October 10 is World Day Against the Death Penalty. That the U.S. continues to use this broken and antiquated system of (in)justice is reprehensive in so many ways, but among the most important is the issue of sentencing people to death row wrongfully and executing people who did not commit the offenses that resulted in those sentences. As a Floridian, I am highlighting here the case of James Daily. Not because Florida is the only state in which the system is frequently wrong, but in the hopes that his very legitimate claims of innocence may be heard by others who can help save a life.
James Dailey is a Vietnam War veteran who served three tours there and one in Korea. If the state goes forward with his execution, currently scheduled for November 7, he would be Florida’s 100th executed person since executions restarted in the 1970s. Dailey has spent more than 30 years on death row for a murder he did not commit, and despite there being no eyewitnesses or physical evidence tying him to the murder. In fact, the physical evidence, a hair found in the victim’s hand, already excludes Mr. Dailey from having committed the offense. The true killer, co-defendant Jack Pearcy, has signed an affidavit swearing that he actually committed the murder. Pearcy failed a polygraph pre-trial and told inmates and several correctional institutional officers that he did it. He has a history of violence, particularly against women. Further, police reports from the 1985 crime show that Mr. Pearcy left his home with the victim shortly before the murder and James Dailey was not with them, yet this information was withheld from jurors.
As is too often the case, the prosecutors used an unreliable and uncorroborated snitch/informant to build the case against Dailey. After the state initially failed to secure a death sentence against Pearcy, law enforcement went to the jail, pulled every man from Dailey’s pod, showed them coverage of the case and offered them leniency in their cases if they could “help.” Only then did someone say Dailey did it. Paul Skalnik was a known child sexual offender but charges in his pending case were dropped due to his testimony against Dailey. He was released and went on to commit another sexual offense against a child in Texas, where he is currently incarcerated. The prosecutor in the case has since said she would never use Skalnik again because she had no evidence that his testimony was truthful.
This case highlights so much of what goes wrong in capital cases. Use of problematic witnesses, police and prosecutorial misconduct and jailhouse snitches are frequently factors in exonerations. At this point, Florida leads the nation in getting it wrong—for every three executions, one person is exonerated.
It is way past time that Florida, and the remaining death penalty retentionist states, discontinue this barbaric and ineffective practice.