Clinton Young Free Pending Retrial After 20 Years on Texas Death Row

Former Texas death-row prisoner Clinton Young has been released from custody nearly twenty years after being sentenced to death for a double murder he has consistently said he did not commit. Young walked out of the Midland County Detention Center January 21, 2022, after the foundation posted bond to secure his freedom while prosecutors from neighboring Dawson County decide whether to retry Young on the charges.  The foundation crowdfunded contributions to cover 15% of the $150,000 cash bail to gain Young’s release. RELATED |  Texas | Former death row inmate Clinton Young released on bond The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) granted Young a new trial in September 2021 following revelations that his prosecutor from the Midland County District Attorney’s office had also secretly served as a paid clerk to county judges who presided over Young’s trial and post-conviction appeals. In a video posted on the foundation’s Facebook page, Young removed his left sneaker and sock and stepped

Missouri remains outlier when it comes to death penalty

As executions, death sentences and public support for capital punishment remained near record lows in 2021, the few jurisdictions that continued to pursue the death penalty showed a disturbing disregard for fairness and due process. 

The few executions that took place underscored the problems in the death penalty system. As we settle into a new year and a new legislative session, we have a clear picture of the realities of capital punishment both in the nation and in Missouri.

Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty released its annual report this week. It highlights the finding that nationally, executions, new death sentences and public support for them stand at record low levels, and that outlier jurisdictions continue to pursue capital punishment with disregard for due process, constitutionality and justice. 

In Missouri, all of these facets played out in the egregious execution of Ernest Johnson, which situates Missouri as an outlier in its adherence to the capital punishment system.

The report includes information about the following death penalty developments in Missouri.

• At the end of 2021, 19 individuals live under death sentences in Missouri. 63 % of persons on death row come from a cluster of 4 counties in Missouri, 6 from St. Louis County, 2 from Jefferson County, 2 from Boone County, and 2 from Cole County. Of the 19 individuals on death row in Missouri, 6 people are Black and 13 are white.

• There were no new death sentences in 2021. The trial of Eric Lawson in the city of St. Louis resulted in a unanimous jury recommendation for life without parole. The Attorney General’s Office summoned more than 4,000 individuals to seat a death-qualified jury of 12. No jury has sentenced anyone to death in the city of St. Louis since 1995.

• At the beginning of 2021, there were 19 pending capital cases in Missouri. Three were resolved with nondeath sentence outcomes, and a new one was added, leaving 17 pending capital cases in 2022. There are 113 counties and 1 independent city in the state of Missouri. Pending capital cases originated from 12 of Missouri’s counties. The largest number of capital cases is in the city of St. Louis, where 3 Black men are facing death.

• Ernest Lee Johnson was executed on Oct. 5, 2021, for the 1995 murders of Mary Bratcher, Fred Jones, and Mable Scruggs. Johnson was the 91st person executed by the state of Missouri since 1976.

Missouri carried out this wrongful execution allowing the courts to roll back the definition of intellectual disability and legislate a new, medically inappropriate and unconstitutionally restrictive definition without allowing a hearing. They did so in defiance of the United States Constitution under Atkins vs. Virginia (2002) and pleas of a broad coalition of supporters, including interfaith leaders, clinical experts, human rights leaders, current and former politicians, and more than 30,000 people who signed petitions asking for clemency.

Currently, 23 states have abolished capital punishment, 3 states have official moratoriums, and 10 states have not executed in 10 years or more. The number of executions nationwide decreased from 17 in 2020 to 11 in 2021, which is the fewest executions on record since 1988. Sadly, Missouri is one of the five states who executed a person in 2021.

In March 2021, Virginia became the first Southern state to legislatively repeal capital punishment, which was a result of a combination of changing state demographics, eroding public support, high-quality defense representation, and the election of reform prosecutors over the past decade. 

Missouri would be wise to join Virginia in recognition of the death penalty as a relic, and to accept that capital punishment is arbitrarily applied, does not deter crime and deprives individuals of their constitutionally guaranteed rights.

The Missouri Legislature should abolish the death penalty and reinvest those dollars into real public safety programs with measurable outcomes.

Source: The Joplin Globe, Opinion, Elyse Max, January 13, 2022. Elyse Max is executive director of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty

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

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