D’Ambrosio becomes 140th Death Row exoneree

After nearly five years of legal battles, Joe D’Ambrosio of Ohio has become the 140th person released from death row nationwide when his 1989 murder conviction and death sentence were thrown out by the courts.

In 2006, the court ruled that the prosecutors in D’Ambrosio’s trial withheld crucial evidence that “‘would have substantially increased a reasonable juror’s doubt of D’Ambrosio’s guilt.'” While the court decided to vacate the charges against D’Ambrosio and released him on bail, the state continued to seek a retrial, until a federal District Court ruled in 2010 that the state could no longer pursue prosecution. The US Supreme Court’s refusal to hear any further appeals from the prosecutors confirms the lower courts rulings on D’Ambrosio’s wrongful conviction.

The increasing number of death row exonerees casts an ominous shadow on the legitimacy of the death penalty. If so many individuals have languished on death row for years like Joe D’Ambrosio with evidence finally convincing a court of their wrongful convictions, how many more people with questionable convictions are still sitting on death row waiting to be executed?

Tennessee now has three individuals released from death row after decades fighting their wrongful convictions. These three are counted who are among the 140 nationwide. Tennessee has executed six people since 1960 and has released three individuals since 2000 because of new evidence demonstrating their wrongful convictions.

Is this the sign of a system that is working? Given that Tennessee has alternatives like life or life without parole that are less expensive, hold offenders accountable, and do not risk the execution of an innocent person, why do we continue to trust such the system has the ability to get it right?

Photo courtesy of Lynn Ischay

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