Many people have spoken about the injustice of the death penalty, but rarely do we hear about it from a prosecutor. However, last week Marty Stroud, a former prosecutor in Louisiana, bravely spoke out against what he sees as an insane quest by prosecutors to win death penalty cases:
“People are out to win it whatever the cost. They don’t really care about the victim; they don’t care about this or that. They care about their record.
And back when I was in my early thirties I was caught up in that insanity, that the end justified the means, and that we didn’t try people who were innocent. And if anybody claimed they were innocent it was bogus.” (at 2.45 of video clip)
Stroud concludes that it is impossible for humans to design a death penalty system that is fair, impartial and non-arbitrary, so we should abolish it.
Stroud’s view was echoed last month by former state officials in Ohio, where Jeffrey Wogenstahl is imprisoned on death row. Jim Petro, former Attorney General, and his wife, Nancy, share the belief that the death penalty should be abolished. Nancy touches on issues raised by Stroud:
“Before DNA, and before we realized that people were being wrongfully convicted, prosecutors often felt their job was to gather the evidence and then present it to a jury and let the jury decide – that was their job. But really what we’ve discovered is that juries are not prepared to evaluate the kind of evidence provided them if it’s unreliable evidence. And so prosecutors have to really be our ministers of justice – seek the truth, not just convictions. And they need to feel in their hearts that when they’re presenting evidence it’s reliable, not that it just makes a case, but it’s reliable evidence.” (at 32.15 of video clip)
Terry Collins, former Director of the Ohio Department of Correction and Rehabilitation, observed 33 executions in Ohio, but now believes that death sentences should be abolished. He recalls:
“The one thing that I always asked, all 33 times I went there, ‘Did the system get it right?’ And everybody says, ‘Well, Mr Collins, this guy’s had 27 judges look at this case’.
And you know what? Those 27 judges didn’t care about anything other than was the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed. Was the procedures granted? They didn’t care whether there was new evidence whether the person was guilty or not guilty – they didn’t care about any of that. They cared about whether the process was carried out.
I don’t know for a fact that anybody that I ever witnessed be executed was not guilty. But statistical data would say that there’s a good probability of that.” (at 14.35 of video clip)
With over-zealous prosecutors and indifferent judges, it is easy to see how a case that is as questionable as Jeff’s has been allowed to drift as far as an execution date.
We are very grateful to these former officials for highlighting the insanity in the system. And we hope that their words will promote recognition of the insanity in Jeff’s case, which has brought him so perilously close to execution.