‘A Death Sentence’: An Enduring Fiction of the Death Penalty

After a 13-year prison stint, Kevin O’Neal Burns was found dead in his cell at Holman Correctional Facility in Alabama, according to a statement released by the Alabama Department of Corrections. Burns was 38.

Why was he in prison, and why did he die? It was his last conviction and last trial. You’ll see more in “A Death Sentence,” on The Murder She Said, the latest podcast of The New York Times’ magazine, which asks why people like Burns are put to death on death row, sometimes for crimes they didn’t commit. The podcast will examine the case of Robert Fitzpatrick, another condemned death row inmate whose life was saved by DNA testing. We also discuss that of Taurean M. Carr, who took responsibility for a rape-and-murder but might have killed someone else.

Burns was sentenced to death in 1999 for a crime in which he never did anything, for which he may have to spend the rest of his life in prison. His case was very different from Fitzpatrick’s, but he was also held responsible for a false murder charge — he was accused of killing a man he knew, Christopher Brooks, who had been his boss, had given him money and had lent him a car. To ensure Burns couldn’t get a new chance at an acquittal, a juror testified that Burns had told him that Brooks had molested his daughter. He was convicted. Then he spent 12 years and 32 days on death row until his sentence was vacated in 2001, because of the dubious use of the DNA evidence.

In the podcast, al.com reporter John Archibald spoke with Kevin O’Neal Burns’s attorney about the changes in state law after his case went to court. “The minute that [the DNA testing] was done, the statutes were changed — changed on the very same day it was done — to make the retrial next to impossible,” Eric Smiley told Archibald. “No one can ask a jury, even in a retrial, that he admitted his innocence. He was going to have to convince the jury he didn’t do it. And they couldn’t do that.”

Read more about Kevin O’Neal Burns’s life on the podcast.

Also on The Murder She Said:

The Deconstructing Wire

How Much Trouble Does Clinton Face?

‘Starman’ and an Autobiography by Carol Channing

Five Questions for Roseanne Barr About the Hired Help

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