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Remember how death row "exonerees," sometimes mere hours from execution, have made the rounds on the abolitionist circuit, and sometimes before law school audiences and Congressional committees, to alert us to how dangerous the death penalty is?  That once an innocent prisoner is killed, there's no going back?

One such "exoneree" is a fellow named Joseph Green Brown.  As the AP story recounts:

After his release [when his 1974 conviction was overturned because of false testimony from a government witness], Brown took the name Shabaka and frequently spoke out against the injustice and finality of the death penalty, including to a U.S. House Judiciary subcommittee in 1993.

Richard Blumenthal, now a U.S. senator from Connecticut, represented Brown on appeal as a volunteer attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. He was in private practice at the time.

Blumenthal said in 1987 that the Brown case changed his view of the death penalty "because it provided such a dramatic illustration of how the system could be fallible and cause the death of an innocent person."

Sen. Blumenthal was right:  A fallible system can indeed cause the death of an innocent person.  But not in the way Blumenthal (who has been unavailable for comment) would have us believe.




Here's how the AP story starts:

Joseph Green Brown refused to run from his troubled past. He'd tell audiences he was only hours from being executed on Florida's death row. He'd talk about how an appeals court overturned his rape and murder convictions in 1986 and how he walked out of prison a free man -- with a goal of ending the death penalty.

Now Brown is back in jail, this time facing first-degree murder charges in the death of the woman he married 20 years ago, Mamie Caldwell Brown of Charlotte.

"This is just horrible," said Sherry Williams, Mamie Brown's aunt. "From what we could tell, he was sweet and caring. And now this? We are all in shock. How could this happen?"

Well, Ms. Williams, how this could happen is that the system lost its nerve and released a man who was almost surely factually guilty.  Procedure 1, substance 0.

And sure enough, the system's fallibility did indeed result in the death of an innocent person.  But it did so in the usual way, notwithstanding what the abolitionist-tilted press would have you believe.  That is, an innocent person was killed, not because the system wrongly executed a prisoner, but because it wrongly failed to do so.





7 Comments

Bill, what evidence made him "almost surely factually guilty"? I suppose there was a lot of other damning proof beyond one person's false testimony.

yankalp --

Good question. I don't know the record in his original murder case (although I might try to find it in light of your question). There were three reasons I said he was almost surely factually guilty.

First, the story conspicuously omitted any claim that the appellate court found the evidence insufficient to sustain the conviction. It said that a government witness lied, which is very different. The number of cases in which a defendant winds up with the DP based only on a single witness is extremely small.

Second, the jury in fact convicted him. When a post-Gregg jury unanimously finds that the government has discharged its burden beyond a reasonable doubt, and with the degree of certainly needed as a practical matter to impose the DP, it is very unlikely a priori that the subtraction of a single deceitful witness tips the FACTUAL balance towards innocence.

Third, what would anyone think when a guy who was previously convicted of murder does it again? That he was actually blameless the first time around, but has only recently turned to killing? Sure, such a thing is possible, but not so possible as to persuade a person of ordinary prudence that the first judgment was factually erroneous.

Now you may say that I have given you less than an airtight answer, and you'd be right. But airtightness was not required. I said it was very likely -- not point-blank certain -- that he did it the first time.

As usual, these actual innocence claims don't hold a lot of water.

Reading the habeas opinion that reversed the conviction (not because of factual innocence but because of prosecutorial misconduct) (http://federal-circuits.vlex.com/vid/louie-wainwright-dugger-starke-jim-37100034), we learn that Brown was implicated by his accomplice Ronald Floyd, and corroboration was provided by a third individual who heard Brown and Floyd discuss the crime.

Most tellingly, however, is Brown's own admitted involvement in a very similar sex-assault/robbery case the same day of the murder case, in which he turned himself in and fingered Floyd as his accomplice in that crime.

So, a third party heard Brown admit his involvement, Brown committed a similar crime the same day with the same accomplice who testified against him in the murder case.

All in all, certainly *not* a situation involving factual innocence. Brown's conviction was overturned solely because the prosecutor did not disclose all the impeachment material against Floyd, who was the star witness against Brown.

Brown had a lot of chutzpah to complain afterwards about his travails when he essentially got a free pass for a murder he almost certainly committed.

But the allure of being a feted poster child for the abolitionist cause was undoubtedly too great to resist.

RE: "it is very unlikely a priori that the subtraction of a single deceitful witness tips the FACTUAL balance towards innocence." Quite a few DNA exonerees convicted based on eyewitness ID errors would disagree with you.

Also, re: "almost surely factually guilty" vs. "I don't know the record in his original murder case"

Certainly it's true that "airtightness was not required," but this exchange certainly provides insight into the probative value of your assurances.

Are you saying that Brown did not commit the murder for which he was originally convicted?

That's the central question, not your assessment of my assurances, in which I have less than no interest. The reason I have no interest is your repeated lies, most prominently and publicly your claim that the cops pulled weapons on you. Sure they did, Grits. Except the tape you tried to suppress shows otherwise, as you reluctantly admitted, but only after your efforts at suppression failed.

As to this case: If the original jury was factually correct -- and they heard the case, not you -- then what we have here is a murderer who, had he been executed for his first murder, would not have committed his second, and an innocent person's life would have been spared.

Go back to carrying the torch for your last Mr. Innocent-But-Executed, Roger Kieth Coleman.

Bill, why do you think the DA didn't re-prosecute the case if it had been strong enough without the perjured testimony? Perhaps some of the other witnesses had died in the meantime.

As for men committing their first murder at an advanced age, surprisingly, it does seem to happen more often than one might initially think. OJ Simpson, Robert Blake and Phil Spector stand out (unless they got away with murders unbeknownst to us at a young age). Admittedly, two of them were acquitted but I think it's pretty clear that they had done it.

What's interesting about this exchange is Grits' apparent lack of caring for the life of an innocent. I've never had a problem with evaluating cases for factual innocence, but we never see people with Grits' POV accepting that flyspecking cases sometimes results in the guilty getting out and hurting others. It's really easy to take some high-minded positions on the criminal justice system. Would be nice of those who spend a lot of time lecturing us would acknowledge that their high-mindedness sometimes gets people hurt.

By the way, Grits, where's your anger at Bobby Hines--DNA proved his guilt, and so basically a victim's family was out through a delay caused by Hines' lies. Somehow I bet that doesn't bother you a bit. What of the time wasted by Hines? Do you care about that?

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