The United States continues to employ the racist, classist death penalty. It is not a deterrent. It is a Dark Ages relic reflecting an unwillingness to overcome the instincts of our reptile brains with civilized behavior the way most of the other developed democracies on the planet have seen fit to do.
If our nation had abolished the death penalty, some innocents would be walking around today instead of killed by the state. We'll never know for sure how many. All we do know is that new evidence - much of it DNA-based - has revealed that people have been convicted of capital crimes they did not commit and have been exonerated, sometimes after decades on death row. And we know that some are dead who would have been exonerated if prosecutors had not engaged in misconduct or had not relied on incompetent "experts," poor lab techniques or old forensics methodology. We just don't know how many.
The latest case hasn't gotten much press. It's yet another from the 18-year-old Innocence Project. Also involved were The Texas Observer, the Innocence Project of Texas and the Texas Innocence Network:
|The Innocence Project today released DNA test results proving that crucial hair evidence found at the scene of a murder, the only physical evidence linking the accused Claude Jones to the crime, did not belong to Jones. Although he always maintained his innocence, Jones was executed for murdering Allen Hilzendager on December 7, 2000. George Bush, who was awaiting a decision from the Florida Supreme Court on whether the presidential election recount would continue, denied Jones’ request for a 30 day stay of execution to do DNA test on the hair sample. The memo from the General Counsel’s office that recommended against the stay did not tell Bush that Jones was seeking a DNA test of the hair. Evidence that the hair “matched” Jones was critical to the prosecution’s case at trial and proved to be the key factor in a narrow 3-2 decision by the Texas Court of Appeals finding there was sufficient corroboration of the accomplice who testified against Jones to uphold the murder conviction.
“I have no doubt that if President Bush had known about the request to do a DNA test of the hair he would have would have issued a 30-day stay in this case and Jones would not have been executed,” said Barry C. Scheck, Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law.
Scheck noted that Bush had issued a stay for DNA testing just months earlier in another capital case and said at the time, “Any time DNA evidence can be used in its context and can be relevant as to the guilt or innocence of a person on death row, we need to use it.”
“It is unbelievable that the lawyers in the General Counsel’s office failed to inform the governor that Jones was seeking DNA testing on evidence that was so pivotal to the case,” said former Texas Governor and Attorney General Mark White. “If the state is going to continue to use the death penalty, it must figure out a way to build safeguards in the system so that lapses like this don’t happen again.”
"Unbelievable" that they failed to inform the governor in this matter? "Lapses"? Obscenely predictable is more like it. Perfectly believable given Texas's long record of fighting against appeals in which defense attorneys actually fell asleep in trials in which their clients were convicted and sentenced to death. This is, after all, the third instance this year in which someone convicted of a capital crime in Texas was discovered to have been wrongly executed, very likely to have been wrongly executed, or exonerated and freed.
Commenting last month on the latter case, Gov. Rick Perry said it just goes to show the system is working.
Scheck has to be diplomatic in his public statements, and he certainly was in his response to Perry's claims:
“Each of these exonerations, particularly when someone’s on death row, are very important learning moments on how to figure out what went wrong and change the system,” Scheck said. “If the conclusion you reach is that a near miss like this means that the system is working, then you don’t understand the problems with the system. It’s sticking your head in the sand.”
The governor's head is stuck somewhere light does not penetrate all right, but it's not in the sand. Texas has been in the forefront of states trying to speed up its many executions and a leader in bad death penalty convictions. But it doesn't matter whether capital punishment is carried out in Texas or one of the other 34 states where it is legal, or under federal jurisdiction. It's a vile practice. And while everyone objects to innocents being executed, policies in place - poorly paid overworked public defenders being one of the main failures - ensure that people will be convicted and some of them executed for crimes they did not commit.
But it's easy to fight for the innocent. Too few people are willing to stand up to say the guilty should also not be executed. And as long as that is the case, innocent men and women will get the gas, the chair, the needle. Someday, perhaps, America will opt out of barbarism and abolish this deplorable evil. Until it does, cases like those announced today will continue to shame us.
[cenobyte has a diary on the subject here, Lovechilde has one here and kos here.]
• • • • •
At Daily Kos on this date in 2008:
|Lieberman and his whippers argue that stripping him of Homeland Security would be "punishment", and that Democrats should be forgiving of all the gleeful right-wing slams Lieberman delivered against Obama and Democrats over the past two years.
Of course, committee assignments generally go to those who helped the party gain its majorities. Otherwise, why "punish" James Inhoffe by removing him from the Senate Environment and Public Works committee? Why "punish" Republicans, now that the Senate is an even bigger Democratic place, by stripping them of staff, budget, and seats?
Why? Because to the victor go the spoils. It's called democracy, and the people have made their preferences felt at the ballot box.
If they wanted the Lieberman version of DC, they would've voted for McCain.
So if it would be ridiculous to reward James Inhoffe with a committee chairmanship -- or even better, Olympia Snowe who has voted with Democrats more than with Republicans in the past couple of years -- then why isn't it ridiculous to reward Lieberman who campaign for Senate Republicans and McCain?