Reality more telling and disturbing than fiction.
Something that most try to avoid thinking about, something that many would like to believe never occurs. The execution of an innocent man. Yet there’s no doubt that our criminal justice system has executed innocent people. The only question is how many. One such case is William Jackson Marion.
I’ve been thoroughly blessed to be working what is for me a dream job. Working full-time as Staff Attorney Fellow at The California Innocence Project has enabled me to not only work through cases of innocence, but to also have opportunities for continuing education. Justin Brooks, CIP Director, asked if I would sit in on his Wrongful Convictions course, which he teaches at California Western School of Law, in San Diego, CA. One of the first cases he discusses is the notorious case of Marion v. Nebraska.
William Jackson Marion was wrongfully convicted for murder twice. The first time he was convicted in 1884, the Nebraska Supreme Court ordered a retrial not because they believed him innocent, but on a technicality. The Court stated that because it was the trial judge, and not the jury that sentenced Marion to death, there had to be a retrial. Thus, upon retrial, a jury sentenced Marion again to death. On March 25th, 1887, William Jackson Marion was hanged for the murder of one John Cameron.
Four years later, John Cameron – the “victim” – was found alive and well living in Mexico. It turns out John Cameron had fled to Mexico in order to avoid a shotgun wedding.
This is one of those cases, one of the many (thousands actually), that had it not been for some small or major miracle (such as finding him alive) the execution would have gone down in history as just another “justified” and appropriate execution. Marion stands as an example that we cannot forget. Wrongful convictions are real. They happen far more often than you or I would like to admit. And wrongful convictions are not relegated to non-capital cases alone. No, sadly, there’s hardly any reason to believe that our capital offenses are any more reliable or trustworthy than other cases. There have been over 150 DNA exonerations of people who sat on death row over the last 25 years. One-hundred-and-fifty plus. Think about that.
Want another example? Read about Kirk Bloodsworth.