CRIME
03/12/2014 10:05 am ET Updated Dec 30, 2014
PRESENTED BY CNN’S DEATH ROW STORIES

These 8 People Were Sentenced To Death. What Happened Next Will Make You Look At Our Justice System In A Whole New Light.

On July 2, 1976, in the case Gregg v. Georgia, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the constitutionality of the death penalty.

As of April 2013, 3,108 inmates await their execution on death row, according to a quarterly report by the Criminal Justice Project of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

And as of 2010 (the latest statistics available), the average time on death row was 14.8 years -- the longest for any year since Gregg v. Georgia.

What accounts for the wait? For one, numerous reforms since 1976: As the Death Penalty Information Center reports, the United States has sought to make sentences less arbitary, which has resulted in lengthier appeals. Changes in technology have also led both sides to reexamine evidence, and in the case of some inmates, drop charges completely.

Although the Supreme Court has never found that a prisoner has been subjected to "cruel and unusual" punishment based only on the length of time that an inmate has spent on death row, some have raised concerns: In 2009, Justice Stevens wrote:

[O]ur experience during the past three decades has demonstrated that delays in state-sponsored killings are inescapable and that executing defendants after such delays is unacceptably cruel.

And yet, to inmates who have been wrongly accused, the real cruelty would be to deny them the careful, if arduous, process of appeals that could lead to their freedom.

Each of the following death-row inmates has a different story. But the bottom line is the same: they waited years (and sometimes decades) on death row for their fates to be decided. For a deeper look into death row, tune into CNN's original series "Death Row Stories," a show that will call into question your beliefs about the death penalty and the American justice system at large. Don't miss the next episode this Sunday 9pm ET/PT.

  • 29 YEARS ON DEATH ROW
    South Carolina Department of Corrections
    NAME: Edward Lee Elmore
    STATE: South Carolina
    RELEASED IN 2002

    In 1982, Dorothy Edwards of Greenwood, South Carolina, an elderly white woman beloved by her community, was brutally murdered and raped in her home. Edwards' neighbor offered up Elmore, her handyman, as the perpetrator of the crime, even as he maintained his innocence. Elmore was arrested, went to trial 82 days later, and received a death sentence -- a conviction that he received three times as appeal courts overturned each verdict. The case was riddled with bad (even planted) evidence, an incompetent defense, a tainted crime scene, and police coverups. He spent 29 years on death row until his defense argued that he was mentally disabled and legally could not be executed, so he was reduced to a life sentence. In 2002 -- 29 years later -- he pled guilty to murder in exchange for release.

    Check out CNN's original series "Death Row Stories" (Sundays 9pm ET/PT) for a deeper look into this case.
  • 25 YEARS ON DEATH ROW
    NAME: Krishna Maharaj
    STATE: Florida
    COMMUTED TO LIFE SENTENCE IN 2002

    One-time millionaire and business magnate Kris Maharaj was convicted on two counts of murder in 1987. The case was plagued by covered-up evidence, false eyewitness accounts, and a shoddy defense (who didn't call any of his many witnesses to the stand as a "tactical" maneuver). Clive Stafford Smith has worked on this case for years, and in 2002, succeeded in commuting Maharaj’s death sentence to a life term following serious misconduct on the part of the judge and prosecution. Smith continues to fight for Maharaj's release, saying: “It is unfathomable to most rational people that the US Supreme Court says that innocence is not a reason to set a prisoner free. That Kris has spent 10,000 days in prison for a crime he did not commit is little more than legal kidnapping.”

    Check out CNN's original series "Death Row Stories" (Sundays 9pm ET/PT) for a deeper look into this case.
  • 33 YEARS ON DEATH ROW
    Florida Department of Corrections
    NAME: Manuel Valle
    STATE: Florida
    EXECUTED: 9/28/11
    LAST MEAL: Fried chicken breast, white rice, garlic toast, peach cobbler and a Coca-Cola.

    Manuel Valle killed a police officer in Coral Gables, Florida, in 1978 after being stopped for a traffic violation. In the dissenting opinion of Valle v. Florida, Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer stated that the inmate's long stay on death row amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. He said, "I have little doubt about the cruelty of so long a period of incarceration under sentence of death."
  • 33 YEARS ON DEATH ROW
    Georgia Department of Corrections
    NAME: Jack Alderman
    STATE: Georgia
    EXECUTED: 9/16/08
    LAST MEAL: Did not request a last meal. Ate regular prison meal of baked fish, peas, cole slaw, carrots, cheese grits, bun, fruit juice and chocolate cake.

    Jack Alderman was convicted in 1975 of killing his wife, Barbara Jean Alderman. At the time of his execution, he was the longest-serving death row prisoner who had been executed in the United States.
  • 31 YEARS ON DEATH ROW
    Texas Department of Criminal Justice
    NAME: David Lee Powell
    STATE: Texas
    EXECUTED: 6/15/2010
    LAST MEAL: Four eggs, four chicken drumsticks, salsa, four jalapeno peppers, lettuce, tortillas, hashbrowns, garlic bread, two pork chops, white and yellow grated cheese, sliced onions and tomatoes, a pitcher of milk and a vanilla shake.

    In May 1978, Powell fatally shot 26-year-old Austin police officer Ralph Ablanedo 10 times after he and his girlfriend were pulled over for missing a rear license plate. The two were on the way to a drug deal at the time of the crime. Opponents to his execution cited his exemplary behavior in prison and argued that he was no longer a threat to society, which is a legal requirement for capital punishment. Thirty-one years, three trials, and multiple appeals later, he died by lethal injection.

    He spent the longest time on death row of anyone in Texas since the state resumed death penalty executions in 1982.
  • 43 YEARS ON DEATH ROW
    NAME: Gary Alvord
    STATE: Florida
    EXECUTED: Died of brain tumor in 2013

    In 1974, Gary Alvord was sentenced to death for strangling three women in their home in Tampa, Florida after he escaped from a mental hospital. Although Alvord faced execution several times, his history of mental illness prevented the sentence from being carried out. Last year, after 43 years on death row, he died of natural causes. In the time he spent awaiting execution, 74 other inmates were sent to their deaths. Bill Sheppard, who represented Alvord, has said: “Gary is a product of a sick system. He was a living example of why we should not have the death penalty.... I would love for the state of Florida to tell us how much money they wasted trying to kill a guy they couldn't kill."
  • 33 YEARS ON DEATH ROW
    Death Penalty Information Center
    NAME: Reginald Griffin
    STATE: Missouri
    CHARGES DISMISSED IN 2013

    Reginald Griffin was implicated in the 1983 stabbing death of a fellow inmate at the Moberly Correctional Center in Moberly, Missouri, where he was serving time for an armed assault conviction. He along with two other inmates were charged with capital murder in 1987. There was no physical evidence linking Griffin to the crime, and in subsequent trials, the two inmates who served as witnesses for the prosecution in were offered benefits to testify. In 2011, the Missouri Supreme Court found that the state had withheld critical evidence and overturned Griffin's conviction. In 2013, all charges were dismissed. Upon his release, Cindy Short, one of his attorneys, said: "We humans are flawed, and those flaws have led to wrongful arrests, wrongful convictions and, unfortunately, this situation where time and time again you see prosecutors holding onto cases, even when evidence of innocence is clear."
  • 36 YEARS ON DEATH ROW
    AP
    NAME: Michael Selsor
    STATE: Oklahoma
    EXECUTED: 5/1/12
    LAST MEAL: Kentucky Fried Chicken’s crispy two breast and one wing meal with potato wedges and baked beans, a chicken thigh, apple turnover, two biscuits and honey, salt, pepper and ketchup.
    In 1975, Michael Selsor shot gas-station clerk Clayton Chandler six times during a robbery in Tulsa, Oklahoma along with his accomplice, Richard Eugene Dodson. Although he was tried by a jury and sentenced to death in 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court and Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruled the death penalty unconstitutional later that year. Selsor's conviction was overturned by the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1996; however, his 1998 retrial ended in another death sentence. After 36 years, Selsor was executed in Oklahoma by lethal injection.

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