Release Date:  April 8, 2010
Contact:  Michael Rushford
(916) 446-0345

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So-called “Innocence List” Conclusively Debunked

Former death row inmate Timothy Hennis, listed as “exonerated” on the “innocence list” maintained by the Death Penalty Information Center, was found guilty of three counts of premeditated murder by a military jury today.

“This is the smoking gun that proves what we have been saying for years,” said Kent Scheidegger, Legal Director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation.  “The so-called innocence list is nothing of the sort.”

For years, the “innocence list” has been cited by opponents of the death penalty as a list of people once sentenced to death who were actually innocent of the crimes.  Death penalty supporters have long maintained that this claim is false.  Proof of actual innocence is not required to get on the list. In 2006, Justice Antonin Scalia challenged the list in an opinion in Kansas v. Marsh.

In Hennis’s case, his first conviction was reversed on appeal, and on retrial in 1989 the jury decided that the evidence available at that time was not sufficient to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. However, there is a wide difference between doubt of guilt and proof of innocence.

In most cases, an acquittal prevents a second trial.  However, because Hennis was in the military at the time and the first trial had been held in North Carolina state court, the double jeopardy rule did not preclude a military trial.  In 2006, more advanced DNA technology tied Hennis to the rape and murder of Kathryn Eastburn and the murder of her two daughters, 5-year-old Kara and 3-year-old Erin.

“We have known all along that the ‘innocence list’ claim was a lie,” said Scheidegger.  “Now we have official proof, beyond a reasonable doubt.”