Saturday, December 10, 2005

Sleepless in Mississippi

Balloon Juice tips me off to the case of Cory Maye--a black man on death row in Mississippi who's been subject to one of the grossest failings of justice I've ever seen.

Radley Balko has been doing the major reporting on the case. Here's the quick summary:
Let's summarize: Cops mistakenly break down the door of a sleeping man, late at night, as part of drug raid. Turns out, the man wasn't named in the warrant, and wasn't a suspect. The man, frightened for himself and his 18-month old daughter, fires at an intruder who jumps into his bedroom after the door's been kicked in. Turns out that the man, who is black, has killed the white son of the town's police chief. He's later convicted and sentenced to death by a white jury. The man has no criminal record, and police rather tellingly changed their story about drugs (rather, traces of drugs) in his possession at the time of the raid.

Read the whole post--that's barely the half of it.

Fortunately, now that the story is out there seems to be bipartisan outrage (at least in the blogosphere). Instapundit writes that the case constitutes a "total miscarriage of justice" and draws an interesting parallel to the recent scare in Miami:
In a way, this is the flipside of the Miami airport shooting. And I regard the shooting of a cop in this situation similarly: It's a tragedy, but the risk is, and should be, borne by the person who's acting unreasonably. Here, it's the cop's. When you break down people's doors and charge in unannounced, you do so at your own risk, cop or not.

"Bitter" of Bitch Girls, who characterizes herself as "normally a fan of the death penalty," says that the case is "so clearly wrong that it makes me sick to my stomach."

Publicola has a good rundown of the relevant laws. He also links to local coverage of the case, which barely glosses on the self-defense claim and doesn't feel worth mentioning at all the fact that the police were raiding the wrong house. Here's the relevant clip:
The trial for 23-year-old Cory Maye was moved from Jefferson Davis County to Columbia, Mississippi in Marion County. Maye was charged with capital murder the day after Christmas two years ago. Maye said he shot Prentiss police officer, 29-year-old Ron Jones in self defense when he burst into this [sic?] home to serve a search warrant for drug possession. Maye's girlfriend and family members said he had never been in trouble with the law and the drug charges were ridiculous. They maintained he was only defending himself.

As written here, it makes it sound like the police had a valid warrant for Maye's house, which they didn't. That obviously is a major issue that changes the tenor of the case dramatically.

I think it is indisputable that Mr. Maye's actions constitute justifiable or excusable homicide. It appears that the police did not announce their presence to Mr. Maye, and even if they did, I think that an innocent black man has legitimate reason to fear a police officer busting in his door unannounced in Mississippi. There is no way that this case should have gone to trial, at trial, there is no way he should have been convicted, and once convicted, I can only hope that he will be immediately released on appeal. But it just shows once more how easily a broken system can put an innocent man on death row.

3 comments:

Pooh said...

You missed the key point. It was the wrong house (or at least the wrong half of a duplex.)

Anonymous Law Student said...

Where I'm from, there would be no public outrage at this tragedy. If you break into someone else's house, they will shoot you. That's all there is to it. We don't have the death penalty, but we never would have taken this to trial anyways. Every officer that saw that warrant should be fired. How stupid do you have to be to go into the wrong house?

Pooh said...

Well, the only cop who saw the warrant is dead, and they are claiming that there was an independant warrant for Maye's house. Go check out Balko for more.

I work as a law clerk (civil, thankfully) and when I talked to my neighbor who works for a criminal judge (that is a judge who has a criminal docket...duh...) about this case you could just see the blood drain from his face.