During the last six months I have been investigating some of the 1500 executions carried out in the United States since the death penalty was reintroduced in 1976. The purpose was primarily to identify the most blatant cases in which an innocent person was put to death, with a mind to eventually turning these findings into a documentary film. Exposing the misuse of the death penalty is a fundamental part of mounting a case against it and although these people can’t be brought back to life, we owe it to them to fix their legacy.
One fairly recent case has emerged warranting thorough investigation and accurately portrays many of the shortcomings of American law and order.
In 2004, a black man was convicted of the murder of three white police officers in the Birmingham Police Department. He was executed last year. His friend has always confessed to carrying out the shooting of those officers and is on death row today. At least one of the murdered officers was known to have been receiving payment in exchange for protecting a local drug racket — an important detail which was largely ignored during the trial.
During the trial, even the prosecution acknowledged that the defendant had not pulled the trigger. Despite this, he was sentenced to death. His execution was a gross injustice and the fervour with which it was pursued is alarming.
The message sent by the justice system of Alabama could quite reasonably be interpreted as: if you harm a police officer you will die, and if your friend harms a police officer, you will die too.
I am looking to raise funds to facilitate a trip to Birmingham in Alabama to assist in the production of a documentary film exploring this case and its implications. There, I will be able to interview witnesses and follow up on leads generated during my work in London. The trip is expected to last two months and costs will include flights, rent, food and fuel.
As the fourth and final year of my engineering degree drew to a close in London, it occurred to me that I would like to dedicate the next chapter of my life to tackling more socially relevant problems. With this in mind, I reached out to human rights attorney Clive Stafford-Smith and embarked on the Dead Innocents Project alongside researchers from around the world. After discovering the disturbing details of this case, I became aware of how important it was to tell the story behind it and so my plan to work on the production of a film was born.
This case is of significant public interest. Not only is it an example of how innocent people are indeed executed in the US, it also exposes a hypocrisy in modern social values. Society rightfully acknowledges the importance of law and order but fails to take sufficient issue with brutal and racist law enforcement practises even when they clearly impinge on its efficacy. The criminal justice system, which takes instruction directly from society by way of a jury, enacts this hypocrisy resulting in disproportionate and unfair prosecutions. This bias is deep-rooted in the system and cannot be tolerated, especially when lives are at stake.
I am very grateful to the human rights charity Humanade who will be sponsoring my trip. They have kindly offered to quintuple any donations I receive up to a value of £500, so even small donations will be of considerable value in exposing the fallibility of the death penalty.