Of the 515 people who have been executed in Texas since the death penalty was reinstituted in 1983 have been actually innocent of the crimes they committed, and another 11 either died on death row of natural causes, or were exonerated after spending long years in prison fro a crime they did not commit, according to a new study obtained by 1200 WOAI news.
Dr. Samuel Gross of the University of Michigan School of Law tells 1200 WOAI news that 4.1% of people sentenced to death in America are innocent of committing any crime. Gross says these aren't people who didn't pull the trigger but were convicted of participating in a murder, these are people who had nothing whatsoever to do with the crime.
"Sometimes we're just dealing with facts that are not easy to disentangle," Gross said. "We don't know. We just make mistakes."
The report shows that innocent people are sentenced to death for many reasons. Everything from defense attorney incompetence to prosecutorial misconduct to racism to officials with a pre-ordained idea of how the crime went down and who did it are blamed.
Gross points out that only 1.6% of people who were improperly sentenced to death have been exonerated, which means that many more people than previously believed are being executed even though they are factually innocent.
And Gross says these alarming statistics about innocent people who are executed despite all of the automatic appeals and reviews which are mandatory in death penalty cases raises new questions about other inmates in prison.
"If you're innocent and you are not sentenced to death, people don't seem to care that much," he said.
Gross says we have a bizarre attitude about the death penalty in the U.S.
"We say, 'oh, this person might be innocent, so let's sentence him to life in prison'," he said, and then added that once the person is off death row, they are likely to be forgotten.
"The great majority of innocent people who are sentenced to death are never identified and freed," Gross said. "The purpose of our study is to account for the innocent defendants who are not exonerated."