Federal trial judge Jed Rakoff of Manhattan used the Internet to research death penalty cases in which serious questions remained about the guilt of the condemned, reports the New York Times. Rakoff was overseeing one of the first federal death penalty cases to come before a New York judge recently. Aware of the growing number of wrongly convicted inmates who were being exonerated through DNA testing, the judge wondered whether the death penalty violated due process because such prisoners obviously could not pursue claims of innocence if they were dead. In a 2002 opinion, Rakoff sought to take a first step toward ending the death penalty–a ruling overturned by an appeals court.
Rakoff agreed to talk about the 2002 decision and the the controversy it generated. In more than six hours of interviews, he offered a rare and candid look at the private thinking of a federal judge taking on one of the most prominent and divisive legal issues of the day. Rakoff, 61, disclosed was that he had suffered the kind of devastating personal loss that many victims often accuse judges in death penalty cases of being insensitive to: the grisly murder of his older brother.