Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Capital Punishment: A Stain on Freedom

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Two industrialized nations still employ the barbaric practice of capital punishment to deal with persons convicted of murder - Japan and the United States - and the Japanese are quickly and quietly pulling away from using the death penalty.  Federal law in the United States permits the execution of federal prisoners who are convicted for treason or murder, and during the reign of especially blood-thirsty Attorneys-General, it often becomes the rule rather than the exception - John Ashcroft leaps to mind.  Also, many states still employ the ultimate sanction.

John Edward Green, Jr., an accused killer who is literally on trial for his life in Texas, is using his trial to wage war on the state of Texas.  Mr. Green's attorneys are arguing that the way death penalty cases are handled in Texas creates a risk that innocent people will be executed.

Texans would stampede their way to an execution?  Surely not!

State District Judge Kevin Fine who is hearing the Green case is sympathetic to the allegation.  Last spring he granted a motion from defense attorneys and declared the Texas death penalty law to be unconstitutional.  God-fearing Texas Christians predictably set up a howl, and the judge backed down.  Instead, he chose to have a public hearing and receive evidence on the issue.  The prosecutors in the case are refusing to participate in this side hearing and have chosen just to stand-by and remain silent while Judge Fine does his tinkering with Texas tradition.

The first witness out of the chute was Richard Dieter, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.  Dieter quickly pointed out that there have been 138 exonerations of death row inmates in the United States since 1978 - with roughly one in ten convicted murderers ultimately being found to have been innocent.

Another witness, Sandra Guerra Thompson, a professor from the Law Center at the University of Houston, testified as an expert on eyewitness identification.  The professor noted the identification by eyewitnesses can be fraught with problems such as a witness being overconfident in his recollection, or a witness feeling a critical need to "help" the authorities.

The hearing is occurring in Harris County (Houston), which has sentenced more people to death since the national resumption of capital punishment thirty years ago than any other county in Texas.  Of the 286 sentenced to die by Harris County Courts, the assumption must be made that not all have been guilty - remember one in ten nationwide wind up being exonerated.   And not all are exonerated before their date with death.  Cameron Todd Willingham was put to death by the good folks of Texas in 2004 for the arson and the subsequent death of his three infant children.  Now, after the fact and after the execution, several fire experts are coming up with serious concerns about the arson finding.

Better late than never?  Not if you're dead!

That is the most serious problem with the ultimate sanction - what if the convicted person really did not do it.  How does government replace a life that it mistakenly or wrongly took?  With a check?  Or an apology?  Somehow those remedies seem very lame.

The United States will soon be the only nation in the "civilized" world to kill convicts.  How civilized is that?


Xobekim said...

Not only is there not an adequate remedy to wrongful execution the costs to the state for pursuing the ultimate sanction is more costly than a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. It costs about $750,000 more to litigate and enforce judgment on the capital case than it does to seek and imprison a defendant for life.

The added benefit is that when the state screws up a living person can be released from the wrongful incarceration.

Don said...

There is also the minor consideration that a state ought not to be in the business of killing its own citizens.

Already, we in the U.S. have longer prison sentences (with fewer options for those eventually released) than anywhere else. The whole idea of rehabilitation has vanished over the past few decades.