The death penalty has always been a controversial issue in the United States. People often think that capital punishment serves justice, and support the form of punishment. This is because, throughout history, people believed that when a person kills another person, they should receive the same treatment; like the famous quote, “an eye for an eye”. The concept, although understandable, has had several instances where the person who was executed was proven to be innocent. The death penalty is only a punishment for the most unspeakable crimes but it remains controversial. About 50% of people believe that it brings families closure and is the ultimate justice for murder victims, while the other half says executions are cruel and unusual punishment. Organizations like The Innocence Project maintain that wrongful convictions can lead to wrongful executions. Here are 10 death penalty cases that have sparked controversy over the years.
1. Cameron Todd Willingham: Wrongfully convicted and executed in Texas
In 2004, Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in Texas for allegedly setting a fire that killed his three young daughters. Willingham always claimed his innocence but the investigation found him guilty. Leading experts analyzed the reports made by the police officers and found it to be inconclusive. Willingham, who was asleep when the fire started, survived, while his wife was at the Salvation Army buying Christmas presents for the girls. Willingham was taken to trial in 1992, where prosecutors claimed he intentionally set fire to his home in order to kill his own children.
Even though he claimed his innocence, forensic experts said they had determined that the fire was intentionally set. The judge found the evidence to be substantial and sentenced him to death. Months after Willingham was executed, the Innocence Project assembled five of the nation’s leading independent arson experts to review the evidence in the case. The team found that none of the scientific analysis used to convict Willingham was valid. (source)
2. John Ferguson: Mentally ill inmate who was executed in Florida.
Since 1965, after being in prison, doctors began evaluating John Ferguson for mental illness. During his visit to the doctor’s office, Ferguson would report having visual hallucinations. By 1971, he was diagnosed with severe schizophrenia. Ferguson was committed to a state hospital. Doctors labeled him dangerous, and even homicidal, and declared that he shouldn’t be released by 1975. Yet for some unknown reason, Ferguson was set free.
On July 27, 1977, Ferguson disguised himself as a utility man, tricked his way into a home in Carol City, Florida, and took the woman living in the house as hostage. He then let his accomplices enter the premises, who then took seven other men who arrived at the house as hostages. After robbing them clean, Ferguson and his accomplices shot and killed all the hostages with a shotgun. Miraculously, the woman survived the shot to the back of the head. In January 1978, Ferguson disguised himself as a police officer, confronted two 17-year-olds and ended up killing them. He was caught and convicted of all the murders and sentenced to death. Despite his lawyer’s argument that Ferguson had a long history of mental illness, he spent 35 years on the death row and was executed on August 5, 2013. (source)
3. Dennis McGuire: Executed on January 16, 2014 in Ohio.
Dennis McGuire was convicted of rape and murder. On February 11, 1989, Joy Stewart of West Alexandria, Ohio, was kidnapped, assaulted and murdered by McGuire. McGuire claimed his brother-in-law killed Joy after raping her, since they were seen together on the day of her murder. However, the DNA evidence, while not conclusive, strongly implicated McGuire as the murderer. On December 22, 1993, McGuire was arrested and sentenced to death. His execution was to be performed using a new method with the combination of midazolam and hydromorphone, which has now become associated with botched executions. He was the first death row inmate to be given the combination, where it took 24 minutes for him to die as he struggled for air for 10 to 13 of those minutes. (source)
4. Joseph R. Wood III: Convicted of the murder of his former girlfriend and her father.
Dennis McGuire was the first death row inmate to be given the combination of midazolam and hydromorphone, however, Joseph R. Wood III was convicted of the murder of his former girlfriend and her father and given the same sentence. On August 7, 1989, Wood murdered his ex-girlfriend, Debbie Dietz, 29, and her father, Gene Dietz, 55. His ex-girlfriend had been involved in an abusive relationship with him for 5 years and was murdered, along with her father, when she finally ended their relationship.
Wood then fled the scene and engaged in a shootout with the police. He was wounded but survived the incident. He was arrested the same day and faced charges. For the murders, Wood was sentenced to death by lethal injection. On July 23, 2014, he was given the midazolam and hydromorphone combination. It took more than two hours for him to die, which later initiated reviews of the process. (source)
5. Romell Broom: Botched execution survivor in Ohio.
For the charges of kidnapping and rape, Ohio death row inmate Romell Broom was scheduled for execution on September 15, 2009. Broom had previously appealed to halt his sentence but was denied. On the day that he was to be executed, the execution team began searching for suitable veins to insert an IV for lethal injection. The team tried for two hours but couldn’t find a suitable vein in his body. His execution was halted after medical professionals tried for hours. He remains on death row, currently appealing a decision that granted the state a second attempt at execution. (source)