I Could Have…

Willie Jerome Manning has had more developments in both his cases. In his 1992 case involving the murders of two students, searches of seven areas were scheduled to be made on April 16 2014. In his 1993 case involving the murders of two elderly ladies, he has been granted an extension of time, until May 21 2014, to respond to the State’s brief. He must be grateful for the court’s decision to allow extra time, as his lawyers are busy not just with his case, but also with other clients’ cases.

Capital defense attorneys are often reviled for their work, and viewed with no more than tolerance by most. And unlike doctors, rescue workers and others whom society applauds for their skill and heroism in saving lives, capital defense lawyers know that they will probably fail to save the lives of their clients.

David R. Dow, an experienced post conviction defense lawyer, writes about watching the execution of a client whom he believed to be innocent, while an appeal was still pending: “Why hadn’t I done something to stall? I could have kept banging on the window. I could have struggled with the guard if he tried to pull me away. I could have barged into the press witness area and shouted to them what was going on. I could have tried to barricade myself in the holding area. Maybe the guards would have cooperated. Nobody knows. I did not even try to stop them from escorting an innocent man to his death. I was a German watching the brownshirts take his neighbour. I could have rushed into the execution chamber. I could have caused a commotion. I could have tried. I did none of that. I stood there. I was idle. I was a man making phone calls, a wordsmith, a debater, an analyst.

I could have, I could have, I could have. The three words that enable all evil.”*

An embodiment of failure as extreme as this takes its toll. Many post conviction defense lawyers speak of a sadness that pursues them, rarely mentioned but naggingly felt:

“There’s a sadness that never goes away… I mean, it doesn’t intrude into my consciousness when I’m just sort of living every day life, but I think at some level beneath all of this there’s an abiding sadness that’s always there.†”

We are extremely grateful to Willie’s lawyers for persisting with their work despite its unique challenges. Without them, Willie would not be alive.

*From David R. Dow   Killing Time: One Man’s Race to Stop an Execution (Windmill Books, 2011)

†From Susannah Sheffer   Fighting for their Lives: Inside the Experience of Capital Defense Attorneys (Vanderbilt University Press, 2013)

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