There has been much ado made of the case of Cory Maye, an inmate on death row in Mississippi. Rightfully so, in my opinion. This case smacks of everything that opponents of the death penalty claim is wrong with the system.
I support the death penalty as a retributive form of punishment that society demands. I also think that the death penalty should be fairly applied in those cases where the facts support it. I don't feel that the facts (as reported) support the death penalty in this case.
The facts are basically this: Cory Maye is (was) a law-abiding citizen of Prentiss, MS. The police department was executing a search warrant for drugs at the house where Maye was living. The police were unaware that the house was a duplex and when they executed the warrant, they broke into the wrong side of the house. Maye heard people breaking into his home, late at night. He was there with his 18-month old daughter. Maye used a firearm against the intruders who then identified themselves as police officers. Maye was convicted of killing a police officer and is currently on death row in Mississippi.
The defense team claims that Maye was improperly convicted, both on the facts of the case and the make-up of the jury. It helps to understand that Maye is black and the jury was white. It helps us to understand the verdict when we learn that the officer killed was the son of the local Chief of Police.
If the facts in this case are as presented, then it is a tragedy of the worst sort. Any time an officer is killed, it is a tragedy. Any time a man is wrongly convicted, it is a tragedy. Any time racism rears its ugly head, it is a tragedy. There may be more tragedies here that I haven't identified.
Police officers know that serving no-knock warrants is a dangerous exercise. Specialized training, briefing, and rehearsal is necessary before executing such a warrant. Timing is everything. Speed and surprise are necessary to overwhelm the senses of the occupants so that by the time the occupants think "What the Hell is going on?", the operation is over.
This operation went dreadfully wrong, and in a residence where it wasn't supposed to occur. The fact that a police officer is dead is a testament to the danger that such operations entail. Yet, Cory Maye was defending his family against violent intruders in the early morning hours. I can't fault him for that.
The one saving grace of this case is that it is subject to review at the appelate level. I'm sure that a good defense team will mitigate the sentence, and may be able to get it overturned on any number of grounds, not the least of which is that it seems like a miscarriage of justice.
I believe in the system of justice that works for all the people. As a twenty-five year police veteran, I have put many people behind bars. I have worked cases where the death penalty was ultimately applied. I believe there was justice done in those cases. I also believe that the police have to be careful in their use of force, their execution of warrants, and in the intelligence we rely on in planning a dangerous operation. If we err, we must err with the full knowledge that what we do is dangerous and that people might die.
If the facts of this case are as reported, I could support the immediate release of Cory Maye. You won't find me saying that about many death row cases.