Barry Scheck at Stetson Law - Innocence Project03/27/07 Seán Kinane
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This afternoon at the Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport, Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck addressed law students, faculty, and members of the public. Scheck was a member of the O.J. Simpson defense team and is an advocate for DNA testing. Because of the work of the Innocence Project and other groups of the “Innocence Movement” one-hundred-ninety-seven people have been exonerated because DNA evidence found them innocent after they had been convicted. Fourteen of them had been on death row.
In one case, two innocent people were put in jail for a string of South Florida rapes and murders. DNA testing helped to convict the person who actually committed the crimes.
“DNA testing … proved that Jerry Frank Townsend was innocent of every single one and they were all were done by Eddie Lee Mosely. All together Broward County and Ft. Lauderdale officials believe that Eddie Lee Mosely committed a total of 62 rapes and murders in that area. And two people, Frank Lee Smith and Jerry Frank Townsend went to prison; one of them died on death row for those crimes.”
Scheck gave other anecdotes about people who had been exonerated and said that the problem is bigger than many people realize, including in Florida.
“What you know here in the State of Florida is that there is a serious risk of executing the innocent. And DNA exonerations are a learning moment. Only 10% of the cases have any biology. We know that more innocent people have been convicted in this country than anybody ever thought.”
When the Innocence Project sends DNA of convicted prisoners to be analyzed, the person is found to be innocent in a remarkable number of cases. “
About 40% of the time when we sent the cases to the laboratory to get results, the results come back in favor of the inmate claiming he or she was wrongfully convicted. … 40% of people … I can make a lot of analogies. If you’re landing airplanes and you have a 40% crash rate [laughter] this is life or death. We’re putting people away for the rest of their lives and in some instances executing them”
Scheck feels that making sure defense lawyers have the resources and training to properly defend their clients is one way to decrease the number of innocents who are convicted.
“Nothing guarantees the conviction of an innocent person faster than a defense lawyer that doesn’t’ have the money or the funds or is not competent or up for the job. … Let me be the first to tell you when the defense doesn’t do the job … There’s a very good reason we have an adversarial system.”
WMNF asked Scheck what needs to be done to fix the flawed death penalty situation in Florida. He said that the state should scale back the death penalty so it is an option only for the worst of the worst crimes and he emphasized that the American Bar Association Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Counsel in Death Penalty Cases should be followed rigorously. But Scheck added that even with these safeguards, the ethics of executing anyone must be examined.
“I think that one can then begin to look at whether or not capital punishment as a public policy really make sense. Because it doesn’t really matter, in a way, whether one is for or against capital punishment as a moral matter, reasonable people can differ about that. But it matters a lot to make sure that people are being fairly represented. … You know there may be a lot of better things we can do to both protect the innocent and apprehend the guilty with the money that’s spent on capital punishment.”
That was Innocence Project co-founder, Barry Scheck, speaking this afternoon at the Stetson University College of Law.
Stetson University College of Law
American Bar Association Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Counsel in Death Penalty Cases