The American Civil Liberties Union’s Capital Punishment Project won a huge victory today when a North Carolina court dropped all charges against a man who spent 14 years on death row and freed him from prison.
As stunning as it might sound that an innocent man in this country could wrongfully sit on death row for more than a decade, what is even more stunning is the fact that stories like Jones’ are almost becoming commonplace. Jones is the fifth innocent death row inmate to be exonerated and freed in just the past 11 months in the United States. And Jones is the third man on North Carolina’s death row to be freed since December.
While last month’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Baze v. Rees upholding the three drug lethal injection method of capital punishment used in Kentucky and other states was disappointing, Jones’ exoneration today illuminates that the ruling doesn’t even come close to getting at the heart of all that ails our nation’s death penalty system. If our society cannot ensure that the innocent are protected from conviction and wrongful execution, the death penalty is a gamble we can’t afford to make, and states should think twice before resuming executions in Baze’s wake.