Black guy — John Thompson — gets convicted of armed robbery and an unrelated murder (of a white man) in 1984 in Louisiana. He gets the death penalty.
In 1999, a month before Thompson was scheduled to be executed, it comes to light that there was a massive amount of evidence that the police hadn’t turned over to Thompson’s lawyers, all of which would have acquitted him. If this was on Law & Order it would be comical. Here’s what happened at the re-trial:
When all of what has just been related was brought before the Louisiana Court of Appeal, they vacated both convictions. It was the fifth case in ten years out of this prosecutor’s office to be overturned because of withholding exculpatory evidence from the defense. The armed robbery charges were dropped, but the prosecution decided to re-try the murder case. It took the jury just 35 minutes to find Thompson not guilty.
So Thompson sues the D.A. (Harry Connick, Sr. — yes, him) for failing to train his people properly. Thompson wins and is awarded $15 million dollars.
The Supreme Court handed down the ruling on the appeal today: they tossed out the verdict. Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority, said that the D.A. wasn’t responsible for a single action by a lone prosecutor (never mind the facts).
Disgusting. Dahlia Litwick, writing for Slate, has this to say:
I don’t think that the failure at the court is one of empathy. I don’t ask that Thomas or Scalia shed a tear for an innocent man who almost went to his death because of deceptive prosecutors. And, frankly, Ginsburg’s dissent—while powerful—is no less Vulcan in tone than their opinions. But this case is of a piece with prior decisions in which Thomas and Scalia have staked out positions that revel in the hyper-technical and deliberately callous. It was, after all, Scalia who wrote in 2009 that “this court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.” It was Thomas who wrote that a prisoner who was slammed to a concrete floor and punched and kicked by a guard after asking for a grievance form had no constitutional claim.
The law awards no extra points for being pitiless and scornful. There is rarely a reason to be pitiless and scornful, certainly in a case of an innocent man who was nearly executed. It leads one to wonder whether Thomas and Scalia sometimes are just because they can be.
Slate’s article has a bunch more information about the facts of the case; if your’e at all skeptical, give them a read.
Via Kieran Healy, writing for Crooked Timber, who opened his post thusly:
J.K. Galbraith remarked that conservatism was engaged in a long search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.