Many an innocent person has been executed for no crimes of his or her own, and many a real murderer has escaped capital punishment through the cracks in the judicial system. Whereas motives behind the committed crimes are duly considered, yet it is not this consideration alone that decides the fate of a criminal case. More than intentions, it is the apparent and objective evidence that counts in favor or against the accused. The most important factor, and a major lacuna in all judicial systems, is an overemphasis on the ‘Words’ used during the proceedings. People’s social, financial, religious, and racial background also affects the innocence of the accused. The people who are poor, colored, or do not belong to a religion prevalent in certain communities are far more exposed and susceptible to capital punishment than others.
Socrates was born in Deme, Alopece, Athens in 470 BC and died in Athens at the age of approximately 71. His philosophy and wisdom belittled the self-assumed wise men of Athens in their own eyes, and they turned against him. To achieve dignity and self-realization, the influential elites of Athens charged him with misleading the Athenian youth, corrupting their minds with impiety, and not believing in the prevalent Athenian gods. On being asked to suggest his own punishment at the end of the trial, he asked for free dinners for the rest of his life and wages for rendering his services for the benefit of the Athenians. He was, however, executed by making him drink a cup of poisonous extract of hemlock.
2. John Southworth
John Southworth was born in Lancashire, England in 1592 and died in Tyburn, London on June 28, 1854. He was beatified in 1929 in Rome by Pope Pius XI and canonized in Rome on October 25, 1970 by Pope Paul VI. He is among the 40 martyrs of England and Wales. He was tried at Old Belly. He pleaded guilty for exercising in the priesthood, and for this ‘crime’ he was sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. After the French Revolution, he was buried in an unknown grave discovered later in 1927. His remains are currently kept in the Chapel of St. George and the English Martyrs in Westminster Cathedral, London.
3. Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin
Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin was born in Moscow, Soviet Union on October 9, 1888. He was a Russian politician, author, and editor-in-chief of Pravda, Bolshevik, Izvestia and Great Soviet Encyclopedia. He opposed Stalin’s policies and became one of his most famous innocent victims. The French Nobel Laureate reminded Stalin of how the great French chemist Antonie Lavoisier was guillotined during the French Revolution, and how the French regret the loss. Seeking clemency for Bukharin, he wrote to Stalin that ‘An intellect like that of Bukharin is a treasure for his country.’ Stalin noted ‘We must not respond.’ He was executed during the Moscow Trials and Purges of the Old Bolsheviks in Moscow on March 15, 1938 at the age of 49.
4. Mahmood Hussein Mattan
Mahmood Hussein Mattan was born in 1923 in British Somaliland. He was convicted of Lily Volpert’s murder at Docklands, Cardiff, Wales on July 24, 1952 when, just a few hours after the murder, he was arrested from his home with a few blood stains on his shoes and a broken razor. Volpert’s throat was found cut; therefore, the razor led to suspicion. Just six months after the murder, he was executed by hanging in Cardiff Prison where he was the last person to be hanged. Forty-five years after the execution, the Court of Appeals found the original judgment in the words of Lord Justice Rose ‘demonstrably flawed.’ His conviction was nullified, and the family was awarded $725,000 to be equally distributed among his wife and three children.
5. Gabriel de la Concepcion Valdes
Gabriel de la Concepcion Valdes, better known as Placido, was born in Havana on March 18, 1809 and died in Matanzas on June 28, 1844. During the Spanish War he advocated against slavery and was very popular among North American slavery abolitionists. He was arrested on the charges of plotting with Negroes a slave revolt and a conspiracy against the authorities. He was shot dead along with ten others within ten days of their arrest. He is remembered for his innocence and for his poetry;
‘And innocent, unconscious as the wailing
I uttered on my birth; and I resign
Even now, my life, even now descending slowly,
Faith’s mantle folds me to my slumbers holy.
Mother, farewell! God keep thee ‘” and forever ‘
6. Cameron Todd Willingham
Cameron Todd Willingham was born on January 9, 1968 and was executed by lethal injection. He was injected at Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville and was declared dead at 6:20 on February 17, 2004, 7 minutes after being injected. He was 36 years old at the time of his execution. He was convicted for burning his three children to get rid of them. His last words were ‘Yeah, the only statement I want to make is that I am an innocent man convicted of a crime I did not commit. I have been persecuted for 12 years for something I did not do. From God’s dust I came and to dust I will return.’ Eighteen years after the fire and five years after the execution, it was concluded ‘A finding of arson could not be sustained.’
7. Larry Griffin
Larry Griffin was born on September 23, 1954 and was executed by lethal injection after being sentenced to death by the court. He was convicted of a drive-by shooting killing 19-year-old Quintin Moss who was said to be dealing drugs on a street in St. Louis, Missouri on June 26, 1980. The witness stated that he shot the victim with his right hand while Griffin was left-handed. His fingerprints were also not found on the weapon used. Griffin maintained his innocence until the last moment. In 2005, a post-execution St. Louis City investigation inferred that ‘the right person was convicted’ while a professor of the University of Michigan Law School after an investigation concluded that Griffin was innocent.
8. Carlos DeLuna
Carlos DeLuna was born in Corpus Christi, Texas, U.S. on March 15, 1962 and was executed by lethal injection in Huntsville, Texas on December 7, after being convicted for first-degree murder. De Luna was charged with killing Wanda Lopez, a 24-year-old gas station attendant. Just after calling the police to inform them of a suspicious man, she was stabbed and succumbed to multiple stab wounds. In June, 2006, Lopez’s brother Richard stated, ‘After carefully reviewing the information recently uncovered and printed by Steve Mills and Maurice Possley in the Chicago Tribune, I am convinced that Carlos DeLuna did not kill my sister and that Carlos Hernandez was the real murderer.’
9. Leonel Torres Herrera
David Tucker, an officer from the Texas Department of Public Safety, was shot dead on a highway near Brownsville, Texas. He was shot in the head, and his body was found by a passer-by near his patrol car. At the time of the incident, another police officer, Carrisalez, saw a speeding vehicle on the same road and chased it. On stopping Carrisalez, he walked towards the car with a flashlight and was shot in the chest and expired after nine days. Herrera was arrested a few days later, charged with murder, and convicted of dual murders. He was sentenced to death. A post-verdict investigation concluded him as innocent on the basis of new evidence. The last words of Herrera were: ‘I am innocent, innocent, innocent. I am an innocent man, and something very wrong is taking place tonight.’
10. Leo Jones
Lee Alexander Jones, better known as Leo Jones, was convicted of killing a policeman, Thomas J. Szfranski, on May 23, 1981. Having been kept on Death Row for more than 16 years, he was executed in 1998 in Florida. Circumstantial evidence was not sufficient to prove him guilty, but he was made to confess. Immediately after the murder, he was arrested from his home along with his friend. Some rifles were recovered from him. The investigating police officers, not finding sufficient evidence, beat him and his friend brutally to extract confessions, and they succeeded in getting them, as desired, after torturing the suspect. Florida State has the ill-repute to have a history of executing innocents.
Justices and courts assume they have all the time in the world at their disposal, and it is not very uncommon to see that many decisions take too long to be of any value. What if a man or woman arrested in their teenage years, although possibly innocent, is sent to Death Row with the knowledge that he or she is sentenced to death by lethal injection and made to wait for the dark day.