When innocence is anything but

Is there a homicide so heinous that it can still shock residents of a city notoriously nicknamed “Bodymore, Murderland”?
 
The typical Baltimore murder victim is a young black man who has a criminal record and has dropped out of school. The typical Baltimore murderer fits the same profile.
 
But that profile didn’t apply to the young black male victim in the heinous homicide mentioned above. It happened last week.

The victim was 15-year-old Jason Madison, Jr. Baltimore police say his murderer gagged him with a pillow case and then stabbed him repeatedly in the head and throat with a box cutter. That was after sexually assaulting and sodomizing the boy.
 
The suspect is Dante Parrish. He was arrested two days later and, police said, confessed to the crime.

News reports about Parrish’s relationship to the victim’s family may be clear to some, but they’ve left me downright confused.
 
A police spokesman said the suspect was known to the family. A cousin of the victim said the same thing.

But other family members, in televised news reports, alleged that the suspect stalked young Madison, making explicit comments about the sexual acts he’d like to perform with the boy.
 
You’d think that a 35-year-old man stalking a 15-year-old boy and making suggestive sexual comments might have led some family members to contact police. That sort of thing is still frowned upon in this nation, the doctrines of the North American Man-Boy Love Association notwithstanding.
 
In case anyone thinks I’m blaming Madison’s family for his death, let me make it clear that I’m not. I’m not even blaming the people at the Innocence Project (IP), who are at least partly responsible for Parrish being back out on the street.
 
Oh, didn’t I mention that Parrish was convicted of murdering a Baltimore drug dealer in 2000? That crime happened in 1999; Parrish served 10 years.

He claimed the infamous S.O.D.D.I. (Some Other Dude Done It) defense and the IP folks took up his cause. The only witness against Parrish recanted his testimony.

A prosecutor — since, thank heavens, departed from the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office — misrepresented some of the facts in the case, and Parrish’s lawyer didn’t object. Long story short: a Baltimore judge ordered that Parrish should have a new trial and he was cut loose in January.
 
In a Baltimore Sun story, IP chief Michelle Nethercott defended her organization’s advocacy for Parrish.
 
“The case that we were involved in stands or falls on its own merits,” Nethercott said in the story. “It had all the hallmarks. You can’t convict people on false evidence. Obviously, I’m horrified at what happened to this child. But I can’t screen cases on future predictions on what might happen.”
 
And as heinous as Madison’s murder was, and as inclined as we might be to get mad at Nethercott and the IP, the bottom line is this:

She’s right.
 
We can’t convict people on false evidence. Prosecutors aren’t allowed to read false statements into the record. But there is something we can do.
 
We should all cast a skeptical eye on the claims of the anti-death penalty crowd about those 139 “innocent” people who’ve been released from death row. That figure started out somewhere just below 90. It’s grown since then. Every time I hear it, the figure is higher than the last time it was mentioned.
 
Death penalty opponents are so obsessed with the number of supposed “innocents” released from death row — and with the possibility of an “innocent” person being executed — that they forget the number of real innocents who’ve been murdered by paroled murderers is far greater than 139.
 
That 139 figure has been challenged by capital punishment advocates such as Dudley Sharp, who’s the death penalty resources director of the organization Justice For All. (Sharp is actually a former opponent of capital punishment.)

Sharp and others say death penalty opponents who make the claim about 139 “innocent” people released from death row make no distinction between legal innocence and actual innocence.
 
Let’s look at the online court record of the “innocent” Mr. Parrish, for example. It seems, in addition to the 1999 murder, he’d been arrested for handgun violations, car theft, felony theft, escape from confinement and armed robbery. He’s hardly the poster boy for genuine “innocence.”
 
Let me put it another way: Jason Madison Jr. was innocent. Dante Parrish is not.

Examiner columnist Gregory Kane is a Pulitzer-nominated news and opinion journalist who has covered people and politics from Baltimore to the Sudan. 

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