8 Times the Death Penalty was Wrongfully Executed

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8 Times the Death Penalty was Wrongfully Executed

The police are never wrong. Right?

| March 9, 2017

8 Times

the Death Penalty

was Wrongfully Executed

By  Eldrin Veloso

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Capital punishment is arguably one of the most debated topics in the world. Last 2015, Amnesty International recorded at least 1,634 executions in 61 countries—573 more than 2014. This is the highest number of executions recorded in more than 25 years.

On the other hand, 2015 also recorded the highest number of countries that abolished death penalty in a year since the new millennium.

It’s safe to say that the world is divided on the death penalty. Philippines itself abolished the death penalty in 2006. Eleven years later, the House of Representatives expediently passed the third and final reading of House Bill 4727 that will impose back the death penalty on drug-related heinous crimes.

This happened despite pressing studies that show death penalty sentencing can be prone to inaccuracy, that it doesn’t actually deter crime, and that it can cost innocent lives.

Maybe we need actual stories beyond the figures. Maybe we need to revisit history to see where this punishment can possibly go wrong.

Maybe if it concerns human life, it is important to understand all the implications death penalty can bring before it goes back to our penal code.


In 1996, Huugjilt discovered the body of a murdered young girl and reported this to the police. Soon after, he was arrested for the rape and murder of the same girl and was sentenced to death by firing squad.

Ten years after the execution, Zhao Zhihong appeared in court for 21 charges—a mix of murder, rape, robbery, and theft—and admitted that he committed the 1996 rape and murder Huugjilt was executed for. Zhao was sentenced to death and Huugjilt’s parents, after 18 years of fighting to clear their son’s name—received compensation from the state of more than 2.05 million yuan.

“We learned a heartbreaking lesson in this case; we are sorry,” said Zhao Jianping, the court’s deputy president.


Harry Gleeson

The Irish government handed its first posthumous pardon last 2015 when it found out that the 1941 conviction of Harry Gleeson, and his consequential execution, was based on unconvincing circumstantial evidence. This includes a questionable character assessment of the arresting garda  (guard), who was later proved to have withheld and fabricated evidences against Gleeson.

The government’s official posthumous pardon decision reads: “The Government deeply regrets that a man was convicted and executed in circumstances now found to be unsafe.”


Jesse Tafero

In a gunfight at a rest stop in Florida, a highway patrol officer and his Canadian constable friend were killed. The suspects, Jesse Tafero, his wife Sonia Jacobs, and Walter Rhodes, fled the scene with the police car but were captured on a roadblock. The gun that killed the victims was found in Tafero’s waistband.

Tafero and Jacobs claimed that Rhodes shot the victims and handed the gun over to Tafero so that he can drive. Rhodes took a guilty plea for a lighter sentence to testify against Tafero saying that Tafero shot the victims and led him and Jacobs to the police car to flee.

Gunpowder tests showed that Rhodes is consistent with “having discharged a weapon” while Tafero’s consistent with “handling an unclean or recently discharged weapon” only. Despite this, because of Rhodes’ testimony, Tafero was convicted and sentenced to death.

Rhodes later admitted that he was responsible for the killings.


Chiang Kuo-ching

Chiang was a Taiwanese air force private who was executed by a military tribunal in 1997 for the rape and murder of a five-year old girl.

In 2011, the case was reopened because a certain Xu Rongzhou admitted to the crime. Investigators found no evidence that Chiang had been at the scene of the crime.

Chiang was then posthumously acquitted by the military tribunal after it found out that his original confession had been obtained by torture. The defense ministry will pay $3.4m in compensation to the relatives.

Taiwan’s President, Ma Ying-jeou, has apologized to the family.