The Death Penalty

Updates at end.

If you've been following stories on DNA testing...

...you know that since 1989, more than 300 people have been released from prison...

...some awaiting execution on death row...

...because DNA testing proved them innocent.

Some of the people who were shown to be innocent had been languishing in prison for decades.

To add insult to injury, only a few received more than a token compensation (if that)from the states that convicted them.

Fact is, they were loath to admit a mistake had even been made.

It is estimated that more than 20* people have been executed over the years...

...who were later shown to be innocent.

The actual number is undoubtedly higher...

...but we tend not to delve into these things after the fact.**

Over the years about a dozen people have been exonerated days or even minutes--yes, even minutes--before they were scheduled to be executed when...

...another person confessed to the crime...

...someone uncovered new evidence, or...

...inadvertent clerical or procedural errors delayed things long enough for new evidence to surface.

Anyone who takes the time to delve into good DNA testing...

...and who has the smarts to understand the science and statistics involved...

...which rules out some recent juries...

...knows that an error is next to impossible.

Even so, the vast majority of states are refusing to open cases when sentences were handed down before the advent of DNA testing...

...even when legally requested to do so...

...and even when the original DNA evidence hasn't been destroyed...

...which is has been in many instances.

A major fear is that DNA testing will demonstrate the fallibility of the legal system.

Better to put innocent people in prison...

...and execute a few...

..than to call into question the politically popular issue of the death penalty.

I talked to a pro-death penalty acquaintance about all this...

...told him that it was far easier to win the lottery than to disprove a good DNA test.

"I don't believe in any of that scientific hocus-pocus," he said.

He's scheduled for jury duty in two weeks.


    *The number may be closer to 100, according to more recent estimates.

    The latter figure is derived from number of people executed since 1976, when capital punishment was reinstated in the United States, divided by the ratio of people we are now finding are innocent through DNA testing, which is one in seven.

    In August of 2004 it was discovered that one large city in Texas had a long record of major errors — errors that have thrown into question thousands of convictions. At the same time Texas has the highest capitol punishment rate in the nation.

    In England it was recently discovered that a 27 year-old man who had been put to death for rape and murder was actually innocent of the crime.

    According to the Los Angeles Times for every seven persons on death row one is eventually found to be innocent. As just one example, Anthony Porter of Illinois served 17 years on death row and was within hours of execution when the real killers confessed to the crime.

    In some cases judges and DA's have refused to reconsider death sentences, even though major evidence surfaces that seems to clearly show the innocence of the person convicted.

    A high percentages of convictions are based on a single eyewitness. A recent study found that a very high percentage of eyewitnesses mistakenly identify people, resulting in their conviction. (Los Angeles Times, Sept. 1, 2003.)

    Does the death penalty reduce homicide rates? FBI figures compiled over the last 20 years show that states that have the death penalty have murder rates from 48 to 101% higher than states that don't.

    ** A case recently came to the attention to officials in one state; however, even though they have DNA evidence that could prove the person who was executed was innocent, officials refuse to submit the evidence for testing. They reportedly feel that the results could potentially undermine the political popularity of the death sentence in that state.


>> In August, 2009, a case surfaced in Texas where an innocent men appears to have been put death for a crime he didn't commit.  Mr. Cameron Willingham protested his innocence until the day the state killed him by lethal injection.

Mr. Willingham was blamed for starting a fire that killed his 2-year-old daughter and 1-year-old twins.

However, a nationally recognized fire expert hired by the State of Texas has issued a report casting enormous doubt on whether the fire was arson at all. The expert stated that the opinions of one main investigator were “nothing more than a collection of personal beliefs that have nothing to do with science-based fire investigation.”

>> In 2012 it was reported by the Associated Press that an investigation by law schools showed that 2,000 people were falsely imprisoned during a 23-year period. The most common causes of the erroneous convictions were false testimony, mistaken eyewitnesses identification, forced confessions, and the planting of guns and drugs by police. 

Summary: Does the Death Penalty Work?

The short answer is "no."

The long answer is documented in these ample statistics.


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