On Thursday, July 9th, Herman Lindsey of Florida became the 135th death row exoneree since 1973 after the Florida Supreme Court unanimously ordered his freedom. The Court determined that there was not enough evidence to convict him of murdering a Fort Lauderdale pawnshop worker in 1994. Lindsey’s exoneration was the 23rd in Florida since the reinstatement of the death penalty. The court ruled that the Broward County prosecutors needed to show there is “a reasonable and moral certainty that the accused and no one else committed the offense charged. It is not sufficient that the facts create a strong probability of, and be consistent with guilt. They must be inconsistent with innocence.”
Only three days earlier, Ronald Kitchen was exonerated in Illinois when the state’s Attorney General dropped all charges against him. Kitchen and a co-defendant had been convicted of a 1988 murder, and Kitchen was sentenced to death. Kitchen confessed to the crime after being subject to interrogation by a police unit that used torturous tactics against suspects.
Kitchen’s case is yet another exoneration linked to disgraced former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge. Kitchen had claimed that detectives under Burge’s command coerced him into confessing to the murders through torture, including hitting him in the head with a telephone, punching him in the face,striking him in the groin, and kicking him. Years after Kitchen’s conviction, Police Commander Burge was fired after the Police Department Review Board ruled that he had used torture. Burge currently awaits trial on charges of obstruction of justice and perjury in relation to a civil suit regarding the torture allegations against him.
Additionally, the case against Kitchen was weak at best, lacking physical evidence and with the prosecution’s reliance on a dubious key witness. Kitchen served 21 years prior to his release.
Kitchen’s exoneration was Illinois’ 20th death-row exoneration. Florida and Illinois rank first and second in the United States, respectively, in death-row exonerations. Last week’s exonerations bring to four the number of death-row exonerations in the last two months. In mid-May, Paul House of Tennessee and Daniel Wade Moore of Alabama were also exonerated within three days of each other.
In 2007, Michael McCormick of Tennessee was found not guilty in a new trial after fighting his conviction for 20 years.
All of these cases highlight the grave risks of executing innocent people, risks that will persist in any human and thus imperfect system. With alternatives like life without parole, why do we continue to insist on the death penalty? How many innocent people have already been executed in this country because mistakes were made? Enough is enough.
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