Andew Cohen | The Marshall Project
This commentary was originally published by The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization that covers the U.S. criminal justice system. Sign up for theirnewsletter, or follow The Marshall Project on Facebook or Twitter.
A federal trial judge in South Carolina last week overturned the death sentence of a man convicted of stabbing his victim more than 70 times with a screwdriver. The sentencing phase of the trial of Johnny O’Landis Bennett was so infected by racial animus by the prosecutor and a juror, U.S. District Judge Richard Mark Gergelconcluded, that Bennett was deprived of his constitutional right to due process.
The granting of habeas relief is a rare thing these days, but Judge Gergel’s order in the Bennett case is remarkable for two other reasons. First, it highlights the lack of meaningful judicial review capital cases like this receive from state judges in South Carolina, jurists who time and again in Bennett’s case excused the racist theme of the hearing. Second, the judicial rebuke marks a fitting epitaph for the professional career of Donald V. Myers, a legal legend in that neck of the woods.
Myers, also known as “Doctor Death” and “Death Penalty Donnie,” sent 28 people to death row in South Carolina during his decades as the state’s most flamboyant prosecutor. In doing so he earned public praise and the scorn of countless defense attorneys whose clients endured Myers’ courtroom theatrics. Once, grieving the death of his own son in 2003, Myers pressed for the death penalty against Robert Northcutt, who had confessed to killing his 4-year-old daughter because she wouldn’t stop crying. Here’s how one reporter in 2006 chronicled what happened at the trial:
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