Close this search box.

Flaws of the Death Penalty and the 4 People Wrongly Executed

Are You For Or Against The Death Penalty?

Capital punishment is probably one of the most controversial subjects in the world. It’s been said that no justice system created by humans is 100% perfect. Some experts have even pointed out that the death penalty should be avoided because of this fact.

Let’s be honest. Humans are fallible creatures, and they’ll make mistakes. In recent times, quite a few botched execution attempts have made national news.

These headlines have only fed the heated debate over the concept of “an eye for an eye” and how states carry out their capital punishments, frequently relying on outdated or under-researched techniques.

If it concerns human life, it’s vital to understand all the implications the death penalty can bring. Maybe we need some actual stories beyond the statistics. Perhaps we must revisit history to see where this punishment can go wrong.

Continue reading as we look at a few stories from history where people were wrongly executed and the current situation of the death penalty in our country, including the debate surrounding recent executions, how our punishment methods compare to those in other countries, and how capital punishment could change.

Death Penalty
Photo by Nixx Photography

Capital Punishment In The US…In The Past

When European settlers came to the colonies, they brought along the practice of capital punishment with them. The first recorded execution in the New World was Captain George Kendall in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1608. Kendall was accused and executed for spying for Spain.

In 1612, Virginia Governor Sir Thomas Dale passed the Divine, Moral and Martial Laws, providing the death penalty for minor offenses, including stealing and trading with Indians. The set laws concerning the death penalty ranged depending on the colony.

For instance, The Massachusetts Bay Colony carried out its very first execution in 1630, even though the death penalty in New England didn’t go into effect until much later. On the other hand, the New York Colony created the Duke’s Laws of 1665.

Under these laws, offenses like striking one’s mother or father or even denying the “One True God” were deemed worthy of the death penalty.

If you’d like to know more about our country’s humble beginnings, we highly recommend reading THIS!

Capital Punishment In The US… Currently

Currently, 32 states have the death penalty, and so does the federal government, and the military, which carries its own law and order system.

Out of these 34 jurisdictions, states with the highest per capita execution rate include Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, Delaware, and Missouri.

Altogether, these states have executed 840 inmates from 1976 to 2015. Interestingly though, the murder rates in the US are highest in 5 states. This includes Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Maryland, and Michigan.

Under the current Supreme Court ruling, strictly homicidal crimes can be punishable by death. Moreover, many states require prosecutors to establish that at least one aggravating factor had also occurred at the time of the murder.

An aggravating factor can include any of the following:

  • Torture, extreme depravity, or an extraordinarily heinous and atrocious killing.
  • The murder was a hate crime based on the victim’s race, gender, or religion.
  • The killing occurred during the act of a first-degree felony, including kidnapping, robbery, or rape.
  • The murder was committed for financial gain.
  • The victim was a government official, police officer, informant, or witness.
  • The victim was especially vulnerable, like a child, pregnant, elderly, or disabled person.

Clearly, these are horrific acts, and perpetrators of these crimes deserve their due punishment. However, there are many arguments against the death penalty, including the hundreds of wrongfully convicted people that are on death row.

And even for those who favor the death penalty, recent problems with the lethal injections have raised concerns, causing many to doubt whether an overhaul of the system would be necessary to ensure executions are humane and not the cause of unnecessary suffering.

Hard Facts About Wrongful Convictions

  1. DNA evidence of 18 people presented to the court has proved their innocence.
  2. Suspects have been exonerated in more than 25% of investigations since presenting DNA evidence became standard practice in all US courts.
  3. Wrongful identification from eyewitnesses is a factor in 73% of the wrongful convictions that have occurred.

More African Americans have been exonerated from their convictions than any other race combined in our country. 73 have been removed from death row because of proof of their innocence. That’s two more than all of the other race groups combined.

With an average rate of 3.5 people being pardoned each year, many wrongfully convicted prisoners could be telling the truth when they say they’re innocent.

Let’s continue by looking at a few lives that were wrongfully executed!

Death Penalty
Photo by Dariush M at Shutterstock

Ed Johnson

Nevada Taylor, a white woman, was assaulted on her way home in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1906. In a darkened interrogation room, she identified Ed Johnson, a Black man, as the criminal.

Oddly, in her testimonies during the trial, she refused to testify that Johnson was the man who assaulted her. Reports say that Johnson testified himself that multiple people would be able to place him working at the “Last Chance Saloon” when the assault happened.

But despite all this, on February 9th, Johnson was found guilty. It was an all-white jury, and he was sentenced to death by hanging.

According to Famous Trials, two local African American attorneys appealed Johnson’s case repeatedly until the US Supreme Court agreed to hear it.

Due to the pending appeal, Johnson was given a stay of execution, making him the first Black person in our country to be issued one by the Supreme Court.

Worth noting is that his lawyer Noah Parden became the first Black man to stand before the US Supreme Court as lead counsel. On March 19th, Sheriff John F. Shipp became responsible for protecting Johnson until his trial.

Instead, according to The Supreme Court, Shipp and his deputies aided and abetted the mob that lynched Johnson that day.

Lena Baker

Lena Baker was born in Randolph County, Georgia. In 1944, she washed clothes, cleaned houses, and picked cotton to be able to put food on the table for her mother and three children. A man she worked for was Ernest B. Knight, a man 23 years older than her.

At some point, Knight began assaulting Baker. When she would try to escape his abuse, Knight would lock her in his gristmill for a few days at a time. On April 30th, 1944, Knight locked up Baker for most of that day.

When he came back and demanded Baker pleasure him, she refused. He attacked her, and Knight was shot and killed in the ensuing struggle. Face2Face Africa writes that Baker immediately went to the town coroner to confess to the murder.

He sent her to the sheriff, but she went home to be arrested by the sheriff that night. She was convicted by an all-white, all-male jury after a 4-hour trial and less than 30 minutes of deliberations.

She was given the death penalty and was executed by the electric chair on March 5th, 1945, becoming the only woman in Georgia to ever be executed this way.

Her final words were, “What I done, I did in self-defense, or I would have been killed myself. Where I was, I could not overcome it.”

We’ve given you two prime examples of wrongful executions. But let’s see if anything has changed with the death penalty in more recent times. Continue reading!

Jesse Tafero

A highway patrol officer and his Canadian friend were killed in a gunfight at a rest stop in the state of Florida. The suspects were Jesse Tafero, his wife Sonia Jacobs, and Walter Rhodes. They fled the scene with the police car but were captured at a roadblock.

The gun that killed the victims was discovered in Tafero’s belt strap. Tafero and his wife claimed that Rhodes shot the victims but handed the weapon over to Tafero so he could drive.

Rhodes took a lighter sentence to testify against Tafero, saying that Tafero was the one to shoot the victims and then led him and Jacobs to the police car to run.

Gunpowder tests showed that Rhodes had discharged a weapon, while Tafero’s tests proved he handled an unclean or recently discharged weapon only. But despite this, because of Rhodes’ testimony, Tafero was the one convicted and given the death penalty.

Rhodes later admitted that he was responsible for the killings. Unfortunately, it was too late.

Claude Jones

Claude Jones and two other men parked in front of a liquor store in Texas. One of the 3 went inside and shot the owner. There were witnesses across the road, but they couldn’t see who had entered the store. In court, Jones claimed he never entered the store.

Unfortunately, his two other companions testified against him, saying he was the actual shooter, to spare themselves from the death penalty. Ultimately, it came down to a strand of hair found at the crime scene, which was the only admissible evidence at the trial.

A forensic expert testified that the hair came from Claude Jones, so the man was convicted and sentenced and given the death penalty in 1990.

Let’s remember that forensic technology was underdeveloped back then, so Jones’ lawyers filed an appeal in 2000, before his execution, to test the hair strand again. The request was denied, so Jones was killed.

In an attempt to prove that Texas had given a death sentence to an innocent man, the Innocence Project and the Texas Observer filed a lawsuit to obtain the hair strand and submit it for DNA testing in 2007.

The results showed that the hair actually belonged to the victim. Reports said, “had the DNA tests been conducted before his execution, Jones might still be alive today.”

Death Penalty
Photo by Zerbor at Shutterstock


The norm used to be that 2 or sometimes 3 witnesses had to have seen a crime in order for the testimony to be considered valid and warrant a death penalty sentence.

At one point in the US, even circumstantial evidence without testimony or DNA evidence was being used as a foundation to convict of a capital crime. 49% of wrongful convictions had either improper or unvalidated forensic science behind the sentence.

But thanks to modern technology, we can hopefully be much more accurate in finding the culprit when a crime is committed… and who is innocent.

Where do you stand on the death penalty? Should it be banned in the US? Be sure to leave a comment and share your thoughts with us!

If you enjoyed reading this article, we also recommend reading Historical Figures: 7 Shocking Facts You Didn’t Know About Them


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts