The execution of Troy Davis in Georgia last week despite tremendous doubt about his guilt has brought the issue of capital punishment into the national spotlight. As a country that supports use of the death penalty, America is in poor company with “the world’s great dictatorships and autocracies [such as] Iran, Zimbabwe, China, North Korea, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Egypt, Ethiopia, Cuba, [and] Belarus” according to The Atlantic — while we are supposed to be the land of the free. Far above and beyond the politically nasty associations with capital punishment is of course the moral concern over accidentally putting innocent people to death. It is likely that the average American believes this is a rare occurrence worth the social value of the death penalty as a deterrent from violent crime. Unfortunately innocent people are often placed on death row. In a study of executions in 34 states between 1973 and 1995, Columbia University professor James Liebman found that: “An astonishing 82 percent of death row inmates did not deserve to receive the death penalty. One in twenty death row inmates is later found not guilty.” Most death row inmates do not have the resources or time necessary to determine their innocence before it is too late. Hopefully, Troy Davis’ case and others like his will show U.S. citizens how the death penalty destroys innocent lives. Over 1,000 people have been executed since 1976. We may never know how many went to death in error. Here are just a few who we know for sure were likely innocent — but this was discovered too late.
Griffin was executed by lethal injection in 1995 for the 1980 murder of Quenton Moss, a drug dealer in St. Louis. Griffin was convicted and received the death sentence based mainly on the testimony of a career criminal, Robert Fitzgerald, who later admitted to committing the crime himself. Fitzgerald also stated that the police pressured him into accusing Griffin. Griffin, like Troy Davis, maintained his innocence until the end.