If you missed the Al Jazeera America documentary featuring Willie Manning (episode 3 of the series, The System), you now have a chance to watch parts of it on the recently created website, SAVE Innocents on death row in the USA. The excerpts appear on Willie’s new webpage on this site. As well as two video clips, there is an audio clip from the phone call that Willie made to the director, Joe Berlinger.
The page also includes a video from a news program, Democracy Now, broadcast shortly before Willie was scheduled to be executed last year. You can watch Vanessa Potkin from the Innocence Project explaining the legal background to Willie’s 1992 case; she notes that the Mississippi Attorney General, Jim Hood, made untrue statements at that time.
The SAVE website was created earlier this year by Emmanuelle Purdon, to provide a focus for death row inmates who claim innocence, if their convictions:
“…may be based upon unclear and unconvincing evidence, leaving room for an alternative explanation of the facts”.
Both Willie’s cases easily qualify him for a place on the website.
Samuel Gross, who last year submitted an amicus brief supporting Willie in his 1993 case, recently headed a study investigating the rate of false conviction of people on death row. The study makes a conservative statistical calculation that at least 4.1% of all defendants sentenced to death in the USA in the modern era are innocent; it states that the actual percentage of innocence is likely to be higher than this.
It is possible that the percentage is significantly higher, in some states at least. A Missouri death row exoneree, Reggie Griffin, believes that the study greatly underestimates the true percentage:
“I feel like the number is much higher, being that I’ve been there”.
And an experienced death row attorney, David Dow, thinks that his clients included a proportion of innocents that was closer to 7%:
“Of the hundred or more death-row inmates I’ve represented, there are seven… I believe to be innocent.”*
We will never know for sure the true number of innocents languishing on death rows throughout the USA, but Gross is clear that the legal process cannot prevent the execution of some people who are innocent:
“…you cannot believe that we haven’t executed any innocent person – that would be wishful thinking.”
It is a move in the right direction that the SAVE website now exists to highlight the predicament of those who are fighting to establish their innocence, including Willie.
*David Dow: Killing Time, 2011