A few days ago, human rights lawyer Bryan Stevensen gave a talk at TED’s yearly spring event in Long Beach.
For those of you not terribly familiar, TED is a nonprofit devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading.” It started out in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design.
Since then it’s expanded to be an international brand for brilliance, innovation and inspiration.
Last week TEDs spring talks took place and Stevensen—who is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit organization that litigates on behalf of condemned prisoners, juvenile offenders and others whose trials are marked by racism and misconduct—was one of the much-ballyhooed speakers.
At the end of the his 24-minute talk, Stevensen received what was reportedly one of the longest and loudest ovations from the audience in TEDs history.
And it wasn’t just that they stood and clapped and clapped and clapped. They wouldn’t sit down.
“That’s never happened before at TED,” said several of the observers.
In any case, just watch it.
WHEN FACTUAL INNOCENCE DOESN’T MATTER
One of the cases that Stevenson’s group, the Equal Justice initiative, is presently representing is that of Anthony Ray Hinton, who has been on death row in Alabama for more than 25 years.
It seems the whole case against Hinton rests on four bullets. No one saw Hinton at the crime scenes, there’s no other evidence linking him, and there is compelling reason to believe he was at work at the time the shootings took place.
The state said the bullets, recovered at the two crime scenes, matched the gun that was recovered at Hinton’s mother’s house. During the appeal, three different forensic experts—including the FBI’s main expert on firearms markings—said that the bullets did NOT come from Hinton’s gun….
Anyway, there’s more on the story plus links to multiple newspaper articles on the case here.
ANOTHER CASE OF INNOCENCE DISREGARDED WITH EDWARD LEE ELMORE…
The case of Edward Lee Elmore, which was hideously mishandled by police, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and the judiciary, is documented with riveting precision in Pulitzer Prize–winner Raymond Bonner’s brand new book, Anatomy of Injustice: A Murder Case Gone Wrong.
Then less than a month after Bonner’s book was published Elmore was released from prison but, as Bonner writes in this NY times op ed, the victory was bittersweet. Here’s how his essay opens:
EDWARD LEE ELMORE turned 53 in January. For more than half his life, the soft-spoken African-American who doesn’t understand the concept of north, south, east and west, or of summer, fall, winter and spring, was in a South Carolina prison, most of it on death row.
On Friday, Mr. Elmore walked out of the courthouse in Greenwood, S.C., a free man, as part of an agreement with the state whereby he denied any involvement in the crime but pleaded guilty in exchange for his freedom. This was his 11,000th day in jail.
Mr. Elmore was convicted in 1982 for the sexual assault and murder of an elderly white widow in Greenwood. His trial lasted only eight days, including two spent picking the jury. The state concealed evidence that strongly pointed to Mr. Elmore’s innocence and introduced damning evidence that appears to have been planted by the police. For three decades lawyers for Mr. Elmore, who were convinced of his innocence, sought to get him a fair trial.
Headlines and news stories about men being released from death row based on DNA testing suggest that this happens often. But it doesn’t. Once a person has been convicted, even on unimaginably shaky grounds, an almost inexorable process — one that can end in execution — is set in motion. On appeal, gone is the presumption of innocence; the presumption is that the defendant had a fair trial. Not even overwhelming evidence that the defendant is innocent is necessarily enough to get a new trial. “Due process does not require that every conceivable step be taken, at whatever cost, to eliminate the possibility of convicting an innocent person,” Justice Byron R. White wrote for the majority in a 1977 case, Patterson v. New York.
In other words, innocence is not enough….
RACIAL DISCREPANCIES FOUND IN SCHOOL DISCIPLINE
According to new data from the Department of Education, black students are far more likely to be disciplined harshly in public schools. Tuesday’s New York Times has the story. Here’s how it opens.
Although black students made up only 18 percent of those enrolled in the schools sampled, they accounted for 35 percent of those suspended once, 46 percent of those suspended more than once and 39 percent of all expulsions, according to the Civil Rights Data Collection’s 2009-10 statistics from 72,000 schools in 7,000 districts, serving about 85 percent of the nation’s students. The data covered students from kindergarten age through high school.
One in five black boys and more than one in 10 black girls received an out-of-school suspension. Over all, black students were three and a half times as likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers. …