How Often Are Innocent People Convicted as Criminals?
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia revealed in 2009 that the Supreme 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." For those of you who have seen the movie, The Life of David Gale, you know all too well what life can be like for a man who has been wrongly convicted of murder to waste away in prison; for those of you who have not seen the film, please allow me to tell you the story of Floyd Perkins.
Floyd Perkins left a house party in Flint, Michigan in 1993 with Rodney Henderson and Dmarr Jones. Henderson was found on a wooded trail later that night, murdered with a stab wound to the head. Jones testified at trial that Perkins had committed the murder, while Perkins testified that he had split from the two men and had later seen Jones under a streetlight, “bloody and agitated." The jury chose to believe Jones, and Perkins was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Rodney Henderson.
Perkins worked tirelessly as he sat behind bars to collect enough evidence to prove his innocence. His sister, Ronda, gave a sworn statement in 1997 that she had heard secondhand that Jones was bragging about the killing and how he had taken his bloody clothes to a dry cleaner. And then, in 1999, an acquaintance of Jones, Demond Louis, swore that Jones had confessed to the killing shortly after it had taken place and that he had gone with Jones to a dry cleaner to drop off bloody orange pants. A few years later, in 2002, Linda Fleming, an employee of a dry cleaner, gave a statement that she had been working when a man, who matched the description of Jones, came in and dropped off a pair of orange pants covered in blood.
In 2008, Perkins asked the federal court to terminate his conviction based on the evidence that he had compiled. Magistrate Judge Timothy Greeley recommended that his request be denied because it was filed past the deadline.
Why did Perkins wait six years to file his petition? Some have ventured that Perkins tried as hard as he could in his situation. Perkins even explained in his petition that he had been “denied access to the law library and law materials while he was held in solitary confinement for almost 5 years." He also explained that most of his personal property and legal documents had been destroyed by prison authorities after he had been involved in a riot.
The Floyd Perkins case brings up numerous questions: Is he innocent? Did he present enough evidence to merit a second trial? Were officials unwilling to look at his case again? How many more people are wrongfully accused of a serious crime and are spending the rest of their life behind bars?
Unfortunately, I can’t answer any of those questions without speculating. But, as Justice Scalia stated in 2006, “one cannot have a system of criminal punishment without accepting the possibility that someone will be punished mistakenly."