Gore's Home State to Execute Innocents?

I have a question for Al Gore. And how he might answer it goes to the very heart of the character of this man who wants so badly to be President.

No, it's not a query about how he views blowjobs in the White House, or extramarital affairs, or whether or not he inhaled. While those might be considered the key "character" issues for some, for me there are slightly more important questions worth asking.

And seeing as how both Al and I are citizens of the state of Tennessee, it is perfectly appropriate for me to be the one who asks it. So here goes:

Mr. Vice President, how do you feel about the evidence that seems to indicate our state is planning to execute a number of men who are almost certainly innocent of the crimes for which they were condemned to die -- the first of these as soon as the 31st of January 2001?

No point asking Bush a question like this: we all know how unconcerned the Texecutioner is with claims of innocence by those on death row. But Gore is, after all, a member of the party that likes to tell everyone how committed to fairness, and equity and justice they are; the folks who insist they are for due process, and -- unlike the GOP they say -- committed to seeing to it that innocent persons are spared the ultimate punishment. So, I ask again:

How does it feel, Mr. Vice-President, to know that your state is planning to execute men with your tax dollars, who are very likely not guilty?

It's not a political question, for as President he would have no say over whether any of these executions takes place. I ask merely as a citizen -- one Tennesseean to another. I want to know how it feels to him as a human being: or even as a taxpayer.

And naturally he may be lacking in some of the details of these cases, seeing as how he's been busy inventing the internet, "reinventing" government, and supporting his wife's crusades to clean up music lyrics, so perhaps he needs a brief recitation of the disturbing specifics in some of these cases.

Like the case of Philip Workman, whom the state of Tennessee intends to kill in approximately thirteen weeks.

On August 5, 1981, Philip Workman robbed a Wendy's restaurant in Memphis. During the scuffle with police that followed, one officer was shot and killed. The state claimed it was Workman who shot Lieutenant Ronald Oliver, and produced a witness who claims to have seen him do so, at point-blank range.

But ballistics evidence,never investigated by Workman's trial attorneys, indicates it is highly improbable that Workman's gun could have fired the fatal shot that night, as the wounds to the officer were thoroughly inconsistent with the ammunition in Workman's revolver. Instead, it looks as though Oliver was likely killed by friendly fire.

Even worse, it appears the state's "star witness" wasn't even on the scene when the robbery and shooting took place, but was coerced by police to testify against Workman at trial.

Harold Davis claimed to have seen the shooting from his car, parked in the Wendy's lot at the time of the robbery. But no one -- civilian or police officer -- ever remembered seeing him or his vehicle on the scene. Furthermore, the police diagrams of the crime scene, and photos taken at the time fail to picture Davis' car in the location where he claimed to have been parked. Last fall, Davis finally admitted he had lied. According to a friend who was with Davis that night, the two of them drove past the crime scene after the shooting had occurred, and Davis, hoping to collect reward money, called police the next day to say he had been there. Though he later tried to back out of testifying, he now says he was threatened by police not to change his story.

In light of the ballistics evidence alone -- and even before the only witness recanted -- five of the original jurors now say they would never have convicted Philip Workman of murder, let alone sentenced him to die, had this information been introduced at trial. Even Oliver's daughter now says she doubts Workman killed her father.

And yet, just a few weeks ago, the Sixth Circuit Court voted 7-7 to uphold Workman's death sentence (ties, it appears go to the executioners), and the Tennessee Supreme Court has given him an execution date that would fall just a week or so after the swearing in of the next President: possibly a Tennesseean, whose tax dollars helped pay for the deadly mix of chemicals, and the tubes that will deliver them to the body of Philip Workman, collapsing his lungs and stopping his heart, and the gurney on which he will be strapped, and the executioner's fee.

Though they don't yet have execution dates, there are other likely innocents on Tennessee's death row, and so it seems fair to ask how Mr. Gore feels about their cases as well.

Like that of Harold Nichols, sentenced to die in 1990 for the murder of Karen Pulley: a killing that took place after a vicious rape. According to the state, the Pulley rape and murder was one of a string of rapes committed by Nichols during a three month period in and around Chattanooga in the late 1980's.

Though Nichols confessed to all nine rapes and the murder, there is ample evidence that the confessions were false and coerced, and that Nichols positively was not the murderer of Karen Pulley.

First, there was absolutely no physical evidence from any of the crime scenes linked to Harold Nichols. In fact, in the murder case and one of the other rapes, there was conclusive DNA evidence to indicate that Nichols could not possibly have been guilty of those crimes. Unfortunately, Nichols' trial attorneys never investigated the physical evidence in the case, and courts have refused to consider it since.

As for his confessions, it should be noted that not only did he confess to two crimes that DNA proves he couldn't have committed, but he also confessed to a rape that occurred while he was still demonstrably on the time clock at his job.

As it turns out, Nichols "confessions" were little more than one-sentence "yeah" answers to leading questions. He provided investigators with no information they didn 't already have, and only mentioned details that had been previously given to him during interrogation, or when the police drove him around to the crime scenes. Whenever he tried to offer details that were not regurgitations of police prompting, he invariably got them wrong. And Nichols only began confessing after being told by police that if he did, the judge would go easier on him: a guaranteed ploy given Nichols' history of mental and physical abuse as a child, which would render him vulnerable to such veiled threats.

Finally, when Nichols told police where they could find the murder weapon he used to kill Karen Pulley, they found nothing. Nothing that is until the second time they looked, at which point they conveniently found a 2x4 propped up against a tree in plain view, exactly where they had looked the day before. When experts examined the "weapon", each said there was no blood, hair or fiber evidence linking it to the victim.

Or how about Ndume Olatushani (aka Erskine Johnson): sentenced to die in 1985 for the murder of a Memphis store owner, by an all-white jury -- even in majority black Shelby County -- thanks to the successful exclusion of every potential black juror by the District Attorney.

Never mind that Johnson had over thirty alibi witnesses who could place him in St. Louis just a few hours before the shooting, where he was attending his mother's birthday party.

Never mind that another alibi witness testified he was collecting a debt from Erskine at the very hour the murder was taking place 300 miles away.

Never mind that the chief "eyewitness" said only that Erskine "kind of looked like" the perpetrator, after getting a two second look at the shooter, and eventually admitted he was only "80% sure" that his identification had been accurate.

Never mind that a second witness said there was no one in the courtroom during the trial who he recognized as being involved in the crime, and that a third -- the wife of the slain store owner, who was next to her husband when he was shot -- was unable to identify Johnson.

Never mind that the prosecution based its case largely on the testimony of one woman who only identified Johnson in her third statement to authorities, and even then, she said, "because the police kept putting his picture in front of me."

Never mind that the state claimed to have found a palm print matching Johnson on the roof of the car used in the crime, even though their initial report made no mention of any usable print from that part of the car. In fact, the report stated that the search for prints had yielded "negative" results. And never mind that there were no prints on the inside of the vehicle matching Johnson, despite the fact that he supposedly drove all the way from St. Louis.

Never mind that another witness, who actually had looked the killer in the eyes, identified a totally different man during a photo lineup. And never mind that yet another witness, shown the same photos, identified the same man, as well as the man's cousin-in-law, as those he had seen in the getaway car. And never mind that this getaway car was identified as having been parked at the home of this man's brother in the weeks prior to the shooting. And never mind that this man was known to have previously stolen cars from a rental agency at the St. Louis airport for use in the commission of crimes, and that the car used in the Memphis shooting had indeed been stolen from the same agency, at the same airport.

Sadly, there are at least a dozen others on Tennessee's death row facing execution because of the testimony of unreliable jailhouse snitches, hoping for deals in their own cases, and despite a lack of physical evidence, and even significant exculpatory evidence that was initially withheld from their defense teams.

So it seems highly appropriate to ask how Mr. Gore feels about such a thing. Far from merely a provincial matter for Tennesseeans, his answer would say much about how committed he is to fairness in the administration of criminal justice. Though he may not be able to directly affect the outcome, it would be interesting to know whether he intends to at least look into the matter, and perhaps write letters to the Governor, or Board of Pardons and Paroles. Not much, to be sure, but more than he has likely done up to now. That no one will ask him this question and put him on the spot with such an inquiry is sad. That he would likely have no answer that was even partially intelligible is even worse.

Perhaps if he loses in November, and has some free time on his hands, he'll be able to join the rest of us outside the prison on the evenings when his state decides to take these men's lives. He can hold a candle, and sing songs, and pray, and perhaps then, he can answer my question.

Tim Wise is a Nashville-based writer, lecturer and activist. He can be reached at tjwise@mindspring.com.

Understand the importance of honest news ?

So do we.

The past year has been the most arduous of our lives. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to be catastrophic not only to our health - mental and physical - but also to the stability of millions of people. For all of us independent news organizations, it’s no exception.

We’ve covered everything thrown at us this past year and will continue to do so with your support. We’ve always understood the importance of calling out corruption, regardless of political affiliation.

We need your support in this difficult time. Every reader contribution, no matter the amount, makes a difference in allowing our newsroom to bring you the stories that matter, at a time when being informed is more important than ever. Invest with us.

Make a one-time contribution to Alternet All Access, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.

Click to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card
Donate by Paypal
{{ post.roar_specific_data.api_data.analytics }}
@2022 - AlterNet Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. - "Poynter" fonts provided by fontsempire.com.