April 18, 2007
Symposium focuses on justice system flaws
Former death row inmate says death penalty 'targets the poor' during speech
By Maya Srikrishnan, Daily Texan
There are five flaws in the American justice system, said Kerry Max Cook, a
man who was incarcerated for 22 years after being wrongfully convicted of
rape and murder.
Cook made the opening address at an annual symposium on civil rights held at
the UT School of Law Tuesday. The symposium focused on prison systems in
Texas and across the U.S.
"These flaws send innocent men and women to their deaths," said Cook, who
wrote a book called "Chasing Justice," addressing his experiences with the
The first flaw is an error of mistaken identification, and the second is the
use of weak inmate testimony by the prosecution, he said. The third flaw is
"junk sciences." Cook said this is when the prosecution calls expert
witnesses who essentially tailor their findings to remove reasonable doubt
and ensure conviction.
The fourth flaw, prosecutorial misconduct, Cook deems the most critical in
regards to his own false conviction, he said.
"The reason for that degree of prosecutorial misconduct is that prosecutors
enjoy qualified immunity, and in the wrong hands, it becomes nothing short
of a license to lie and cheat," he said.
The fifth flaw is ineffective assistance counseling, Cook said, using a
comparison between Kmart and Saks Fifth Avenue shoppers to show what having
the money to hire the best lawyers can do for someone.
"Money is what determines who lives and dies in this country. The death
penalty is not racist; the death penalty targets the poor," Cook said.
The symposium's first panel discussed juvenile justice, specifically sexual
abuse which the Texas Youth Commission failed to report in a timely manner.
Speakers in this panel included Scott Medlock of the Texas Civil Rights
Project, Will Harrell of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and
Isela Gutierrez of the Texas Coalition Advocating for Juvenile Justice.
The second panel addressed what ordinary people can do to reform prisons and
featured speakers Nicole Porter of the American Civil Liberties Union of
Texas, J. Rogue of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, Andria Shively of
the Inside Books Project and Michele Deitch, adjunct professor at the Lyndon
B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.
Deitch discussed non-litigation strategies to address the problems in the
Texas prison system, saying the judicial standards aren't adequate enough.
The first strategy is to reduce this country's reliance on incarceration,
"We lock up more people in this country than anywhere else in the world,"
she said. "If Texas was its own country, we would have the sixth-most people
locked up. We lock up more people than five European countries put together,
including Britain, France, Portugal, Denmark and the Netherlands.
The United States doesn't have as many community-based strategies as other
countries, which better address social issues, such as drug abuse and
mental-health problems, and emphasize imprisonment as a last resort, Deitch
Source : Daily Texan