Folsom's 93

The Lives and Crimes of Folsom Prison's Executed Men


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You’ve Just Been Exonerated . . . Now What Are You Going To Do?

Two men leave a prison. One’s been released on parole, the other was exonerated. One has a $100 debit card, a job lined up, and a room at a halfway house. The other man has empty pockets, is unemployed, and hopefully some friends or family to give him a place to sleep.

As you might have guessed, the parolee has the money, the job, and the place to sleep. I suppose for the man exonerated, his freedom and a cleared record is all he can ask for, but what if that’s all he has? I came across this article regarding compensating those exonerated. Unless it was proven that misconduct occurred during trial, the accused cannot sue or receive damages from their wrongful incarceration—at least not in twenty-three states. The article focused on Robert Dewey, released from a Grand Junction, Colo., prison after serving 17 years for murder. “All I got was an apology.” Dewey has little family to rely on and is struggling to survive on food stamps. What’s more, he cannot work due to a back injury he sustained in prison. He also couldn’t receive job training in prison because of his life-without-parole sentence.

“I couldn’t take computer classes or anything else to better myself. Life without parole meant my ‘out date’ was 1,000 years in the future. They weren’t going to teach me skills I could use on the outside.”

–Robert Dewey

The Innocence Project, other advocacy groups, and prosecutors across the country, are pushing for compensation laws, as well as funds for job-training, counseling, affordable housing, and health services. For more on Robert Dewey and the other 292 exonerated individuals, visit The Innocence Project.


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Was Justice Served?

Troy Davis died last night at 11:08 from lethal injection. Strong evidence pointed to another man as the killer of officer Mark MacPhail. There was certainly a tremendous amount of doubt surrounding his conviction and I felt it was tragic that despite this, he was executed. I’m not alone in my opinion; over a million people from across the U.S. and the world supported clemency for Mr. Davis. My heart goes out to both the MacPhail and Davis families, because I think they’re both victims in this case. I don’t know if Davis was innocent, but with such strong doubt of his guilt, capital punishment should not have been considered.

As I’ve mentioned before, I acknowledge the fact that the world has gotten rid of some very heinous individuals, but I can’t help but think about the cost of that; the cost consisting of innocent people. Is the elimination of an S.O.B. worth killing a few wrongly convicted here and there? The Innocence Project has exonerated 273 people, 17 of which served on Death Row. What about those this organization has not been able to save?

In the early 1900s, Jacob Oppenheimer, Folsom’s 28th execution, said in his final speech just before mounting the gallows said,

“Calmly leaving myself of out the question, I want to say that capital punishment is a relic of the barbaric age. It ought not be tolerated. I hope that in every country the time will soon come when it will be abolished . . . I will not be the last to go before this practice is abolished but I will be a martyr to the cause.”

Oppenheimer was just one of many of Folsom’s 93 who called for the abolition of the death penalty. I doubt he ever believed that over a hundred years later, it would still be practiced in 34 states, including California. You can read in an earlier post, about how I talked about whether or not I believed some of Folsom’s condemned men were innocent (yes, I did)!

No matter where you stand on the issue of capital punishment, I think it’s extremely important to know why you feel that way. Before I began this book, I really had no problem with capital punishment, but I also didn’t realize the staggering number of people who have been proven to be wrongfully convicted. I guess I still find myself teetering on this fine line of morality and “justice.”

My hope is that if Davis was indeed innocent, that the real killer is caught and Davis’ name will be cleared. It’s the least the justice system can do.


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Is an Innocent Man Going to Die Tomorrow?

You may have been following the story of Troy Davis, or at least the story that has developed over his pending execution. Davis was refused clemency this morning and is schedule to die of lethal injection tomorrow in Georgia. He is accused of shooting off-duty police officer, Mark MacPhail in 1989. His defense has strongly maintained that this is a case of mistaken identity and seven of the nine witnesses from the 1991 trial have recanted their statements and one man, who did not testify, claims another man admitted to the shooting. In fact, no physical evidence linked Davis to the crime. The case is based on hearsay and circumstantial evidence. Davis has the support of high-profile figures such as former President Jimmy Carter, ex-FBI Director William Sessions, and former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr. Even three jurors from his trial are now in support of clemency.

In 2010, Davis was given a hearing to convince the U.S. Supreme Court of his innocence—an opportunity that the high court has not dealt out to any condemned prisoner in 50 years. He was unable to sway the justices who found, “minimal doubt on his conviction.” The judge, however, admitted that the state’s case was not ironclad.

There is doubt. His defense team said:

“The death penalty should not be exercised where doubt exists about the guilt of the accused. The Board did not follow that standard here. The state’s case against Mr. Davis, based largely on discredited eyewitness testimony and an inaccurate ballistics report, cannot resolve the significant, lingering doubts that exist here.”

Larry Cox of Amnesty International called the pardon board’s denial “unconscionable,” and said, “Should Troy Davis be executed, Georgia may well have executed an innocent man and in so doing discredited the justice system.”

So what do you think? Is the death penalty serving the purpose it was intended to? What happens where a case is shrouded in doubt? The death penalty has ridded the world of some pretty heinous individuals, but it’s impossible to deny that it has also taken innocent people from the world, too.

From Troy Davis, via Amnesty International:

“The struggle for justice doesn’t end with me. This struggle is for all the Troy Davises who came before me and all the ones who will come after me. I’m in good spirits and I’m prayerful and at peace. But I will not stop fighting until I’ve taken my last breath. Georgia is prepared to snuff out the life of an innocent man.”

You can read more about Davis’ case HERE. Be sure to click on “Watch Videos” under “Ger Involved” and learn about Davis’ case and why there is too much doubt. It will leave you completely baffled as to why the parole board has denied him clemency.


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So you say you’re innocent, huh?

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I’m often asked if I believe any of Folsom’s 93 were innocent. “Absolutely,” I usually reply, but can I prove it? Possibly, but when we’re talking about crimes from well over a hundred years ago, original evidence is long gone. Early investigation methods didn’t include the use of crime scene tape, latex gloves, or handy Ziploc bags to preserve and protect evidence. And DNA? Forgetaboutit! That technology came in the mid-1970s. Universal fingerprinting didn’t come along until the 1940s and before that, correctly identifying suspects by their prints oftentimes proved to be unreliable and inaccurate. At the turn of the 20th century, “beyond a reasonable doubt” didn’t exist and a few of the 93 hung by the threads of circumstantial evidence.

Little could separate the guilty from the innocent: a strand of hair resembling the victim found on or near the suspect, association with known criminals, or the color of your skin . . .

Not surprising, many of Folsom’s condemned minorities were doomed the moment of arrest; referred to in the newspapers as the N-word, half-breeds, or ignorant. Even their court-appointed attorney didn’t always have their client’s best interests at hand, or they themselves experienced backlash over representing a minority. The language barrier provided another opportunity for the law to take advantage of a foreign-born suspect, especially since interpreters were few and far between. Investigators easily manipulated an interrogation or testimony by using words the accused couldn’t comprehend.

Judges also didn’t sequester juries to the extent they do today, nor were the juries protected from “tampering.” After the selection of the 12 peers, newspapermen often printed the full names of the jurors in the next day’s issue. Jurors were even often caught dozing off, or snoring away during the trial. Did the judge reprimand the sleepy juror? No.

For some, the appeals process didn’t offer much hope either. Defense attorneys often bowed out after a jury found their court-appointed client guilty. The condemned man had only the hope that the governor would heed his plea for clemency or pardon.

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Throughout the course of my research, I struggled to see how some of these men could be found guilty. I think it’s ignorant to assume they each received a fair trial and due process of the law. Today, technology has aided investigators when solving crimes and in many cases, free the wrongfully convicted.

 The Innocence Project is a nonprofit organization dedicated to proving the innocence of those convicted of a crime they didn’t commit. Since its start in 1992, the organization has exonerated 268 people, including 17 who sat on death row. Despite the advances in crime investigation, it’s apparent these methods can’t always stop innocent people from going to prison and for some of Folsom’s 93, this potentially life-saving technology came too late.