The Presence of Malice
Reflecting some more on James Woodard, the man profiled last night on 60 Minutes who was released last week after serving 27 years and four months, the longest of any inmate in the nation to be cleared with the help of DNA…
The last time I quoted Mount Holyoke College criminology professor Richard Moran about malicious prosecution was when I was all fired up about Kennedy Brewer, the Mississippi man freed from Death Row after 15 years. The DNA showed that Brewer didn’t murder his girlfriend but he was still held in jail several additional years as prosecutors decided whether to retry him.
Malicious prosecution is real and it happens. Moran writing in a NYTimes OpEd last summer:
My recently completed study of the 124 exonerations of death row inmates in America from 1973 to 2007 indicated that 80, or about two-thirds, of their so-called wrongful convictions resulted not from good-faith mistakes or errors but from intentional, willful, malicious prosecutions by criminal justice personnel. (There were four cases in which a determination could not be made one way or another.)
Yet too often this behavior is not singled out and identified for what it is. When a prosecutor puts a witness on the stand whom he knows to be lying, or fails to turn over evidence favorable to the defense, or when a police officer manufactures or destroys evidence to further the likelihood of a conviction, then it is deceptive to term these conscious violations of the law — all of which I found in my research — as merely mistakes or errors.
Mistakes are good-faith errors — like taking the wrong exit off the highway, or dialing the wrong telephone number. There is no malice behind them. However, when officers of the court conspire to convict a defendant of first-degree murder and send him to death row, they are doing much more than making an innocent mistake or error. They are breaking the law.
It’s time we do something about it! In Dallas they’re doing something about it!
“We have a responsibility to go back and right the wrongs of the past and free the innocent,” [Dallas County District Attorney Craig] Watkins tells Pelley.
“You know, some people say that you’re wasting time and money that you’re looking back at these old cases when you’re sitting in the middle of the city that has the highest crime rate in the nation,” Pelley remarks.
“You know, I disagree with that,” Watkins says. “The job of the district attorney is to seek justice. And when justice has failed, then we have to fix it.”