Today is the last day before the paywall goes up at The New Yorker, which I read and adore, so I encourage you to subscribe, but either way, you must immediately read this brilliant thing by Paige Williams on Alabama’s use of a judicial override to sentence an eighteen-year-old to death OVER THE WISHES OF THE JURY:
Most states with the death penalty require a unanimous vote of twelve in order to impose capital punishment. Alabama requires ten. In this case, the jury unanimously rejected the state’s request to send Jackson to the electric chair. The jurors were reluctant to condemn a teen-ager to death, especially in a case with such conflicting evidence. “I had concerns about whether Shonelle Jackson was the shooter,” a juror named Jan Burkes later said, in a sworn deposition, adding, “Other jurors also had concerns about whether Mr. Jackson was responsible.”
Judge Gordon thanked the jurors and sent them home.
In Alabama, though, a capital case doesn’t necessarily end there. The state’s judges can exercise an unusual power: they can “override” a jury’s collective judgment and impose the death penalty unilaterally.
It’s horrifying, the piece is incredible, and I’m really grateful the New Yorker has been so stalwart in their exposure of death penalty misconduct cases. Unlike Cameron Todd Willingham, Shonelle Jackson is still alive and on death row, a fact which doesn’t seem to overly perturb the judge who put him there:
In a later conversation, the Judge told me that his position on override is to “let the jury decide.” He said, “If you’re going to have the jury system, you’ve got to put all your faith in it.”
Then why had he lacked faith in the Jackson jury? And why had he overridden the jury despite his explicit acknowledgment that Jackson might not be the killer?
“I’m not going to go beyond what I wrote,” he said. “That was a long time ago.”
Nicole is an Editor of The Toast.