The reliability and justice of the death penalty is only as the integrity of the prosecutors who press for it.
And as we see in this case, we have a way to go:
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood announced that 51-year-old Albert Johnson had been arrested for the brutal rape and murder of two three-year-old girls in the 1990s. Johnson had been an early suspect in both cases, but despite the fact that the state had samples of his DNA on file for more than a decade, it never bothered to test it against the DNA found in the little girls.
That’s because Mississippi District Attorney Forrest Allgood decided early on in both cases that he had his man, and little could convince him otherwise. One of those men is Kennedy Brewer, a mentally handicapped man who served more than a decade on Mississippi’s Death Row, then served another five years even after DNA evidence had cleared him. Allgood insisted on retrying Brewer anyway, arguing that bite marks on the little girl’s body matched Brewer’s teeth.
Curiously, Allgood resisted testing the DNA from the crime scene against that of a man he had earlier convicted of an eerily similar crime—another rape and murder of a young girl in the same area. It now seems clear why Allgood resisted the test. As it turns out, the man he’d convicted for that crime, Levon Brooks, is innocent, too. Brooks had been sentenced to life in prison.
Hood is expected to announce on Thursday that Brewer has been completely exonerated. A similar announcement for Brooks could also come Thursday, or perhaps a few days after.
Science – DNA testing, in this case – might be a cure for human imperfection. But as we’ve seen, it takes more than science to fight duplicity and depravity.