Saturday, July 7, 2007

Whoops. Our Bad.

The Commonwealth of Virginia this week attempted to right a wrong, and declared Earl Washington, Jr. innocent of a rape and murder that DNA evidence determined that he didn't commit. Even though this evidence was uncovered six years ago--and another man was convicted of the crimes--a special prosecutor in the case insisted for years that Washington was still a suspect. That's right--the prosecutor, James Camblos, would rather see an innocent man convicted than admit that he had erred in the case. (This might have something to do with the fact that Camblos once acted as a defense attorney for the real killer, Kenneth Tinsley). At one point, Washington was only days away from execution for a crime he didn't commit. [NOTE--James Camblos was not the original prosecutor in this case, as is implied by my post. Instead, John Bennett was the trial prosecutor in the Washington case. My apologies. Please see the note from Factchecker in the comments section below for another view on the case, as well as my later post here.]

This guy wasn't so lucky. Cameron Todd Willingham was excecuted in Texas in 2004 for setting a fire that killed his children, when forensics techniques available at the time of his trial would have demonstrated that the fire was not an arson, had anyone paid attention to them. One of the original investigators of the fire said at the time of the execution, "At the time of the Corsicana fire, we were still testifying to things that aren't accurate today. They were true then, but they aren't now." What is true now is that Willingham is dead. Texas Governor Rick Perry was presented with the new information, but decided to go ahead and off Willingham anyway.

Since 1973, at least 120 people have been released from death row after being exonerated. Capital punishment has been demonstrated to be arbitary, racist, expensive, and ineffective as a deterrent. How many innocent persons must fall victim to overzealous prosecutors and publicity-hungry politicians before we finally condemn this barbaric practice?


hugh mann said...

Ugh, that's a chilling story. Another of many reasons the death penalty is a terrible idea and should not be legal.

Archaeopteryx said...

You're right Hugh. Unfortunately, it apparently happens fairly often. And never, oddly, to rich white guys. I wonder if there's a connection.

Factchecker said...

This would be a chilling story if our transitional fossil had bothered to check his facts and make sure what he was reporting was accurate. James Camblos was not the original prosecutor of Earl Washington. As a matter of fact Mr. Camblos wasn't even a prosecutor when Mr. Washington was errouneously convicted in Culpeper (not Albemarle where Mr. Camblos is the chief prosecutor). When the case was returned to Culpeper after Mr. Washington was released, Mr. Camblos was selected to special prosecute any potential retrial. It quickly became evident that the real suspect was Mr. Tinsley, a man that Mr. Camblos had defended when he worked as a defense attorney before his election to Commonwealth's Attorney. For Mr. Camblos to continue the investigation and prosecution would have been an ethical violation, so he appointed his deputy (Richard Moore) who then went on to successfully prosecute Mr. Tinsley. The only reason Mr. Camblos could not come out and declare Mr. Washington's innocence and Mr. Tinsley's guilt was his ethical obligation due to a conflict of interest from his previous job defending Mr. Tinsley on an unrelated matter. To have done otherwise could have resulted in disciplinary action against Mr. Camblos. I would suggest that next time you decide to besmirch a public official, that you at least check your facts before writing inflammatory rhetoric. This type of behavior is exactly why bloggers get a bad rap. If you are going to pretend to be a journalist, at least act like one.