Introduction

"I cannot support a system, which, in its administration, has proven to be so fraught with error and has come so close to the ultimate nightmare, the state’s taking of innocent life."

– Governor George Ryan, on declaring a moratorium in Illinois FN1

The administration of the death penalty in the United States is plagued by injustice. The proof has become irrefutable. Individuals are being sentenced to death for crimes they did not commit. While some of these individuals are being exonerated and released, others are likely being executed. FN2

Mounting evidence of unfairness has become so compelling that some death penalty supporters, such as Illinois Governor George Ryan, can no longer ignore it. In January of this year, Governor Ryan announced a moratorium on executions in the state, just days after Illinois’ thirteenth death row inmate was exonerated. FN3  In so doing, Illinois became the first U.S. jurisdiction to suspend executions while it examines the administration of the death penalty.

This report marks the first national effort to document and expose cases of people executed despite compelling evidence of their innocence since executions resumed in the U.S. in 1977. It is released in a climate that is increasingly hostile to efforts to re-open or investigate cases in which people have been executed for crimes they probably didn’t commit. FN4

The report highlights the cases of 16 individuals who were executed by the states of Alabama, California, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, Texas, and Virginia in the face of exculpatory evidence and evidence of rights violations. In all of these cases, the state and federal courts had every opportunity to interrupt the process and determine whether the original conviction was wrong, but they failed to do so. These cases are a part of an alarming trend in the administration of justice in the U.S. in which the courts overwhelmingly favor efficiency and rigid procedural rules over justice and constitutional protection. This trend has created a system of arbitrary justice and has left a trail of arbitrary executions in its wake.