Drudge Retort: The Other Side of the News
Thursday, September 04, 2014

Thirty years after their convictions in the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl in rural North Carolina, based on confessions that they quickly repudiated and said were coerced, two mentally disabled half brothers were declared innocent and ordered released Tuesday by a judge here. The case against the men, always weak, fell apart after DNA evidence implicated another man whose possible involvement had been somehow overlooked by the authorities even though he lived only a block from where the victim's body was found, and he had admitted to committing a similar rape and murder around the same time. One of the men, Henry Lee McCollum, now 50 years old, had spent 30 years behind bars, most of the time on death row.

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Twenty years ago, the Supreme Court was considering a Texas case about capital punishment, and at the time, then-Justice Harry Blackmun made the argument that the death penalty is unconstitutional. Justice Antonin Scalia pushed back, highlighting a convicted killer named Henry Lee McCollum as an obvious example of a man who deserved to be put to death. "For example, the case of an 11-year-old girl raped by four men and then killed by stuffing her panties down her throat," Scalia wrote in a 1994 ruling. "How enviable a quiet death by lethal injection compared with that!"

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It's worth noting that Scalia wasn't the only one who used this case to advance a point. As the New York Times' piece added, as recently as 2010, the North Carolina Republican Party used a McCollum photo on campaign fliers to attack a Democrat as "soft on crime."

Lawyers for the two men said the new testing leaves no doubt about their clients' innocence…. Ken Rose, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in Durham, has represented Henry McCollum for 20 years.

"It's terrifying that our justice system allowed two intellectually disabled children to go to prison for a crime they had nothing to do with, and then to suffer there for 30 years," Rose said.


Our current jurists are destroying the faith Americans have always had in the Supreme Court because it appears to many that justice is no longer the goal of our courts. Using the law to justify obvious flawed decisions isn't done in the name of justice, it's done to justify the incongruity of legal thought and interpretations built solely upon intellectual sophistry, often standing in opposition to demonstrable right and wrong.

#1 | Posted by tonyroma at 2014-09-03 08:27 AM | Reply | Flag: | Newsworthy 3

If I ever made a mistake that awful on my job I would resign, I won't hold my breath for Scalia to have the same level of ethics that I do though.

#2 | Posted by danni at 2014-09-03 08:27 AM | Reply | Flag: | Newsworthy 1

The fact that Scalia could have chosen every other death row convict in order to make his point, yet he happened to choose an innocent man as his example of someone who's state sanctioned death would have been justified only further underscores his dubious interpretations of evidence and facts. The story of McCollum never changed through the years, and untested evidence - and an almost identical crime having been committed by another suspect literally a block away - should probably sway most unbiased people to reconsider the court's original finding.

Scalia's legacy will be one studied for centuries as a case study. Time will tell us what there is to learn from his jurisprudence and bench decorum, but I doubt the term 'Scion of Justice' will ever be attached to his name.

#3 | Posted by tonyroma at 2014-09-03 08:37 AM | Reply | Flag:

Scalia is an embarrassment to the SC but he is tolerated because he generally decides in favor of power and money....because he is owned by it. He is the son of a Fascist, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

#4 | Posted by danni at 2014-09-03 08:46 AM | Reply | Flag: | Newsworthy 1

Scalia is an embarrassment to the SC but he is tolerated because he generally decides in favor of power and money

He dissented in Kelo.

#5 | Posted by JeffJ at 2014-09-03 09:07 AM | Reply | Flag:

Our legal system in general is so shoddy and shameful.

#6 | Posted by DeadSpin at 2014-09-03 09:29 AM | Reply | Flag:

What do you expect? Both parties nominate people for ideology. Intelligence and thoughtfulness aren't considerations at all. I was actually shocked when Bush was thwarted that time he nominated his auntie or whoever the hell that was.

#7 | Posted by Sully at 2014-09-03 09:52 AM | Reply | Flag:

#5 Even a blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut.

#8 | Posted by schmanch at 2014-09-03 10:56 AM | Reply | Flag:

#8

Read my mind.

#9 | Posted by tonyroma at 2014-09-03 11:25 AM | Reply | Flag:

It is frightening how out of touch all these justices all with the modern world. They don't even have email. Didn't Scalia recent;y assume HBO was free?

How can they make rulings on a world they are not a part of?

#10 | Posted by kanrei at 2014-09-03 11:31 AM | Reply | Flag: | Newsworthy 3

...yet he happened to choose an innocent man as his example of someone who's state sanctioned death would have been justified...

Was the DNA testing that exonerated this gentleman known in 1994? Was Scalia writing on the merits of this gentleman's conviction?

#11 | Posted by et_al at 2014-09-03 12:45 PM | Reply | Flag:

Our legal system in general is so shoddy and shameful.
#6 | POSTED BY DEADSPIN

The first post where I agree with you 100%. Kudos for leaving out the poetic nonsense.

The CJS is systemically racist and needs to be reformed desperately. Nice to see you agree.

#12 | Posted by rstybeach11 at 2014-09-03 01:07 PM | Reply | Flag:

#12 I even drink beer.

:-D

#13 | Posted by DeadSpin at 2014-09-03 01:22 PM | Reply | Flag:

The pro-war, draft-dodging, chicken-hawk coward Antonin Scalia, is a vile, repulsive and nauseating, pathological liar IMHO

#14 | Posted by SammyAZ_RI at 2014-09-03 02:06 PM | Reply | Flag:

Was Scalia writing on the merits of this gentleman's conviction?

If you're going to posit an argument upon the value of capital punishment based upon a particular conviction of a particular crime, isn't the onus on the arguer to chose an appropriately-just decision before trying to make the point?

Being wrong on the facts of the case does not strengthen anyone's argument and Scalia's dismissive error, as it regards the ultimate finding of McCollum's wrongful conviction, only underscores the complete fallibility of human beings when determining the selective, arbitrary use of capital punishment.

#15 | Posted by tonyroma at 2014-09-03 02:27 PM | Reply | Flag: | Newsworthy 1

One of North Carolina's longest-serving death row inmates was freed from prison Wednesday, a day after a judge overturned his conviction because of new DNA evidence in the case. Henry McCollum, 50, walked out of Central Prison in Raleigh, hugged his mother and father and thanked God for his release. McCollum spoke briefly to reporters before getting into the passenger seat of his father's car, where a reporter had to show him how to buckle the seat belt. He had never used a seat belt of that design. McCollum said he hoped to go home and take a bath.

Superior Court Judge Douglas Sasser overturned the convictions Tuesday, saying the fact another man's DNA was found on a cigarette butt left near the body of the slain girl contradicted the case put forth by prosecutors. The ruling was the latest twist in a notorious legal case that began with what defense attorneys said were coerced confessions from two scared teenagers with low IQs. McCollum was 19 at the time, and Brown was 15.

Defense lawyers petitioned for their release after a recent analysis from the butt pointed to another man who lived near the soybean field where Sabrina Buie's body was found in Robeson County. That man is already serving a life sentence for a similar rape and murder that happened less than a month later. The men's freedom hinged largely on the local prosecutor's acknowledgement of the strong evidence of their innocence.

"The evidence you heard today in my opinion negates the evidence presented at trial," Johnson Britt, the Robeson County district attorney, said during a closing statement before the judge announced his decision. Britt did not prosecute the men.

Even if the men were granted a new trial, Britt said: "Based upon this new evidence, the state does not have a case to prosecute." www.huffingtonpost.com


There should be a special place in a very warm location for the inept, criminal incarceration of these men for 30 years of their lives and for those who blatantly used them as an example of why capital punishment is less cruel than the circumstances of a violent act they themselves did not commit. And thank God for the current prosecutor willing to seek justice for the innocent over cover for the heinousness of his predecessors.

#16 | Posted by tonyroma at 2014-09-03 02:38 PM | Reply | Flag:

If you're going to posit an argument upon the value of capital punishment based upon a particular conviction...

It is apparent that neither you nor Benen know the context of the quote decried nor the point Scalia made in that concurrence. Hint, the point had nothing to do with McCollum's sentence nor Scalia's view on the constitutionality of the death penalty.

#17 | Posted by et_al at 2014-09-03 04:42 PM | Reply | Flag:

Hint, the point had nothing to do with McCollum's sentence nor Scalia's view on the constitutionality of the death penalty.
#17 | Posted by et_al

Curious, what was his point?

#18 | Posted by snoofy at 2014-09-03 04:43 PM | Reply | Flag:

Was Scalia writing on the merits of this gentleman's conviction?

If you're going to posit an argument upon the value of capital punishment based upon a particular conviction of a particular crime, isn't the onus on the arguer to chose an appropriately-just decision before trying to make the point?

Being wrong on the facts of the case does not strengthen anyone's argument and Scalia's dismissive error, as it regards the ultimate finding of McCollum's wrongful conviction, only underscores the complete fallibility of human beings when determining the selective, arbitrary use of capital punishment.

#15 | Posted by tonyroma at 2014-09-03 02:27 PM | Reply | Flag

Did Scalia know that McCollum was innocent at the time? Or was he just commenting on a heinous act tried and convicted to make his point?

rwd

#19 | Posted by rightwingdon at 2014-09-03 06:38 PM | Reply | Flag:

Or was he just commenting on a heinous act tried and convicted to make his point?

Again, what point?

#20 | Posted by snoofy at 2014-09-03 07:42 PM | Reply | Flag:

Did Scalia know that McCollum was innocent at the time? Or was he just commenting on a heinous act tried and convicted to make his point?

Does it matter? He was completely wrong and the wrong people were put in jail and nearly put to death for a crime that they did not commit.

So he had not point. In fact, the Point is that this is a strong case AGAINST the death penalty not for it.

Again, what point?

#20 | Posted by snoofy

The point is Scalia is basically an idiot.

#21 | Posted by donnerboy at 2014-09-03 08:11 PM | Reply | Flag: | Newsworthy 2

"coerced confessions"

That's another major flaw with our system.
Confessions are considered ironclad, yet people are easily manipulated into saying things that are false.
Judges seem unable or unwilling to acknowledge that reality.

#22 | Posted by snoofy at 2014-09-03 08:26 PM | Reply | Flag: | Newsworthy 1

Was Scalia writing on the merits of this gentleman's conviction?

As best I can tell, Scalia appears to have been writing kiddie snuff porn.

#23 | Posted by snoofy at 2014-09-03 08:28 PM | Reply | Flag:

Again, what point?

...it's done to justify the incongruity of legal thought and interpretations built solely upon intellectual sophistry....

Our jurists and lawyers have forgotten the purpose of the criminal justice system whenever they attempt to tell us laypeople that adherence to the "rule of law" is more important than actual justice for the people being tried and facing prison or execution.

These men would still be in jail if not for the conscious and morality of the current prosecutor. That fact alone shows how incredibly hard it is to appeal and overturn convictions later, even when witnesses and evidence presume to show that the convicting trial was wrongly determined.

#24 | Posted by tonyroma at 2014-09-03 08:39 PM | Reply | Flag: | Newsworthy 1

Shouldn't all potential DNA evidence be examined for all cases involving very long prison sentences or the death penalty? Shouldn't it just all get processed to see if there are contradictions to the final verdicts?

#25 | Posted by danni at 2014-09-03 09:33 PM | Reply | Flag:

The emergence of DNA testing in 1989 and the accompanying scientific proof that convicted defendants were innocent called into question many tactics once considered reliable, including false confessions. In 2013, 17 percent of cases in which defendants were exonerated involved false confessions like those by McCollum and Brown. Many involve factual scenarios in which police feed information to suspects who later repeat it back. Many involve mentally disabled individuals like McCollum and Brown or youths who are more susceptible to coercion, or even beatings, offering leverage in exchange, or simply lying by officers during interrogations of which there is no recording.

At the age of 19, McCollum was pushed to confess during a five-hour interrogiation in which he was not represented by an attorney, and Brown, just 15, signed confession shortly thereafter. McCollum said recently in an interview with the News & Observer, "I had never been under this much pressure, with a person hollering at me and threatening me. I just made up a story and gave it to them so they would let me go home."

In the case of McCollum and Brown, both of whom have IQ scores low enough that they are considered intellectually disabled, the unrecorded confessions that they said they were tricked into giving and later recanted were the only evidence against them. thinkprogress.org


This is the case Scalia chose to use as his example. He wasn't alone as Republicans have consistently used such examples to fight legislation that would insure some convicted receive another day in court under specific circumstances:
In the years before the brothers' exoneration, the Republican party demonized politicians who sought to ensure justice for McCollum and other potentially innocent black men in death row. A campaign mailer issued by the North Carolina Republican Party in 2010 warned that McCollum "might be moving out of jail and into Your neighborhood sometime soon" because Democratic lawmaker Hugh Holliman voted for a law known as the Racial Justice Act. On the reverse side of the ad was an image of a man wearing a ski mask and holding a crow bar. The ad called Holliman a "criminal coddler," depicting Holliman as a dangerous soft-on-crime candidate because he aspired to help those wrongly imprisoned and spare death sentences for the innocent. (same link)

Of course it's only me conflating politics with the law....

#26 | Posted by tonyroma at 2014-09-03 09:49 PM | Reply | Flag: | Newsworthy 1

So he had not point.

Yes, he had a point. That this is in hindsight a case against the death penalty does not mean that it was in 1994.

...it's done to justify the incongruity of legal thought and interpretations built solely upon intellectual sophistry....

No, that was not the point of the out of context quote that you decry.

Justice Blackmun got the point of Scalia's concurrence in the denial of cert. but to do that one must read the actual opinions. Obviously none have done so. The point:

When I announced in Callins v. Collins, ___ U. S. ___, ___ (1994) (Blackmun, J., dissenting from the denial of certiorari), that I had reached the conclusion that the death penalty, as currently administered, is unconstitutional, Justice Scalia questioned why I did not choose Buddy McCollum's case as the vehicle to announce that position. Id., at ___ (Scalia, J., concurring in the denial of certiorari). He seemed to believe that my position would be harder to defend in a case that like this one that "cries out for punishment." State v. McCollum, 334 N. C. 208, 245, 433 S. E. 2d 144, 165 (Exum, C.J., concurring in part and dissenting in part). Far from it. The crime indeed is abhorrent, but there is more to the story.
One more time, never rely on the media to accurately report on legal matters.

See also the concurring and dissenting opinions to cert. denial beginning at pdf page 1146.

#27 | Posted by et_al at 2014-09-03 09:55 PM | Reply | Flag:

One more time, never rely on the media to accurately report on legal matters.

Ain't that the truth. Just today I read a piece written by Jeffrey Toobin (supposed Supreme Court expert). He was writing about the Halbig ruling and got a couple of facts wrong and a couple of his statements were at best misleading.

#28 | Posted by JeffJ at 2014-09-03 10:04 PM | Reply | Flag:

Of course it's only me conflating politics with the law....

Yes, generally that is true, all politics all the time though you, unlike some, occasionally rise above the hackery. I care not what any politician has ever said about the death penalty or legislation designed to cure problems with the process. My shift from strong to weak supporter is based solely on evidence and empiricism. BTW, you know DNA evidence was in its infancy when this man was convicted in the mid-80's. You can also read Blackmun's dissent in his case, linked above, it describes the evidence in the record, which is all there is to review on appeal, on which he was convicted. That twenty something years later that evidence proved wrong is not justification to criticize, unless you believe in crystal balls, what was done in real time by a jury and appellate judges.

#29 | Posted by et_al at 2014-09-03 10:24 PM | Reply | Flag: | Newsworthy 1

Just today I read a piece written by Jeffrey Toobin...

I used to respect Toobin. However, the last half dozen or so of his pieces I've read convince me that he has sacrificed his legal mind for the spotlight of punditry.

#30 | Posted by et_al at 2014-09-03 10:28 PM | Reply | Flag:

That twenty something years later that evidence proved wrong is not justification to criticize, unless you believe in crystal balls, what was done in real time by a jury and appellate judges.

It has nothing to do with crystal balls and everything to do with the problems throughout the entire criminal justice system. It starts with police officers more concerned with closing crimes than in making sure suspects are afforded legal manners of interrogation. There shouldn't be psychological bludgeonings which are often rubber-stamped by prosecutors and judges as matters of rote. It continues with the assumption of guilt once police identify and especially get confessions from suspects while exculpatory evidence and testimony goes ignored and uncared about lest it damage the case law enforcement promotes both in and outside of court through the media or the public court records.

To shorten, every aspect of our criminal justice system should be considered rickety at best and unarguably rife with provable error, especially if one happens to find oneself on the wrong side of this imbalance, unless duly-blessed with the financial or political means to afford the very best counsel and investigators to counter the immense power of the state and it's law enforcers. This doesn't mean that good people aren't doing the very best they can under the circumstances. But it does show that certain blind fealty to concepts, edicts and intentions are not the same as delivering simple justice and discerning true right from wrong.

#31 | Posted by tonyroma at 2014-09-03 11:21 PM | Reply | Flag: | Newsworthy 1

the last half dozen or so of his pieces I've read convince me that he has sacrificed his legal mind for the spotlight of punditry.
#30 | Posted by et_al

Meanwhile, the spotlight of pro-death penalty punditry is precisely what Scalia is seeking when he opines "How enviable a quiet death by lethal injection compared with that!"

#32 | Posted by snoofy at 2014-09-03 11:41 PM | Reply | Flag: | Newsworthy 1

Thanks. You deflect from the point to your political rant. Agreed, there are problems with the criminal justice system. What you and Benen are ranting about is not one of them.

It is a fact this man was wrongly convicted. That conclusion was reached through technology that was, for the most part, non-existent at the time of conviction. In the future certainly there will be further advances that exonerate others. That does not justify post hoc criticism of those acting in real time without the benefit of hindsight and those technological advances. Perfection is simply not possible in our system. Would you have an example of a system that is?

#33 | Posted by et_al at 2014-09-03 11:49 PM | Reply | Flag:

#32

Funny that Justice Blackmun got it and took his rhetorical return shot across Scalia's bow with his dissent from cert. denial in McCollum.

You don't. Nor do you comprehend the definition of pundit.

#34 | Posted by et_al at 2014-09-04 12:02 AM | Reply | Flag:

That conclusion was reached through technology that was, for the most part, non-existent at the time of conviction.
#33 | Posted by et_al

The technology of coerced confessions (Reid technique en.wikipedia.org) resulting in this false conviction was fully operational at the time of conviction, and remains in place today.

Perfection is simply not possible in our system. Would you have an example of a system that is?

Arguments which pit the perfect against the better are for charlatans. You're likely better than that. Though I'm willing to entertain alternative notions.

#35 | Posted by snoofy at 2014-09-04 12:26 AM | Reply | Flag: | Newsworthy 1

Arguments which pit the perfect against the better...

Indeed. I detected a note of demand for perfection, thus the retort.

The technology of coerced confessions...

May be. Was that raised at trial, on appeal, through habeas both state and federal? Most importantly, was it raised in the SC? If not, it's irrelevant in this case.

#36 | Posted by et_al at 2014-09-04 01:36 AM | Reply | Flag:

If not, it's irrelevant in this case.

Tell that to the two men who just spent 30 years in jail because the system still in place called their trial and incarceration "just". You continue to prove it with every post. Anyone that justifies the continuation of an unjust system for the sake of the "rules" it follows is not interested in justice, they only seek to protect the illusion of justice -- which is neither blind nor balanced -- when the side in power unlawfully weighs in against the liberties of the suspects brought before it.

#37 | Posted by tonyroma at 2014-09-04 05:41 AM | Reply | Flag: | Newsworthy 2

Tell that to the two men who just spent 30 years in jail because the system still in place called their trial and incarceration "just". You continue to prove it with every post. Anyone that justifies the continuation of an unjust system for the sake of the "rules" it follows is not interested in justice, they only seek to protect the illusion of justice -- which is neither blind nor balanced -- when the side in power unlawfully weighs in against the liberties of the suspects brought before it.

#37 | POSTED BY TONYROMA

You are making an emotional appeal on a case that was overturned by technology that didn't exist at the time it was heard. Is it tragic that an innocent person was wrongly incarcerated for 30 years? Absolutely - I can't even imagine being imprisoned for a crime I didn't commit. Having said that our criminal justice system has the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, unless you are dealing with the IRS or you are a young male on a college campus accused of sexual assault, but I digress. All defendants have the right to legal representation and the court will provide it at no cost if need be. The 5th Amendment protects the accused from self-incrimination (the right to remain silent). The prosecution must prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

You know what though? For every case like this I'd be willing to bet there are 10 more where the prosecution's case was tossed due to a failure to dot the i's and cross the t's.

Judges apply laws, they don't make them.

IMO the biggest problem we have with our system of justice is many of the laws themselves. Our lawmakers take so many harmless and innocuous acts and turn them into crimes. It's ridiculous.

#38 | Posted by JeffJ at 2014-09-04 07:11 AM | Reply | Flag:

Flag:

What do you expect? Both parties nominate people for ideology. Intelligence and thoughtfulness aren't considerations at all.

#7 | Posted by Sully

Actual liberal ideology corresponds to higher intelligence.

www.psychologytoday.com

"Analyses of large representative samples, from both the United States and the United Kingdom, confirm this prediction. In both countries, more intelligent children are more likely to grow up to be liberals than less intelligent children. "

#39 | Posted by SpeakSoftly at 2014-09-04 11:45 AM | Reply | Flag:

"Actual liberal ideology corresponds to higher intelligence."

Ideologues of any stripe tend to be idiots.

#40 | Posted by Sully at 2014-09-04 12:01 PM | Reply | Flag:

"Judges apply laws, they don't make them."

I've become a strong opponent of the death penalty, especially since DNA evidence has freed so many death row residents. The main problem with the justice system is ambitious police and prosecutors looking for advancement and higher political offices who will lie, hide exculpatory evidence or do whatever it takes to win a conviction. In SO many cases, the police and prosecutors involved in a lot of cases still won't admit they erred even AFTER evidence exonerating the convicted has proven them innocent.

#41 | Posted by jestgettinalong at 2014-09-04 12:35 PM | Reply | Flag: | Newsworthy 1

Scalia living high and mighty wrong.

#42 | Posted by nutcase at 2014-09-04 01:51 PM | Reply | Flag:

It is frightening how out of touch all these justices all with the modern world. They don't even have email. Didn't Scalia recent;y assume HBO was free?
How can they make rulings on a world they are not a part of?
#10 | Posted by kanrei at 2014-09-03 11:31 AM

Precisely so, and as a self-described "contrarian" he also claims that racism is long gone.

Dear ISIS,
I know you've got a lot on your plate - namely innocent journalists heads, but could you consider doing something even more radical and invite Antonin Scalia for tea and crucifixion? He's quite good at one of those things, I leave it to you to decide which.

Thanks bunches, you murderous horde of "religious virtue"!

#43 | Posted by redlightrobot at 2014-09-04 07:26 PM | Reply | Flag:

There was more exculpatory evidence than just the DNA:

"The Innocence Inquiry Commission investigation also turned up hidden evidence. Three days before McCollum and Brown went on trial in 1984, the Red Springs police requested that the SBI examine the unidentified fingerprint on the beer can to see if it matched Roscoe Artis.

The SBI never did the work."

Read more here: www.charlotteobserver.com

#44 | Posted by WhoDaMan at 2014-09-04 07:30 PM | Reply | Flag:

IMO the biggest problem we have with our system of justice is many of the laws themselves. Our lawmakers take so many harmless and innocuous acts and turn them into crimes. It's ridiculous.
#38 | Posted by JeffJ

Indeed. "Garbage in, garbage out."

#45 | Posted by snoofy at 2014-09-04 07:33 PM | Reply | Flag:

All defendants have the right to legal representation and the court will provide it at no cost if need be. The 5th Amendment protects the accused from self-incrimination (the right to remain silent). The prosecution must prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

If you really think those words actually guarantee anything in reality, then you're far too naive:

Vernetta Alston at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, have long argued the "process" has not worked at all for Henry Lee McCollum and Leon Brown. "At every juncture, the system failed Henry and Leon," Alston told ThinkProgress. "They were coerced into giving false confessions.

These two boys could hardly read. They were very intellectually disabled. They were manipulated and threatened, and only signed the statements because law enforcement told them they could go home. It's unacceptable."

The brothers were interrogated for hours with no attorney present in order to obtain the confessions, which they both later recanted. There was never any physical evidence against them. McCollum's defense team demanded DNA testing 10 years ago, when it became available in the state. Some results came back in 2005 showing the cigarette butt found at the scene of the crime did not match McCollum, but the DNA was not tied to convicted murderer Roscoe Artis until this year.

"Law enforcement was in a rush to get a conviction, and during the investigation they missed the real killer, who was right under their nose," Alston said. "And because of their haphazard and negligent investigation, he went on to kill again." thinkprogress.org


Someone lost their life because the police coerced false confessions and prosecutors convicted the wrong men for something they had nothing to do with. This entire cluster is more than just a problem, it's a travesty.

#46 | Posted by tonyroma at 2014-09-04 07:40 PM | Reply | Flag: | Newsworthy 1

Tony,

You can cite individual examples where the process failed.

Fine. Perfection/Utopia is an impossibility.

Do you have credible evidence that violations of constitutional protections are anything other than an anomaly? That they are widespread?

If so, is it a problem with the protections themselves, or is it like watching To Kill a Mockingbird updated for 2014?

I am at a complete loss as to the point you are trying to make.

Please, don't take this as adversarial. On issues of civil liberties I strongly suspect you and I are very close.

I just don't understand what changes you are looking for.

#47 | Posted by JeffJ at 2014-09-04 08:00 PM | Reply | Flag:

Fine. Perfection/Utopia is an impossibility.

So capital punishment is immoral. QED.

#48 | Posted by WhoDaMan at 2014-09-04 08:04 PM | Reply | Flag: | Newsworthy 1

Two more reasons to think the death penalty sucks.

#49 | Posted by northguy3 at 2014-09-04 08:20 PM | Reply | Flag:

#46

Was that raised at trial, on appeal, through habeas both state and federal? Most importantly, was it raised in the SC? If not, it's irrelevant in this case.
#36 | Posted by et_al

Now, you get to repeat your emotional rant and ad hominem.

#50 | Posted by et_al at 2014-09-04 08:22 PM | Reply | Flag:

Do you have credible evidence that violations of constitutional protections are anything other than an anomaly? That they are widespread?

That depends on what your definition of "widespread" is.

Do you really have the perception that injustice isn't widespread? That would seem to require having your head in the sand. Or at least close enough to the ground for licking the jackboots.

#51 | Posted by snoofy at 2014-09-04 08:41 PM | Reply | Flag:

I just don't understand what changes you are looking for.

Common sense Jeff, nothing more, nothing less. We need to take criminal justice as seriously as we take our own lives because THAT'S what it affects. My ire here is the legal profession's obsession with protecting the integrity of the process above everything when its raison d'etre is JUSTICE, not blind adherence to edicts, definitions, procedures, and every other human variable that life interjects. Not anarchy, but purely the concept that law is only written to serve the interests of individuals electing to live under them as they are written and supposed to be applied.

This happens everyday Jeff, and don't kid yourself into thinking any differently. Read the link from #44. There are too many stop signs that blind people would see as law enforcement marched down the road to imprisoning these men. Judges have to ask for more than a confession as the only evidence when nothing else at the crime scene ties the suspects to the crime. The story is sickening.

Now, on to the SCOTUS. Although the discussion about Scalia is intentionally hyperbolic, my intent remains: If this case, with these defendants and circumstances surrounding the case, cannot be allowed cert from the SCOTUS, then what else could possibly be more worthy? The very fact the evidence didn't compel them to look further underscores how the elites are more concerned with the strictures and words than they are with how their interpretations liberate or innundate real people with life and death consequences.

Scalia was smug in his recitation of the prosecution's side of crime and those involved, so he either dismissed the countering testimony and the protestations of McCollum under the withering cross by the DA going on for hours. It just doesn't appear what it would take for Scalia to consider that the defendant might have been railroaded when we all see the train from facts back to when the original case was tried.

We know the system is broken and that the system makes it very hard for everyone with a real grievance to be heard. We have to stop acting as those justice is being dispensed more than revenge. I just want the people inside to see what we do from the outside. The interpretation of words just isn't as important as the adjudication of real justice throughout the system.

#52 | Posted by tonyroma at 2014-09-04 08:45 PM | Reply | Flag:

This is an example of the pathology of some of the people within law enforcement:

Within hours, three officers were interrogating McCollum: Snead, Sealey and Leroy Allen of the SBI . Snead wrote out the confession in longhand, and McCollum signed it.

The written confession was horrifying. Four young men – Darrell Suber, Chris Brown, Leon Brown and McCollum – took the girl into the woods, it said. The confession said they stripped off her shoes, pants and panties, held her down and took turns raping her vaginally and anally. Worried that she would tell police, Suber said, "We've got to kill her to keep her from telling the cops on us."

The confessions had a glaring weakness baked into them: Prosecutors never brought charges against the two alleged ringleaders, Darrell Suber and Chris Brown. Police had no evidence to bring charges.

Snead, the lead investigator who interrogated McCollum, is now retired. He said he believes that the confessions are true. "We didn't have a cause of death, and McCollum and Brown both told me they took a stick and juked the panties up and down her throat," Snead said in an interview Thursday. "Only someone who committed the crime would know that."

Joe Freeman, Britt McCollum's prosecutor - now retired, said Friday he has no doubts the confessions are genuine and the men are guilty: "None. None."

Britt said he doesn't put much stock in DNA exonerations.

"You find a cigarette, you say it has Roscoe Artis' DNA on it, but so what?" Britt said. "It's just a cigarette, and absent some direct connection to the actual killing, what have you got? Do you have exoneration? I don't think so." www.charlotteobserver.com


When the cops and prosecutors don't believe their own evidence where are suspects supposed to turn? One (often court-appointed) lawyer? Yeah that really equalizes things doesn't it?

#53 | Posted by tonyroma at 2014-09-04 09:04 PM | Reply | Flag:

One more time, never rely on the media to accurately report on legal matters.

Nor you. Why did you stop there?

Blackmun responded later: "The crime is indeed abhorrent, but there is more to the story. … McCollum … an IQ between 60 and 69 and the mental age of a 9 year old. … He was not the one who initiated the rape, the one who proposed the murder, or the one who actually committed the murder. Nonetheless, he was the only one convicted of murder and the only one sentenced to die." www.charlotteobserver.com

There were many facts on which to grant cert, but Scalia choose to publicly cite something we now know was false and if given a hearing by the Court in 1994, may have shortened their imprisonment by a decade or more. Basically, Blackmun was saying the case smelled badly and should be given a hearing. Scalia said "Nothing's wrong here, and boy, what a great example for proving the death penalty isn't as cruel as what this convict did."

Scalia may be long on the law but he's extremely short in discerning the truth in this case.

#54 | Posted by tonyroma at 2014-09-04 09:17 PM | Reply | Flag: | Newsworthy 1

"Conservatism" in it's current US incarnation relies on "belief" rather than "fact". This allows them to deny evolution, global warming, macro economics and science in general when it conflicts with whatever they "believe" and still feel confident that they are in the right. After all, as Stephen Colbert says, "facts have a well-known liberal bias".

#55 | Posted by WhoDaMan at 2014-09-04 09:30 PM | Reply | Flag:

"its" not "it's" for the grammar nazis.

#56 | Posted by WhoDaMan at 2014-09-04 09:31 PM | Reply | Flag:

Now, on to the SCOTUS.

Your problem. You have identified one case from the 1988 SC term for which you have a a retrospective emotional attraction. Yet consider, in that term about 4000 cert. petitions were filed (I can't find actual statistics but based on last year and assuming not a lot of difference I'll go with what I know). Of those about 80 are granted. Assuming half were criminal cases the Court heard about 40.

Which do you pick. What criteria do you apply, Emotion? Law? Facts? Constitutional doctrine? Status of the law at issue? What of the other 1960 that were denied cert.? Are those more or less worthy of your emotion? I bet there are cases denied that some think were more worthy than this one. I bet cases were granted that some think were less worthy than this one. Yet, neither you nor I bear the heavy responsibility of making the decision. Our difference is that I do not presume I have that responsibility. You do. I try to understand the practical and legal intricacies, you don't. It is impossible for the Court to hear every case presented. Your emotion for this one notwithstanding. Fortunately, the very system that you condemn exonerated this man and others. I applaud while you vilify.

Another problem, you lay blame with one Justice without knowing the vote on the cert. petition. You know nothing of the lack of four votes for grant because cert. votes are not disclosed. For all you know Scalia voted to grant cert. in this case. Yet, you heap scorn for obvious partisan reasons.

Reel in your emotion. Understand how our system works. Is it perfect, no. Can it improve, yes. In the mean time, do you have an example of a better system. since you present as omnipotent on the subject matter?

#57 | Posted by et_al at 2014-09-04 11:41 PM | Reply | Flag:

do you have an example of a better system. since you present as omnipotent on the subject matter?

#57 | Posted by et_al

Well, for one thing, most of the other "first world" countries don't have a death penalty. For another, none of them have anywhere near the same percentage of their populations incarcerated. So yeah, apparently a lot of countries have a better system

#58 | Posted by WhoDaMan at 2014-09-04 11:51 PM | Reply | Flag:

...Scalia choose[sic] to publicly cite something we now know was false...

Yes, hindsight is 20/20. Now, put the the case in real time perspective. Come on, what was known at the time not today. Let's hear your emotional plea based on then not now.

#59 | Posted by et_al at 2014-09-04 11:52 PM | Reply | Flag:

#58

Quite beside the point. The question relates not to the merit of the death penalty, which I'm not a fan. The question is the ability of the system to ferret out injustices. I think we do well. Can you cite a example of a system that does better?

#60 | Posted by et_al at 2014-09-05 12:01 AM | Reply | Flag:

#57

We know the system is broken and that the system makes it very hard for everyone with a real grievance to be heard.

#52 | POSTED BY TONYROMA AT 2014-09-04 08:45 PM


For all you know Scalia voted to grant cert. in this case.

What do these words mean?

Justice Scalia questioned why I did not choose Buddy McCollum's case as the vehicle to announce that position. Id., at ___ (Scalia, J., concurring in the denial of certiorari). He seemed to believe that my position would be harder to defend in a case that like this one that "cries out for punishment." State v. McCollum, 334 N. C. 208, 245, 433 S. E. 2d 144, 165

#27 | POSTED BY ET_AL AT 2014-09-03 09:55 PM


Is that not a reference to Scalia's denial of cert for McCollum's case? And how could any unbiased person read Scalia's words and NOT see what his position was on McCollum deserving to receive the death penalty when he stated that IT would be more "usual and un-cruel" than the crime he believed McCollum and three other innocent men committed against the victim?

I don't profess to have all the answers. My problem is that people like you refuse to even consider all the questions that we know deprive people of their lives and liberty for the sake of words on paper. This nation can afford to fund a federal judiciary below the SCOTUS that can dig into all these certs as much as we can afford to unquestionably house scores of innocent people within the criminal justice system. I look toward those with more knowledge for answers because they have a more realistic view of what needs to change. But when the entire system is supported by an apparatus designed to achieve desired results instead of actual justice, every participant should reevaluate their current roles within it.

#61 | Posted by tonyroma at 2014-09-05 12:20 AM | Reply | Flag:

And btw, it's Scalia's judgment and commitment to justice for all that I question. His politics are irrelevant. I would be profoundly embarrassed to have my words and perceptions come back to haunt me in such an egregious manner. McCollum wasn't a name on a legal paper, he was a living, breathing human being who's life was taken from him for three decades for something he didn't do. And it doesn't take a Supreme Court Justice to read the facts surrounding the case to find questionable problems from beginning to end. Why should any juror believe a word that police and prosecutors say when they refuse to admit error even when truly incontrovertible evidence upsets their "professional" judgments and opinions? If he was still prosecutor, these men would still be in jail because he could have stopped the recent DNA testing. That's a huge problem. Prosecutors should be removed from influencing the appellate process of their convicted outside of providing the court with what it needs regarding evidence and information about the trial. They are far from unbiased as these examples show.

How can you have faith that the system is working as best as it can when elephants like this are parked right in the living room? The only reason I don't have more examples is because not enough is being done in a timely manner to find them.

Re: my question above, I've read further that the denial was in the case listed, not the McCollum case. Sorry for the mistake.

#62 | Posted by tonyroma at 2014-09-05 12:45 AM | Reply | Flag:

The question is the ability of the system to ferret out injustices. I think we do well.
#60 | Posted by et_al

An innocent man was on death row for 30 years and you think we do well?

The other side of the coin, the side that you're don't seem to be particularity interested in, is the ability of the system to produce injustices.

That a system is capable of ferreting out its injustices decades after it perpetrates them cannot in any honest reckoning be viewed as a net positive. A car crash where fortunately nobody died isn't exemplary of driving well.

#63 | Posted by snoofy at 2014-09-05 12:46 AM | Reply | Flag: | Newsworthy 1

Come on, what was known at the time not today. Let's hear your emotional plea based on then not now.
#59 | Posted by et_al

By Scalia, or by the police and DA and judge who railroaded an innocent man?

Scalia cherry-picked a verdict in a heinous crime and chose to believe that verdict accurately reflected the facts of the case. Do you think he's gullible, blind to the possibility of injustice, or both? One thing is for certain, he is unrepentant. And that is the hallmark of an ideologue.

#64 | Posted by snoofy at 2014-09-05 12:57 AM | Reply | Flag: | Newsworthy 1

The only reason I don't have more examples is because not enough is being done in a timely manner to find them.

Then you are not paying attention.

Re: my question above, I've read further that the denial was in the case listed, not the McCollum case. Sorry for the mistake.

So, you suffer the same foibles as...those you condemn?

#65 | Posted by et_al at 2014-09-05 01:09 AM | Reply | Flag:

So, you suffer the same foibles as...those you condemn?
#65 | Posted by et_al

I mean really.
That's just a desperate thing for you to say.
His foibles don't result in other being wrongfully condemned.

#66 | Posted by snoofy at 2014-09-05 01:13 AM | Reply | Flag:

An innocent man was on death row for 30 years and you think we do well?

An innocent man received that due process our system demands. A mistake was made. That injustice was rectified within the system you vilify by technological advances. Those advances with systemic changes, hopefully, will prevent such injustices in the future and continue to rectify those of the past.

Perhaps you and Tony care to venture an example of a justice system you deem better than what we have? You each appear to demand perfection while failing to account for human frailty inherent in any system. So, what's your example of an existing system that is better?

#67 | Posted by et_al at 2014-09-05 01:26 AM | Reply | Flag:

#66

So which individual mistake resulted in the wrongful conviction?

Was it one of the parties involved, I think there were four plus the victim? Witness 1 or 2? Investigator 3 or 4? The prosecutor, the defense attorney or trial judge? State appellate justice 4, 5 or 6? State Supreme Court Justice 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 or 15? Habeas trial judges 16 or 17? Habeas appellate justices 17...25? Supreme Court Justices 1-9? Just exactly where was the mistake made and how is one mistake different from another? Mistakes result in consequences some more egregious than others if one plays the game of moral equivalence but, of course, you would never make that mistake.

Of course, I made a mistake in the count. I left out the 12 jurors.

#68 | Posted by et_al at 2014-09-05 01:43 AM | Reply | Flag:

We have no business putting people to death to begin with....what are we, barbarians?

It solves nothing, provides zero deterrent, and brings no closure. If we get it wrong even once, it's one too many and must end.

#69 | Posted by DeadSpin at 2014-09-05 01:50 AM | Reply | Flag:

#66
So which individual mistake resulted in the wrongful conviction?
#68 | Posted by et_al

What does it matter?
You're not so brazen as to suggest that your difficulty in isolating the straw which broke the camel's back means the camel wasn't overloaded.
Or are you?

Which specific cut kills in the death of a thousand cuts?
My goodness, I hope you've been drinking to be meandering down such inane paths.

#70 | Posted by snoofy at 2014-09-05 02:08 AM | Reply | Flag:

Or are you?

Depends. Are we talking specifics, this case, or generalities. I thought it was specifics.

#71 | Posted by et_al at 2014-09-05 02:56 AM | Reply | Flag:

Which specifics? Are are you only interested in some of the specifics, such as the ones that made it into the case record, or are you also interested in other specifics, such as coerced confessions?

If you watch the tape in slow motion it looks like Rodney King is resisting. That's what you're doing. I'm not sure why, though. Care to explain why?

#72 | Posted by snoofy at 2014-09-05 03:23 AM | Reply | Flag:

Which specifics?

Those disclosed above.

That's what you're doing.

Straw men excluded.

#73 | Posted by et_al at 2014-09-05 03:39 AM | Reply | Flag:

Which specifics?
Those disclosed above.

So, not all of the specifics then.

I guess an examination of how people get convicted of things they didn't do is too "political" for you.

#74 | Posted by snoofy at 2014-09-05 04:24 AM | Reply | Flag:

Or, since we're dealing in specifics, an examination of how two mentally disabled half brothers were convicted of a crime they didn't commit is too "political" for you.

#75 | Posted by snoofy at 2014-09-05 04:25 AM | Reply | Flag:

One thing is for certain, he is unrepentant. And that is the hallmark of an ideologue.

"[Death by lethal injection] looks even better next to some of the other cases currently before us which Justice Blackmun did not select as the vehicle for his announcement that the death penalty is always unconstitutional," Scalia wrote. "For example, the case of the 11-year old girl raped by four men and then killed by stuffing her panties down her throat. How enviable a quiet death by lethal injection compared with that!"

If, 20 years ago, McCollum underscored in Scalia's mind not just the legality but the importance of capital punishment, then the fact that it was wrongly decided and has been overturned reveals a huge blind spot in his reasoning. Fortunately, Scalia is one of the most outspoken, public facing members of the Supreme Court. He should have no problem preparing a statement. And he owes us one. www.newrepublic.com


This goes right back to my first post. The continuing findings by groups like this undermine the public's faith in the entire edifice of the criminal justice system. They fact that a sitting SCOTUS justice could and did choose one of the most egregious examples (out of every other case available to make the same argument) of systemic failure as a presumed rock upon which to make his point calls into question his judgments in other areas as well.

At least it should to objective people trying to discern whether our system affords fair verdicts in practice or just a rubber stamp for the means of law enforcement and prosecutors to railroad innocents when that too serves their purposes.

#76 | Posted by tonyroma at 2014-09-05 08:01 AM | Reply | Flag:

To et al the system in which elites make money is more important than whether or not an innocent person's life is wasted by serving 30 years in prison. Unless its et al's life I'm sure.

This doesn't prove the system works, it proves how flawed the reasoning is of meticulously trained lawyers and Judges. Sometimes they get it right and sometimes they get it wrong. How those chips fall depends mostly on two factors, the accused's bank account and a bit of luck.

One fundamental flaw, worse in Federal cases, is the ability of a Judge to predetermine the outcome by deciding what will and will not be admissible as evidence. It is with this tool that the Feds lock up people they don't like. But it happens on other levels as well. My brother lost a State civil damage suit in which Leon Russell jumped all over his Steinway piano during a concert, ruining the piano. My brother had taken pictures of the jumping and the Judge refused to let the jury see the pictures thus predetermining the outcome. Obviously the Judge was bribed.

#77 | Posted by nutcase at 2014-09-05 09:49 AM | Reply | Flag:

Nutcase,

Your opening sentence was a strawman which means all of the following keystrokes were you arguing against a position not taken.

#78 | Posted by JeffJ at 2014-09-05 11:01 AM | Reply | Flag:

How many revealed injustices will it take for conservatives to finally realize that a large proportion of people in prison convicted of violent crimes are actually innocent?

#79 | Posted by moder8 at 2014-09-05 11:25 AM | Reply | Flag:

et al claims the system works because this innocent man was released. It doesn't work because he should not have been convicted in the first place.

A fundamental difference in thinking is revealed between conservatives and liberals in this case and public outrage in Ferguson. Conservatives are predisposed to side with seated authority while Liberals are predisposed to side with the powerless little guy. Our nation was founded on the sanctity of the rights of the little guy. Rethugs seek to destroy this principle, while pretending to wrap themselves in the Constitution, which embodies that principle.

#80 | Posted by nutcase at 2014-09-05 11:44 AM | Reply | Flag: | Newsworthy 1

How many revealed injustices will it take for conservatives to finally realize that a large proportion of people in prison convicted of violent crimes are actually innocent?

And how many other people become victims of the real perpetrators of the crimes the innocent are imprisoned for? Beyond the human tragedy of innocents being wrongly incarcerated for 30 years, the real killer raped and murdered another victim (for which he was rightly convicted and imprisoned) who might still be alive if the police and prosecutor actually did the jobs they were hired to do as professionals, not personal arbiters of their own versions of justice.

#81 | Posted by tonyroma at 2014-09-05 12:48 PM | Reply | Flag:

A fundamental difference in thinking is revealed between conservatives and liberals in this case and public outrage in Ferguson. Conservatives are predisposed to side with seated authority while Liberals are predisposed to side with the powerless little guy. Our nation was founded on the sanctity of the rights of the little guy. Rethugs seek to destroy this principle, while pretending to wrap themselves in the Constitution, which embodies that principle.

#80 | POSTED BY NUTCASE

When it comes to Ferguson, you have it all wrong. It was liberals who were clamoring for mob justice for the cop whilst it was conservatives who were arguing that everybody is entitled to due process.

#82 | Posted by JeffJ at 2014-09-05 02:41 PM | Reply | Flag:

It was liberals who were clamoring for mob justice for the cop whilst it was conservatives who were arguing that everybody is entitled to due process.

If this is what you think you saw, you need to have your eyes examined! The only thing the protesters in Ferguson demanded was JUSTICE for Michael Brown. It isn't "mob justice" to demand that the killer of an unarmed man be arrested on charges following his actions and expected to be tried in court if/when a grand jury or preliminary hearing forwards such a finding based on the evidence and testimony.

Everyone but for spiteful bigots wants Wilson to have his due process, something Wilson's actions unarguably denied Michael Brown. That is what the protests were all about.

#83 | Posted by tonyroma at 2014-09-05 03:04 PM | Reply | Flag:

FTR, Michael Brown hadn't even been charged with a crime, much less convicted. The store owner hadn't even reported a crime.

#84 | Posted by WhoDaMan at 2014-09-05 04:05 PM | Reply | Flag:

It is a fact this man was wrongly convicted. That conclusion was reached through technology that was, for the most part, non-existent at the time of conviction. In the future certainly there will be further advances that exonerate others. That does not justify post hoc criticism of those acting in real time without the benefit of hindsight and those technological advances. Perfection is simply not possible in our system. Would you have an example of a system that is?

#33 | Posted by et_al

Which just proves how wrong the idea of the Death Penalty is. And how wrong Scalia was to use it as an example to support it. [Justice Antonin Scalia pushed back, highlighting a convicted killer named Henry Lee McCollum as an obvious example of a man who deserved to be put to death.]

Until we have a perfect Justice system we should never be allowing the state to put any of it's citizens to death. And probably not even then.

#85 | Posted by donnerboy at 2014-09-05 07:32 PM | Reply | Flag:

Until we have a perfect Justice system we should never be allowing the state to put any of it's citizens to death. And probably not even then.

#85 | Posted by donnerboy

As long as people are involved, perfection is unachievable. That's why the more civilized countries have abolished the death penalty, just like they abolished slavery before the US did. Compared to the "civilized world" the US is like an unruly child (with nuclear weapons).

#86 | Posted by WhoDaMan at 2014-09-05 07:57 PM | Reply | Flag:

Which just proves how wrong the idea of the Death Penalty is.

I don't disagree. However, that is a legislative matter outside the purview of the courts.

And how wrong Scalia was to use it as an example to support it. [Justice Antonin Scalia pushed back, highlighting a convicted killer named Henry Lee McCollum as an obvious example of a man who deserved to be put to death.]

You buy the sensationalist interpretation of a journalist. Why not accept the interpretation of Justice Blackmun to whom Scalia addressed his concurrence. The back and forth between the two is linked above and it does not fit the journalist's hyperbole.

#87 | Posted by et_al at 2014-09-05 08:41 PM | Reply | Flag:

Neither position is necessary. Every Capital case deserves a simple review, not of the verdict, but of whether it is based on forensic evidence or not. Eye witness testimony is never forensic evidence. It has been proven that even finger prints are not. DNA always is, unless an ambitious cop planted it.

Lack of forensic evidence should immediately commute every death sentence to life in prison.

Putting this real problem in perspective, about 10% of all legal cases are a grotesque miscarriage of Justice, so 90% are not. Scalia and Thomas are clearly comfortable with this error rate, a morally depraved position.

#88 | Posted by nutcase at 2014-09-05 09:19 PM | Reply | Flag:

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