Convicted of murders they did not commit… astonishing cases of miscarriage of justice that led to rethinking the capital punishment
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Ever since DNA evidence started exonerating death row inmates, public concern about wrongful executions has been on the rise. It has been such a source of worry that some states have abolished the death penalty entirely.
Although we want to believe that the criminal justice system designed to protect us is infallible, mistakes can be and are made. The ultimate tragedy is when an innocent person is executed for a crime that he or she didn’t commit.
Inside find three stories of wrongful executions in the UK, where justice was swift and limitless appeals were not supported. In one case the person was actually exonerated forty-six years after being hanged.
●Eliza Fenning and the Devilish Dumplings: In March 1815, the entire household of Robert Turner, a London law stationer, was struck by a mysterious illness. When a search was made for its cause, a substance believed to be arsenic was found in the dish used to mix up yeast dumplings the family had eaten for dinner. Although she had fallen ill too, Eliza Fenning, the twenty-one-year-old maid who had prepared the dumplings, was charged with attempted murder and hanged. Her execution is still regarded as one of Britain’s worst miscarriages of justice.
●The Messalina of Ilford: Edith Thompson and her younger lover, Frederick Bywaters, were executed in January 1923 for the murder of Edith’s husband. Although Mr. Bywaters confessed and insisted that Mrs. Thompson had nothing to do with the murder, she was held equally responsible for the crime because of some letters that expressed hostile intent toward her overbearing spouse. Her supporters believed that she had really been condemned for being an adulteress. There is currently a campaign in process to win her a posthumous royal pardon.
●“Let Him Have It”: On January 28, 1953, nineteen-year-old Derek Bentley was hanged at Wandsworth Prison for the murder of a Metropolitan Police constable. Bentley had not fired the fatal shot, but his sixteen-year-old accomplice was too young to receive the death penalty, so the mentally impaired Bentley went to the gallows instead. In 1998, thanks to four decades of vigorous campaigning by his family, he received a posthumous pardon. His execution was instrumental in the abolition of capital punishment in the UK.
It is too late to save these victims of wrongful execution, but the time has come to accept that, regardless of our individual feelings about the death penalty, all future debates on the subject must proceed with the knowledge that innocent people have been put to death.
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