Five judges have already said he's innocent, but 57-year-old Kevin Cooper is nevertheless scheduled to be the next prisoner executed in the state of California.
Cooper received a death sentence in 1985 for allegedly slaying a family of three and another child in a suburb of Los Angeles, the Daily Mail reports.
Neither the one survivor of the attack, an 8-year-old boy, nor two witnesses who said they saw three men driving away from the house in a station wagon after the murder, implicated Cooper in the attack.
But local law enforcement reportedly became fixated on Cooper because he had recently escaped from prison and was staying in a nearby house. In 2004, the Ninth District Court ruled that much of the evidence used to prosecute Cooper was illegal a few hours after then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger refused Cooper's request for clemency.
His case was eventually brought before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009. The Court ruled against Cooper's appeal, but in the 103-page dissent, five judges wrote that "[t]he State of California may be about to executive an innocent man."
The case is just one of many which shows that wrongful convictions are a reality in the U.S. judicial system. But the result of these convictions is not just a massive waste of taxpayer money -- it's also the loss of innocent human lives.
A total of 156 people have been exonerated from death row since 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Some of them often within hours of execution, or in some cases, after the execution has already taken place.
In one case, a Texas man was executed for allegedly setting his house on fire and killing his children, but multiple investigations later showed that the fire was most likely caused by faulty wiring, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports. The prosecutor in that case was later found guilty of misconduct for withholding evidence from the accused man's attorneys.
It is often argued that the death penalty is cheaper to administer than life in prison without parole. This is false; housing costs for death row inmates are over $3 million higher per inmate. A total of 44 executions in Florida between 1976 and 2000 cost an average of $24 million per execution, the News-Journal reports.
Additionally, as the Journal points out, the death penalty is incredibly inefficient at doing what it is meant to do: Execute prisoners on death row. In Florida alone, 92 inmates have been executed since 1972, but there are currently 389 inmates on death row.
Ultimately, saying the death penalty should be reserved for only "the worst cases" is problematic, because prosecutors are not always impartial arbiters of justice; they are people, and like all people, they make mistakes. Unfortunately, when those mistakes cost both innocent human lives and millions of wasted taxpayer dollars, it means we need to seriously reconsider the death penalty as a viable punishment for serious offenders.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Kevin Cooper's attorneys via The Daily Mail