If a majority of the Supreme Court justices eventually strike down the death penalty as unconstitutional, Henry Lee McCollum may be an important reason why. Perhaps that will provide some small comfort to him, given the 30-year ordeal he suffered on death row in North Carolina as an innocent man.
McCollum and his brother, Leon Brown, had falsely confessed to the murder of a 11-year-old girl. They were young, intellectually disabled, and they quickly recanted their confessions as having been forced on them by the local police, who used overbearing interrogation tactics. Last year, when DNA testing on evidence that had remained hidden for decades finally exonerated them, the results implicated another man, a serial murderer. Both men have now been pardoned.
In one of the last opinions announced by the Supreme Court this Term, in Glossip v Gross, by a 5-4 margin the Court approved the lethal injection "cocktail" now being used in Oklahoma and other states. What makes the case so important, though, were the defensive remarks by justices in the majority, who perhaps now sense that the days of the death penalty are numbered.