Equal Justice Initiative Highlights Abuses of Capital Punishment


EJIThe American criminal justice system is one of the last in the Western world to still prescribe execution in many states, via a system of capital punishment that has faced criticism for being racist, ableist, and ethically questionable. The Equal Justice Initiative, a Montgomery-based nonprofit and FBB’s Q3 Human Rights beneficiary, seeks to educate the public on, and provide legal representation in defense of, “indigent defendants and prisoners who have been denied fair and just treatment in the legal system.”

Given the controversially retributive nature of the prison-industrial complex, the EJI has devoted a great amount of its efforts to investigating and reporting on capital punishment, particularly this summer. They ran a series of articles in July and August, focusing on two separate cases of death penalty indictment wherein a disabled or misrepresented individual was wrongly tried.

Marvin Wilson EJIOn July 2, EJI reported that an Alabama death row prisoner had successfully appealed for a new trial. Kenneth McKinnis was convicted of a murder-robbery after a bullet he fired in the air amid a nightclub robbery ricocheted and killed Byron Belser. Although in his original defense he was defending against the robbery of the nightclub owner and the murder of Belser, his conviction came in the murder and robbery of Belser, a stronger charge that ultimately led to his conviction. The Court of Criminal Appeals found this decision to err as it “destroyed the defendant’s substantial right to be tried only on charges presented in an indictment return by a grand jury.” McKinnis will face a new trial.

In August, EJI raised major concerns over the proposed execution of Marvin Wilson, a Texas man with an IQ of 61. According to the EJI’s assessment, a single court-appointed neuropsychologist concluded that Wilson had “mild mental retardation”—the state made no effort to reevaluate him despite a history of failures to accomplish tasks many of us find simple, such as tying shoes and counting money, and continues to face the same setbacks even today. Texas uses extraordinarily questionable criteria to determine mental retardation in criminals—different, stricter criteria than any other state—making it, naturally, extraordinarily susceptible to wrongful execution. Wilson was put to death on August 7.

Despite being unsuccessful in the protection of Marvin Wilson, the EJI was a major part of the megaphone that amplified the case and shed light on the abuses of capital punishment in contemporary America. To support them in their continuing efforts, visit their website, and if you’re a member, consider selecting them to receive a portion of your monthly donation (select “Manage Donation” under “Manage Account” in the blue box to the right).