More questions about the reliability of the death penalty were raised when Yancy Douglas, 35, and Paris Powell, 36, were released from Oklahoma’s death row on October 2, 2009, after being exonerated in the 1993 capital murder for which they have spent 14 years in prison.
The prosecution’s case at trial was based on the testimony of Derrick Smith, a rival gang member who testified against both men in exchange for a deal that was never revealed to the defense. He later admitted he never saw the shooter, that he was drunk and high that night, and that he testified only because prosecutors had threatened him with more prison time.
Mr. Powell’s conviction was reversed in 2006, when a federal appeals court judge ruled that the prosecution acted illegally when it failed to inform the defense about the deal it offered to Mr. Smith to secure his testimony. This month, the United States Court of Appeal for the Tenth Circuit affirmed that ruling and overturned Mr. Douglas’s conviction, finding that Mr. Smith’s testimony was not credible.
The State dropped all charges against Mr. Powell and Mr. Douglas.
Mr. Douglas is the 137th inmate exonerated from death row in the United Stataes since 1973, and Mr. Powell is the 138th, according to a list of exonerations maintained by the Death Penalty Information Center.
News of these Oklahoma exonerations comes on the heels of the United States Supreme Court’s August order that a hearing be held on an innocence claim in a Georgia death penalty case and last month’s report documenting the innocence of a man who was executed in Texas.
Alabama has wrongfully convicted and condemned to death row at least seven people in the modern death penalty era.