender who lived nearby. On his arrest, Mr Johnson admitted to both crimes. He had briefly been a suspect in the murder of Courtney Smith, but Mr West had claimed his teeth failed to match what he identified as bite marks on the victim. It now seems possible that the little girl’s body bore no bite marks at all (Mr Johnson made no mention of biting either child in his confession). Mr Brewer and Mr Brooks each received $500,000 in compensation.

These tragic events have yielded a pair of complementary books. In “The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist”, Tucker Carrington of the Mississippi Innocence Project and Radley Balko, a journalist at the Washington Post, meticulously document the twin miscarriages of justice, laying bare the systemic problems and structural racism that lead poor black men to be wrongfully convicted in disproportionate numbers. “The core problem with the medico-legal system in Mississippi is that it’s easily manipulated—it serves those in power,” they write.

The other book is a volume of haunting pictures by Isabelle Armand, a French photographer, with accompanying text by Mr Carrington. An article about the ordeal of Mr Brewer and Mr Brooks prompted Ms Armand to get in touch with them. “It was so shocking that forensics could be so flawed,” she says. She spent five years taking thousands of pictures of Mr Brewer, Mr Brooks and their extended families (Mr Brewer has 14 siblings). The black-and-white images stand out for the beauty of rural Mississippi, the poverty of the two clans, who live mainly in trailers, and the indomitable spirit of the men—who had, almost literally, come back from the dead. “I never lost hope,” Mr Brooks told Ms Armand. “I knew God was on my side.”

Mr Brooks died of colon cancer in January. He lived only ten years after his release, but he made the most of them. He raised chickens, quails and rabbits and married Dinah Johnson in 2016. Mr Brewer is younger and in relatively good health. He has a fiancée too, Omelia Givens. “I did good, some guys go crazy in prison,” he told Ms Armand. “I knew I didn’t do it.”

Mr Carrington now hopes to exonerate Eddie Howard, who has been on Mississippi’s death row since 2000 for the rape and murder of an 84-year-old woman. He was convicted largely because of a match of his teeth to bite wounds identified by Mr West. Genetic testing found no traces of Mr Howard on the murder weapon or the body or elsewhere at the crime scene. “In a fair world, he would be free,” says Mr Carrington. “But this is Mississippi.”

- Levon and Kennedy. By Isabelle Armand and Tucker Carrington. Powerhouse Books; 110 pages; $39.95 and £33.99

- The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist. By Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington. Public Affairs; 319 pages; $28.00

Source: The Economist, April 14, 2018


⚑ | Report an error, an omission, a typo; suggest a story or a new angle to an existing story; submit a piece, a comment; recommend a resource; contact the webmaster, contact us: deathpenaltynews@gmail.com.


Opposed to Capital Punishment? Help us keep this blog up and running! DONATE!



"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

Most Viewed (Last 7 Days)

Tennessee executes Billy Ray Irick

Tennessee executes Cecil C. Johnson Jr.

Saudi Arabia crucified a man in Mecca while aggressively calling out Canada over human rights

Nebraska executes Carey Dean Moore

Yemen: Paedophiles shot and hanged from crane after boy, 10, is raped and killed

Paralysis, eye gouging, amputation, crucifixion: The Medieval punishments faced by criminals in Saudi Arabia

URGENT APPEAL for Anthony Haynes to be executed in Texas on 18 October

USA: State of Nebraska set to carry out first execution in 21 years

What happened in and outside Riverbend prison as Billy Ray Irick was put to death

Fentanyl Used to Execute Nebraska Inmate, in a First for U.S.