Death Row's Innocent Inmates

For years Gary Gauger lived and worked along side his parents, on the family farm in northern Illinois. One morning, he went numb when he found his father dead in the shop behind the house, reports CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews for Eye On America.

"Laying on the floor with a large pool of blood around his head and shoulders," Gary remembers. He then watched as police found his mother murdered as well. This was just moments before he was placed under arrest as a suspect.

"They patted me down and locked me in the back of the squad car," Gauger says.


AP
The Parents of Gary Gauger

During an 18-hour interrogation, the police convinced Gary Gauger that he might have killed his parents in some kind of blackout. They said they had the evidence.

"They kept saying, well we know you did it."

But there was no evidence. And when the cops later told the jury Gauger had confessed, that wasn't true either.

"They never even considered the fact that the police would be lying, that they fabricated the confession."

He was convicted and sentenced to die. And more than three years later, federal agents by coincidence heard two members of an outlaw motorcycle gang discussing, on a wiretap, how they killed the Gaugers in a robbery gone bad.

Gary Gauger today is free and bitter.

"I had nothing to do with the murder of my parents," Gauger maintains.

Here's a number that may surprise you: 75. Since the Supreme Court restored the death penalty, 75 men and women like Gary Gauger have been convicted of murder and sentenced to die, but freed by courts that found them wrongfully convicted.


"It happened to be that before they were executed, the evidence of innocence came forward," says Lawrence Marshall of Northwestern Law School, the attorney who helped set Gauger free.

"If the system had its way, these people would have been killed," says Marshall. "Even in the face of these 75 people, we have folks out there who would hurry up the system even more."

"We want to cut down the time people sit on death row," says Florida Congressman Bill McCollum, an advocate of execution expedition. He says the cycle of endless appeals has to stop.

"If you do murder, kill somebody in a way the law says, you do normally get the death penalty, then you are indeed going to get it nd you re not going to be able to just sit around on death row somewhere and delay and delay and delay."

The issue is what to do with this new evidence. Thirty-three states have set time limits on when an inmate can try to prove innocence. Marshall argues in this era of DNA, when innocence can be established at any time, time limits are unfair.

Take Dennis Williams, for example. He spent 16 years on death row in Illinois, before DNA excluded him and the real killers confessed, or Kirk Bloodsworth, who spent eight years on death row in Maryland before DNA evidence exonerated him.

"When I can show you these cases, where on average it took eight years for these people to be vindicated, then I defy you to explain to me how you want to kill people before they've had that opportunity," argues Marshall.

Gary Gauger believes he is a one-man argument against faster executions.

"Any restrictions on appeals is just going to cause more innocent people to spend more time behind bars, and if we have the death sentence, its just gonna cause more people to be executed who just didn't do the crimes," says Gauger.

The fact that America even has 75 death row alumni raises a controversial question. Could they be evidence of a fair and balanced system, working hard to find innocence? Or proof of a system too eager to find guilt.
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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