Eleventh Circuit Solicitor Donnie Myers of Lexington County is one of America’s top five deadliest prosecutors, according to a new report in Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project.
The report, by capital punishment opponents, finds that Myers and his four fellow Top 5 deadliest prosecutors illustrate how “personality-driven” and random the death penalty is in the United States.
Myers and his follow four prosecutors are responsible for 440 death sentences – or one in every 20 death sentences handed down in the U.S. in the past 40 years, the report says.
Besides Myers, the others are Joe Freeman Britt of Robeson County, North Carolina; Bob Macy of Oklahoma County; Lynne Abraham of Philadelphia County; and Johnny Holmes of Harris County, Texas.
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Many – up to a third – of the death sentences these prosecutors win are overturned because of prosecutors’ errors, according the the study.
Of the five, Myers is the only one still in office. He plans to retire at the end of the year.
Over Myers’ 38 years in office, he won 39 death sentences. But nearly half were overturned. Six of his death sentences were overturned due to problems in the way he had secured a capital sentence – often involving discriminatory exclusions of jurors based on race.
The report notes that Myers was known for extraordinarily emotional appeals to jurors. Once, he rolled a baby’s crib draped in black cloth in front of a jury and, crying profusely, told them that a failure to return a death sentence would be like declaring “open season on babies in Lexington County.”
In another death penalty case, still on appeal, he referred to the black defendant as “King Kong,” a “monster,” “caveman” and “beast of burden.”
The Harvard study noted there are some 3,100 counties in the United States, 2,400 lead prosecutors and “yet, only a tiny handful of prosecutors are responsible for a vastly disproportionate number of death sentences.”