Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia once singled out a North Carolina death row inmate as an example of someone who deserved to die – but his conviction was overturned Tuesday after he was exonerated by DNA evidence.
Henry Lee McCollum and his half-brother, Leon Brown, both of whom are mentally disabled, were cleared in the brutal rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl 30 years ago.
Scalia wrote a 1994 opinion in an unrelated case that cited McCollum as a reason to keep the death penalty, reported the Huffington Post.
"For example, the case of an 11-year-old girl raped by four men and then killed by stuffing her panties down her throat," Scalia wrote. "How enviable a quiet death by lethal injection compared with that!"
The opinion was in response to a dissenting opinion by Justice Harry A. Blackmun, who argued that capital punishment was unconstitutional because it was cruel and unusual.
"That our system of capital punishment would single out Buddy McCollum to die for this brutal crime only confirms my conclusion that the death penalty experiment has failed," Blackmun wrote in a response to Scalia. "Our system of capital punishment simply does not accurately and consistently determine which defendants most 'deserve' to die."
Scalia is a strong supporter of capital punishment – although the Catholic Church to which he’s an adherent has found the death penalty violates biblical teachings – and has argued that no innocent person had recently been executed.
"It should be noted at the outset that the dissent does not discuss a single case -- not one -- in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit," Scalia wrote in a 2006 opinion. "If such an event had occurred in recent years, we would not have to hunt for it; the innocent's name would be shouted from the rooftops by the abolition lobby."