Michael McCormick spent 20 years on Tennessee’s death row fighting his wrongful conviction and death sentence until a jury found him not guilty in a new trial in 2007.
Paul House remained on Tennessee’s death row for nearly 23 years, the latter part of those years confined to a wheelchair with multiple sclerosis, until his conviction and sentence were finally thrown out and all charges against him dropped in 2009. Neither man has received compensation from the state of Tennessee.
These men spent the majority of their adult lives locked up–unable to work to support their families, to marry, to travel, to spend holidays at home with those that they loved. And even though the new evidence demonstrating their wrongful convictions was enough for the U.S. Supreme Court and a Federal District Court Judge in the House case, and for a new jury in the McCormick case, the Governor must now exonerate them in order for them to receive compensation.
There is not enough money in the world to begin to address the grievous injustice that occurs when a person is wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death–not only the injustice done to the convicted but to the victim’s family who must face the fact that their loved one’s killer may never be called to account.
I know that the legal process around these issues is very complex, I get that. But what more can Paul and Michael do? How do you travel back in time and prove you are innocent? Our system doesn’t work that way, or at least it is not supposed to. You are innocent until proven guilty. The proof of their guilt has now been discredited, by DNA no less.
It is the function of the state to protect society from people who commit violent crime, and I am grateful for all those individuals out there who are working to ensure my safety and the safety of those I love. I know it is a difficult job. However, the state also needs to be able to admit and remedy mistakes, just like individuals citizens of the state are expected to. It is time for the state of Tennessee to admit that in these cases, mistakes were made, and two men spent decades locked up awaiting death for crimes the evidence now demonstrates they didn’t commit.
No amount of money can make up for those lost years…no amount. But the state should at least make an effort.
Photo of Joyce and Paul House (center) by James Staub
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