Friday, February 03, 2006

Vernon Evans: Too much doubt for execution

We've received a handful of email messages (I think three in all) that basically say, "Fry Vernon Evans."

Leaving aside the fact that hardly anyone electrocutes people anymore, I'd like to call people's attention to the following letter to the editor, which was published in yesterday's Washington Post.

As you read it, keep in mind that Maryland has what's known as a "triggerman" law. Unlike Texas, in Maryland in order to receive the death penalty, you can't merely be an accomplice to the shooting. You have to have caused another person's death yourself. (By contrast, Texas, which has a "law of parties," allows a person to be executed if they accompanied the triggerman, assuming that it can be proved that they were engaged in behavior that knowingly could lead to another person's death, i.e., armed robbery.)

Here's the letter:

Too Much Doubt for Execution

Maryland is poised to execute Vernon Lee Evans Jr., who was convicted of two murders in Baltimore County in 1983. A judge has signed a warrant for the execution during the week of Feb. 6. As Mr. Evans's lawyer, I have brought a number of challenges to the constitutionality of his conviction and sentence, so far to no avail.

But a death sentence should be intolerable in this case -- even if, as the courts have thus far ruled, the mistakes that infect the sentence do not make its imposition unconstitutional. Although a jury convicted Mr. Evans and sentenced him to death, the only eyewitness in the case has sworn, under oath and in open court, that the man she saw shoot the victims was a lot taller than Mr. Evans, who at 5-foot-2 is nicknamed "Shorty." The witness also said that the killer was dressed differently than Mr. Evans was on the day of the crime. But the jury never heard from that eyewitness, whose testimony is corroborated in important detail by two others.


According to the lawyers who were defending Mr. Evans then, she "fell between the cracks" and was never even interviewed.

No one, certainly not the state, has ever argued seriously that the process that has led to a scheduled execution for Vernon Evans was anywhere near mistake-free. That is hardly unusual in cases involving death sentences. Because clearly guilty defendants typically plead out to sentences less than death, it is only the closer cases -- cases with hard issues and contested evidence -- that generally go to trial and result in sentences of death. It is in precisely those cases that mistakes are most likely -- and most deadly.

The possibility that this imperfect process may result in the government-sponsored taking of a life should be acceptable to no one -- conservative, moderate or liberal.

Chevy Chase

The writer is an attorney for Vernon Evans .

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