A former prosecutor might be or might not be disbarred because of misconduct in a trial that resulted in the execution of a man on the basis of false evidence.
Fox News posted a short news release from the Associated Press: “Texas state bar asks court to punish prosecutor for handling of 1992 death penalty arson case.”
A prosecutor who handled the case of a Texas man executed for the fire deaths of his three daughters has been formally accused of misconduct over allegations that he concealed evidence during the 1992 murder trial.
John Jackson was the lead prosecutor against Cameron Todd Willingham. He declined comment Wednesday on the accusations against him and referred questions to an attorney.
I know it is possible that a prosecutor might hide evidence against a man who is actually guilty and whom the jury might have found guilty without the prosecutor’s malfeasance. But so far it looks like this is a case where a prosecutor’s wrongdoing directly led to the death of an innocent man. Willingham maintained his innocence until he was killed in 2004. A key witness for the prosecution later claimed he lied in order to get early release—as promised by the prosecutor (see the New York Post). It is, of course, conceivable that Johnson believed that this robber, whose testimony he more or less purchased, was telling the truth. It isn’t impossible to believe that a prosecutor might have to offer incentives to get a convict to do the right thing. But the jury should know. In this case, the promise of early release was kept off the record. The witness claimed to be a volunteer.
But the witness also claims that Johnson initially threatened him with a life sentence if he did not testify against Willingham.
So what penalty might John Jackson suffer? According to the AP story, it “could range from a reprimand to revoking his law license.”
John Jackson deserves his day in court. All of this needs to be proven and a verdict delivered from a jury. But if he is found guilty, why should he not be executed. If he initiated the false story then he should join his victim in the next life. That is simple justice.
If he was given the story from the witness and assumed it was true (or if that is all that can be proven beyond reasonable doubt), then he should at least be put in prison for gross negligence and manslaughter. How can anything less be contemplated?
There is a great deal riding on this. Death penalty opponents have made this case an argument for abolishing capital punishment. And they have a point. The only way to restore sanity to the debate is to be willing to use the death penalty against a person who acted unlawfully to get a man killed.
We give immense authority and power to prosecutors. They ought to be held accountable for how they use it.