On One Hand

July 6, 2007

Virginia Man Came Within a Hair’s Breath of a False Execution

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 3:38 pm
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MSNBC reports that In 1985, Earl Washington Jr. was 9 days away from being executed for a murder he did not commit, when his execution was delayed. Virginia Governor Gim Gilmore released him from prison in 2002. He was just 22 when the murder occured in 1982, and spent his 30s in prison before being released after 10 years on death row.

Washington is midly retarded, and had been convicted based on a confession that a federal jury later called extortion because some of the details Washington gave about the murder had been fed to him earlier by one of his interrogators. In 2000, DNA determined that a convicted rapist, Kenneth Tinsley, had penetrated Rebecca Williams, the deceased woman Washington was convicted of killing. Since this was not part of the prosecutors case, it implied Washinton’s innocence, and this is part of the reason why Washinton was initially pardoned in 2002. But even in light of the new evidence it took two entire years before Washinton was released from prison, and if there hadn’t been any DNA evidence to put the case in question, Washinton likely would have eventually died for a crime he did not commit.

Washington is now 47 years old and has been released from prison for several years. His record has just been cleared by new Virginia governor Timothy M. Kaine, and Washington won a $1.9 million settlement against the state for his false imprisonment. Kenneth Tinsley recently plead guilty to murdering Rebecca Williams.

The gross miscarraige of justice is well known now, and has already cast an eerie glow over the reality of capital punishment in the United States. Like all 4 men released from death row in Illinois in 2003 when it became known that their confessions were tortured out of them, Washinton is an African-American. In Illinois, the discovery prompted Republican governor George Ryan to communte the sentences of all 167 death row inmates in the state. In Virginia, there has been no such response.

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