Keeping It Real

A false and deadly impression

By: Pardoned Illinois Death Row Prisoner Stanley Howard

“This case has been heard by every court in the country, and they found no reason to overturn the conviction or to stop the execution. This eleventh-hour petitioning is only a ploy to delay justice. The execution must proceed.”

Nothing makes me more angry than hearing a bloodthirsty prosecutor utter those words, as though they were taught in some kind of training camp for prosecutors.

We’ve all heard it just before an execution, including Stanley Tookie Williams. It implies that the judicial review process is infallible or God-like--that it actually scrutinizes every case.

These statements give a false and deadly impression that if an innocent person was convicted, or if the conviction rested on a constitutional violation, the review process would have certainly discovered and corrected it.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

These prosecutors will never truthfully admit the truth--that a case can travel the entire process and never be reviewed because of procedural red tape. Yes, I said it. The Constitution and innocence mean nothing in the eyes of the courts or prosecutors. They’re more concerned with procedures than assuring that justice prevails.

They have erected so many impenetrable roadblocks at every level of the process, that it’s almost impossible not to be hindered or unmercifully snared by one.

Prisons and executions are cash cows for big business. And one of the top ways to keep prisons packed and death penalty cases flowing smoothly through the system is by having the great majority of all appeals rejected on procedural grounds. It’s a rarity to have a case ultimately decided on its merits, and not on some procedural ground.

The ugliness of this injustice was recently revealed in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, when it rejected the appeal of Marvin Lee Wilson. The court found that Wilson had “made prima facie showing of mental retardation, but his lawyer missed a filing deadline.” The Supreme Court outlawed the execution of the mentally retarded, but the 5th Circuit said it was “powerless to consider the case” because of the procedural mishap.

This is irrefutable evidence that our system is out of control. Americans should be appalled and start demanding that common sense safeguards be put back into place, instead of washed away. Demand the repeal of the deadliest of all procedural barriers: the so-called, “Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.” And insist that Congress do not pass the “Streamlined Procedural Act,” which will all but eliminate access to federal courts.

Keeping it real: The next time you hear a prosecutor utter those misleading words, it should tell you that he’s not concerned if the person is truly innocent, or if his rights were violated. He just wants you to continue having faith in a broken and unjust system, and believing that all cases are reviewed.

You can contact Stanley by writing to: Stanley Howard #N71620, Stateville Correctional Center, P.O. Box 112, Joliet, IL 60434.