Inquirer Investigation: In life and death cases, costly mistakes

Mistakes by defense  lawyers can deprive the accused of a fair trial.

Willie Cooper, convicted of strangling his brother's girlfriend to death in a Germantown apartment, was awaiting a jury's decision on whether he should be sentenced to death, when his lawyer rose to speak on his behalf. Citing the biblical passage "an eye for an eye," the lawyer told jurors that the ancient edict called for the death penalty only in the killing of a pregnant woman. Cooper had killed a pregnant woman. Inexplicably, his lawyer had forgotten that. The jury voted to impose the death penalty. Cooper's case is among more than 125 capital murder trials in Pennsylvania - 69 in Philadelphia alone - that state and federal appeals courts have reversed or sent back for new hearings because mistakes by defense lawyers deprived the accused of a fair trial.


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