For those who believe there could be innocents on death row, a letter from Jeffrey Wogenstahl published last week makes disturbing and painful reading.
Jeff is upfront about his past: he makes it plain that before his arrest for murder he was on parole for having marijuana in his apartment. He also describes how he has benefited from being on death row; he says he has become more considerate towards others, and has learnt to appreciate the simple things of life, “watching a mother bird feed her young, enjoy a breath of fresh air containing the smell of flowers, just staring up at the sky and watching the clouds go by”.
But at the heart of Jeff’s letter there is deep bitterness at how the justice system has treated him. His anger is palpable as he describes his ‘joke’ of a trial:
“My lawyer was working for prosecutor Joe Deters, I was not gave any investigators, and defense experts, or any kind of means to prepare a defense. The jury was only informed on what the prosecutors presented and nothing by my attorneys. The jury was prohibited from seeing scientific test results that showed it was not me who committed the murder. My trial consisted of perjured testimony, false testimony, the prosecution knew testimony was perjured, they withheld favorable evidence, and made totally improper comments to the jury. In no way did I receive a fair trial. All of this is clearly substantiated by court records.”
Jeff denounces the underfunding of defense lawyers that limits their ability to represent their clients fairly. And he deplores the apathy that perpetuates public confidence in the judicial system, which in practice “is far too often for those who can afford it”.
Writing this letter has given Jeff a chance to be heard. Clearly, though, what he yearns for even more is a chance to clear his name:
“If it’s my fate that I am to be murdered by the State of Ohio I go in complete peace with everyone and everything. After 23 years on death row for something I didn’t do, my death is my freedom. It would just be a shame if the truth isn’t told. The truth has not been told. What I really don’t understand is that if the state is so convinced I committed the murder, why are they so afraid of allowing me a new trial where the jury can be shown all the evidence?!”
We can only hope that Jeff will be granted his wish.