I’m just a plainspoken Colorado criminal defense lawyer, but the way I see it…
Are there children in America who dream, when I grow up I want to kill as many people as I can?
There are adults in my country, many more of them than in most countries, who are living the dream. Unlikely they consider themselves serial killers, yet serial killers they are — the worst serial killers, in fact, in the nation. They’ve all got government jobs. We call them district attorneys.
Many prosecutors, maybe most (maybe), are like the rest of us, intending to do honest, fair work, whatever that work may be. But some of them carry a special zeal, a zeal so special it may someday wind up a category in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual psychologists and psychiatrists use to describe mental disorders.
The Fair Punishment Project, a joint initiative of Harvard Law School’s Charles Hamilton Institute for Race & Justice, and its Criminal Justice Institute, last month published a report on whom it characterized America’s Top Five Deadliest Prosecutors. Not one of them did an honest, fair job in sending their victims to death row.
These are some of the report’s findings.
Joe Britt personally sent thirty-eight people to death row from Robeson County, North Carolina. Prosecutorial misconduct was alleged in all but seven of his cases, and sustained in more than a third. Two of the “men” he attempted to kill were intellectually disabled brothers, aged fifteen and nineteen. Britt hid evidence, later discovered, that proved the boys’ innocence. After thirty years in prison, many of them on death row as defense lawyers fought to save their lives.
In Britt’s mind, they were still “absolutely” guilty, and he was only doing his job. “Within the breast of each of us” he eloquently mused, “burns a flame that constantly whispers in our ear, ‘preserve life, preserve life, preserve life, at any cost.’ It is the prosecutor’s job to extinguish that flame.”
And so Britt sought to end lives, at any cost.
Robert Macy of Oklahoma County, Oklahoma, prosecuted the capital cases of fifty-four people sent to death row. Courts found he, too, committed prosecutorial misconduct a third of the time. Still, juries knew better than to return acquittals in his cases, after one acquittal when an enraged Macy reached for his gun and was dragged from the courtroom before he could kill any of them.
Nearly half of his death sentences were later reversed; three of his victims were exonerated. They called him “Cowboy Bob,” and he liked to fabricate evidence. I hate to think of him as a cowboy. The cowboys I knew, growing up in the West, were for the most part stern men, but kind.
Donald Myers was called something else: “Dr. Death.” He still plies his foul trade in South Carolina, so far winning thirty-nine death sentences, nearly half of which involved proven prosecutorial misconduct. Where some people keep pictures of their children on their desk at work, Myers keeps a paperweight model of an electric chair.
“This is about all I’ve got,” Myers said. “If I had to go home and be by myself, I would shoot my damn self.”
Go home, Donnie.
And…and I haven’t the heart to go on. You can read the full report for yourself, here. It’s heartbreaking, it’s infuriating, it’s life and justice in these United States, and it details five more runners-up and three wannabes for the title of Worst Waste of a Legal Education.