Former inmates shed light on death penalty at rally
To this day, Harold Wilson, 51, still does not have a family photo. He was set to take a portrait with his two infant children and their mother on April 11, 1988, but he was arrested that day and eventually convicted in a triple homicide in South Philadelphia and sentenced to death row.
To this day, Harold Wilson, 51, still does not have a family photo.
He was set to take a portrait with his two infant children and their mother on April 11, 1988, but he was arrested that day and eventually convicted in a triple homicide in South Philadelphia and sentenced to death row.
After spending 16 years on death row, a jury acquitted Wilson in 2005 based on DNA evidence. He now has a civil suit pending against the city.
Wilson joined 12 other exonerated death-row inmates and members of Witness to Innocence yesterday in front of the District Attorney's Office in Center City to draw attention to the issues surrounding the death penalty.
Witness to Innocence was founded in 2005 to "raise the voice of these survivors and provide a network of support," said Kurt Rosenberg, the group's executive director.
Death sentences have dropped nationally since the 1990s, according to Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.
Dieter attributes the decline to factors including awareness of potential sentencing, the option of life without parole, decreased chances of prosecutors winning death sentences and possibly the recession.
It costs an estimated $3 million to get one death sentence, Dieter said, including trials and appeals.
Since 1976, Pennsylvania has only executed three people and six men have been released from the state's death row, according to the DPIC.
As of Oct. 1, 2009, Pennsylvania had the fourth-largest death-row population in the country with 223 inmates, according to the DPIC.
"Many more people continue to sit on death row in this state, and I think it would be naive to think that some of them aren't there for crimes they did not commit," Wilson said.
Nearly 70 percent of those on death row in Pennsylvania are people of color, and more than 90 percent could not afford a lawyer for their initial trial.
District Attorney Seth Williams said during his campaign last year that he envisions a criminal-justice system without the death penalty.
James "Bo" Cochran spent 19 years on Alabama's death row, went through four trials and five attorneys until a group of attorneys from Drinker, Biddle & Reath, based in Berwyn, helped to overturn his conviction. Cochran had been charged with the murder of a grocery store manager and sentenced to death in 1976, but in 1997 he was acquitted of all charges.
Yesterday, Cochran traveled from Alabama to Center City to tell his story.
"I cried. I did a lot of crying," he said. "I knew I hadn't did what they said I did."