In the news last week were two men who have both claimed to be innocent of the crimes for which they have been convicted for more than 35 years. The battle for justice is over for both of them, but for very different reasons. On August 28th, Anthony McKinney died while attempting to prove his innocence and regain his life. On August 29th, Milton Scarborough was given back his life and released from prison after 36 years of denying his guilt.
On August 29th, 2013 Milton Scarborough, 73, of Pennsylvania, was released from prison for a murder he was convicted of in 1976. Scarborough was not found innocent and his conviction still stands as he was released through a deal made between him and the courts. Scarborough has been challenging his wrongful conviction case at the state and federal level, as well as denying his guilt for decades without success. Scarborough contends that with DNA testing he would be exonerated of his crime. A Pennsylvania Superior Court decision noted that the absence of Scarborough’s DNA at the crime scene does not ensure that he was not present at the crime. About a month after this decision was made to not fund DNA testing for Scarborough, however, Lycoming District Attorney Eric R. Linhardt announced that Scarborough would be released to his family. He will be monitored by the courts for the duration of his sentence as a condition of the agreement. If Scarborough would have won an appeal, to retry him would have been difficult and expensive for the state to pursue due to a lack of witnesses and valid testimonies.
On Wednesday August 28, just one day before Scarborough’s release, a man who was desperately trying to prove his innocence died while still in prison. Anthony McKinney was found deceased in his cell yesterday with the cause of death yet to be determined, though foul play is not suspected. McKinney was arrested in 1978 for the murder of a security guard. At 18 years old, McKinney pled guilty after being beaten with pipes by police. Although there were witnesses who stated that McKinney was not present at the murder scene, Anthony McKinney stayed imprisoned for 35 years.
Unfortunately judges never heard McKinney’s case due to six years of delays and controversies. Karen Daniel, the lead attorney for Anthony McKinney and an attorney for the Center for Wrongful Convictions stated “The criminal justice system failed Anthony.”
In McKinney’s case, his imprisoned life led to his untimely death at age 53. McKinney is a victim of the backlog of cases upon cases that are waiting at the door of courthouses around the country. Along with the large amounts of time taken to prove innocence, prosecutorial bias can slow the process as well. The Illinois court system failed in its duty to provide justice for all people.
These two cases reflect the priorities of these two justice systems. In either case, the courts and the prosecution had motives for either responding to an inmate’s cries for justice or ignoring them. These actions, as all of the actions of any public official, should be constantly monitored and judged on the basis of fairness and justice.