"When I took my oath of office as a federal district judge in 1992, I knew that someday I might condemn an innocent man to die. I willingly accepted that risk when I took that oath, and I willingly accept that risk now. I will have to live with my knowing choice if such a horror comes to pass. I will have no one to blame but myself."
Early this month, a death row inmate was exonerated, thanks to a little DNA that was recently uncovered and tested. This was not particularly remarkable -- there have been many DNA-based exonerations over the last couple of decades. But the case drew attention because of a passing reference to the crime by Justice Antonin Scalia, who mocked the inmate's appeal while discussing Justice Blackmun's famous "tinker with the machinery of death" dissent.
At the time, we noted that both Justice Scalia and Justice Blackmun were assuming that the defendant was guilty -- Blackmun later argued for leniency because of the inmate's IQ, not factual innocence. But because Justice Scalia has a way with words, he himself was mocked by the press, including a particularly harsh take by "Digby," a blogger writing for Salon. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Kopf, a trial judge for the District of Nebraska who imposes the death penalty, penned an equally harsh (and hilarious) response in his usual, frank style.
And then, in a follow-up, he wrote something even greater: insight into what it is like to be a judge who imposes the death penalty, sometimes, maybe, on innocent defendants.