Reforming the Virginia Death Penalty System

Trying to tell the voters of Virginia that innocent men are dying in the electric chair because of the corruption, callousness and incompetence of Virginia judges is like trying to beat a dead horse. This argument gets nowhere, because the blood thirsty Virginia voters would like to see a few more people die.

Virginia has the best of all possible worlds. If Virginia were an independent nation, it would have to conform with the norms of international law. Executing innocent men in the electric chair is unacceptable. Kidnapping my daughter across international borders, as Virginia did in 1990, would cause international sanctions and embargoes to be brought against Virginia, had Virginia been an independent nation. Some UN committee would have voted to condemn the human-rights record of Virginia.

However, by being a state of the United States, Virginia is shielded from that. At the same time, Virginia declares itself to be a "Commonwealth", not a state, and therefore claims not to have to abide by the laws of other states or of the United States.

Virginia's brazen and obvious kidnapping of my daughter is a prime example of the arrogance and criminal malfeasance of the Virginia judicial system.

In order to try to convince Virginia to abandon its lawless behavior and to join the ranks of the civilized states, it is necessary to take a different approach. Here as examples are a few cases:

In 1982, Earl Washington Jr. was convicted of the rape and murder of Rebecca Lynn Williams, 19, who had been raped and stabbed 38 times in her Culpeper apartment.

The reason investigators knew that she had been raped is that she lived long enough to tell them that. She said that, as she came home and opened the door to her apartment, a man came up behind her and pushed his way in and then proceeded to rape her.

This was a dying declaration and was admissible as evidence in court. Earl Washington Jr., who had happened to be in the area and fit the general description given by the deceased ("a black man"), was arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to death in 1984.

In 1994, on the day he was scheduled to die, Governor Douglas Wilder commuted his death sentence to a sentence of life imprisonment, because the Virginia Attorney General had certified that, based on the results of DNA tests just received, Earl Washington Jr. could not possibly be guilty of this crime, because the DNA of the sperm in the woman's vagina did not match his, and she had said that she had been raped by the same man who had stabbed her.

Since then, a new twist has emerged. It has been established that the sperm of two different men were found in her vagina, and neither of the two men were her husband, whose sperm has also been tested.

This means that Rebecca Lynn Williams, 19, had sexual intercourse with two different men in the hours before she died, and neither of these men were her husband. Yet, she said before she died that she had been attacked and raped by just one man.

This opens a plethora of possibilities. While we should respect the memory of the deceased, we should also respect the rights of the living and examine the possible implications of this.

It seems highly probable that the man who stabbed and killed Rebecca Lynn Williams was one of the two men whose sperm was found inside her vagina. Men do things like that. Why did he kill her? Could it have been a jealous rage over his discovery that she had another lover? Did the two men know about each other and fight over her? This seems far more likely than that a complete stranger who did not know her at all, such as Earl Washington, Jr., killed her.

Why would she lie, if indeed she did?

Rebecca Lynn Williams gave a dying declaration, which involves a special area of law. It is believed that when a person is just about to die, they will always tell the truth, in order to make their peace with God. A person who knows that he or she is about to die will always tell the truth, it is believed.

However, under the law, if the person has any belief that he or she will live, it is not a dying declaration and therefore is not admissible in court.

Thus, if she has said, "Earl Washington did it and I will get him if it is that last thing I do", and then she had died, it would not be a dying declaration and would not be admissible in court, because she harbored some belief that she might live.

Thus, when Rebecca Lynn Williams, just before she died, said that she had been attacked and raped by a stranger, one question is: Did she know that she was going to die?

The truth might have been that she had a lover, or possibly two lovers, and she did not want her husband or her children ever to know this.

This possibility seems far more likely than that she was attacked by a stranger.

The main point here is that the Virginia Attorney General refuses to authorize a DNA test: The reason: He plans to run for governor and to be a successful candidate he wants to show that he is a tough "law and order" guy. A macho man.

So, to prove what a tough guy he is, he lets an innocent man sit in jail and refuses to authorize a DNA test which might and probably would reveal the identity of the actual killer or killers of Rebecca Lynn Williams.

Remember: Two men had sexual intercourse with Rebecca Lynn Williams in the hours before she died and, to this day, after the passage of 18 years, we still do not know the identity of either one of those men. Is not this something that the Virginia Attorney General should want to find out?

Similarly, there is the O'Dell case. O'Dell was another man who had a long criminal record but claimed up until his dying breath that he did not kill the woman he was convicted of killing. So determined is the Commonwealth of Virginia to prevent the truth from coming out that only a few weeks ago the judge on that case ordered the O'Dell DNA sample burned and destroyed by fire.

In so doing, the judge guaranteed that the actual killer will go free and will never be discovered, assuming of course that the killer is not O'Dell.

By destroying the DNA evidence, as the Commonwealth of Virginia did in the O'Dell case, they destroy the evidence, not to bring O'Dell back to life, as he has already been executed, but to find the man who really did kill the woman in question.

The Commonwealth of Virginia does not want this done because it will embarrass the Commonwealth with proof that they executed the wrong man. The Commonwealth finds it more important that it never be shown that it killed the wrong man than it is to the catch the real killer.

I studied the death penalty issue in some detail while I was a student at the University of California at Berkeley and all evidence and every approach proved that the death penalty is a bad idea. Among other things, a wavering jury would release a killer rather than send him to the electric chair, which meant that killers got back on the street who would otherwise be serving life.

Regarding the cases currently in the news, my approach is that the DNA tests should be done not to get the incarcerated persons out of jail, but rather to catch the real killers. For example, in the case of Earl Washington Jr., the semen from two different men were found in her vagina, and neither of the men was either her husband or Earl Washington.

It is highly likely that her real killer was one of those two men.

I am trying to point out that the Virginia Attorney General certified that he could not possibly be guilty of this crime.

Therefore, instead of giving him life in prison he should have been released.

A recent article in the Richmond Times Dispatch says that because the sperm from two different men were mixed up inside the vagina of the murder victim, it was only about 99% conclusive but not 100% conclusive that Earl Washington's sperm was not in there too.

With new DNA techniques, the Richmond Times Dispatch says that they can separate the sperm and prove whose sperm is really in there.

I feel that the best way to approach it is not to plead for Washington to be released but to frame this as a way to search for the real killer. The sperm of two different were found inside of her. Almost undoubtedly, one of those two men killed her. Perhaps jealousy and not rape was the motive. Perhaps the story she told before she died was not true at all and she wanted to hide from her husband that she had a lover.

None of this will be known until the DNA test is done, but the Virginia Attorney General refuses to allow such a test.

Sam Sloan

Here are links:
My Home Page

Contact address - please send e-mail to the following address: