The release of the third death row inmate in six months in North Carolina is raising new questions about whether states are supplying capital-murder defendants with adequate counsel, the New York Times reports. Levon Jones left death row Friday after a judge in North Carolina found that he had received an inadequate defense. In all three cases, North Carolina appeals courts found that evidence that would have favored the defendants was withheld from defense lawyers by prosecutors or investigators. In two of the cases, the courts said the defendants' lawyers had failed to mount an adequate defense. John Holdridge of the American Civil Liberties Union Capital Punishment Project, which provided representation for Jones, said the successful appeals showed that the problem with the death penalty was not the method of execution but “poor people getting lousy lawyers.” He added: “All these states are gearing up to start executing people again, and nobody seems to be concerned about these systemic problems.”
Said Robin Maher of the American Bar Association's Death Penalty Representation Project: “I wish I could say that things have gotten a lot better, but in fact I can say with confidence that things have changed not much at all. We are seeing the same kinds of egregiously bad lawyering that we saw 10 or 15 years ago, for a variety of reasons, including inadequate funding.” Of the 36 states that allow the death penalty, only about 10 have statewide capital-defense systems, one of the practices recommended by the ABA.