A little over two decades ago, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was dismissive of then-Justice Harry Blackmun's concerns about the death penalty. In fact, Scalia had a case study in mind that demonstrated exactly why the system of capital punishment has value.
As regular readers may recall, Scalia specifically pointed to a convicted killer named Henry Lee McCollum as an obvious example of a man who deserved to be put to death. "For example, the case of an 11-year-old girl raped by four men and then killed by stuffing her panties down her throat," Scalia wrote in a 1994 ruling. "How enviable a quiet death by lethal injection compared with that!"
For Scalia, McCollum was the perfect example -- a murderer whose actions were so heinous that his crimes stood as a testament to the merit of capital punishment itself.
Yesterday, McCollum was pardoned. Scalia's perfect example of a man who deserved to be killed by the state was innocent. North Carolina's News & Observer reported:
Gov. Pat McCrory on Thursday pardoned two half-brothers who were exonerated of murder after spending three decades in prison. The governor took nine months to make the decision, saying he thoroughly reviewed the pardons sought by Henry McCollum and Leon Brown. Both men are intellectually disabled.
If this story sounds at all familiar, it was last fall when a judge ordered the men released. The confessions appeared to have been coerced 30 years ago and new DNA evidence implicated another man whose possible involvement had been overlooked at the time.
As recently as 2010, the North Carolina Republican Party used a McCollum photo on campaign fliers to attack a Democratic candidate as "soft on crime."
McCollum hadn't done anything wrong.
The pardon is a welcome development, though the News & Observer added that the middle-aged men, after having spent most of their lives behind bars -- and on death row -- for a crime they didn't commit, are struggling.
[T]he men have been living with their sister, who has struggled to pay rent and utilities on her home in Fayetteville. The Center for Death Penalty Litigation established a fund to help them survive. Each man now qualifies for $50,000 for each year they were imprisoned, up to a maximum of $750,000. They needed a gubernatorial pardon in order to collect the compensation.
As best as I can tell, Scalia has not yet commented.