Alex Massie Alex Massie

The American Way of Justice

If the New York Times or the Washington Post had a proper measure of imagination one or other of them would have asked Radley Balko to write a criminal justice column for their op-ed pages. Their loss has been the Huffington Post’s gain. Before he moved to HuffPo Balko was a stalwart figure at Reason. It was there that he first wrote about the appalling case of Cory Maye, a Mississippi man convicted of killing a cop and placed on death row. That was five years ago.

Today Maye was finally released, a free man at last, after agreeing to accept a lesser charge of manslaughter in return for being released having spent the last ten years in prison. Maye could have proceeded with a retrial – in which his claim of legitimate self-defense could have been tested – but preferred to accept the plea so he could return to his family. Many people – journalists, lawyers, readers and activists – have helped keep Cory Maye alive but none, in the media at least, has done more than Radley Balko. It’s not often that a journalist gets a man off Death Row. A towering achievement, really.

From Radley’s first Reason article on the case:

Under Mississippi law, if Maye knew or should have known that Ron Jones was a police officer before he fired his gun, he is guilty of capital murder. If there is reasonable doubt about his knowledge that Jones was a police officer, he is not guilty (although one could conceivably make a case for criminal negligence if it can be shown he should have exercised more judgment before firing).

The most obvious argument in Maye’s defense involves the simplest interpretation of events. A man with no criminal record is awakened by the sounds of someone breaking into his home.

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