Troy Davis has been executed amid much protest and controversy. As the memory fades and people turn to other causes it is important to note that he is not the 1st person to be executed whose factual guilt was in question and unfortunately through sheer probability wont be the last without major reform to the death penalty system. The saga will play on indefinitely until we as a nation including the Supreme Court realize that no number of the legally guilty executed justifies executing one factually innocent person. Finality in the system is not a valid excuse for killing when we as human beings apart from the system, are unsure of guilt.
Jonathan Bruce Reed is on trial in Dallas County for the alleged murder of 26-year-old Wanda Jean Wadle in November 1978. He is facing the death penalty. This is Reed’s third trial. His previous two convictions and death sentences were overturned (the jurors will not know this). The prosecution’s case rests on the testimony of one eyewitness, the roommate, Kimberly Pursley, who was also attacked when she came home. Pursley survived by feigning unconsciousness. She was unflappable in her testimony that Reed is the guy. Another witness, Mickey Green, testified that Reed knocked on her door at the same apartment complex, posing as a maintenance man just before Wadle was attacked. While the defense has done the usual cross exam to poke holes in the identifications, unlike Troy Davis, no witness has recanted. There is even DNA in this case. The catch is that it is not Reed’s DNA. The defense presented evidence that the DNA found on Wadle came from two unidentified men, but not Reed arguing that one of those men is the real killer. The prosecution has countered that as Wadle was not raped, this could not be the case and was probably consensual sex.
Another twist to the case was the overturning of a ruling by Dallas County Criminal District Court No. 4 Judge John Creuzo precluding the state from seeking the death penalty. Creuzo had granted a motion by Reed who argued that the 30+ year delay in his case caused by the state’s alleged misconduct had made a constitutionally adequate sentencing investigation impossible with regards to mitigation. Key records are no longer available. Mr. Reed’s father and his stepmothers who raised him are deceased, as well as other critical witnesses, including teachers, childhood physicians and mental health workers.
While it “feels” like Reed murdered Wadle, one eyewitness after 30 years with no DNA linking him to the crime is not enough to justify sending him to his death if convicted. With no way to mitigate after the passage of 30 years, and this being Texas, if Reed is convicted, a lethal injection is waiting. Hopefully a higher court will take another look at this issue and side with Creuzo. I don’t know if Jonathan Reed will generate the same outcry as Troy Davis but he should. Not because he is innocent but because someone will be. It is a statistical certainty. That is unacceptable.