Friday, May 05, 2006

Stopping the death penalty.

Before I get into the meat of the story, let me advise anyone reading who may wonder how my thinking on the death penalty has progressed. For most of my life my thinking roughly tracked with the California system, whereby some type of special circumstance was needed to impose the ultimate penalty. So I was for capital punishment in what I considered to be extreme circumstances such as multiple killings or murder by torture and so on.

With the recent spate of stories regarding prisoners being set free from death row after being scientifically proven innocent, my thinking has changed. I no longer support the death penalty under any circumstance.

Now I understand that there are cases that are water tight, where in my instinct is to support the death penalty. I mean there will always be cases of some lunatic mowing down everybody in sight in the local mall and everybody knows full well who is guilty. Yet today I read a story in that has proven to be the final straw in my already shaken support for any form of death penalty whatsoever.

The story is about Cameron Todd Willingham. He was convicted of the arson deaths of his three children, all under the age of three in Corsicana Texas. One of his neighbors evidently did not approve of Camerons lifestyle and determined that he had not tried hard enough to save the children.

Fire Marshal Manuel Vasquez was instrumental in providing evidence of arson in the case. However Mr. Vasquez' testimony has been called into question by a panel of four of the nations leading arson experts. Without the Vasquez testimony, there simply could have been no case against Willingham.

Willingham was executed in 2004 by lethal injection. However the execution proceeded after Governor Perry's office had been presented with the scientific evidence which pointed to Willinhams innocence. This evidence seems to have quite simply been ignored by the governor, and the board of pardons and appeals.

So the tragedy of this case has been compounded by the unwillingness of the political powers that be to consider evidence that pointed to the innocence of the convict. Mr. Willinghams parting words were, "The only statement I want to make is that I am an innocent man, convicted of a crime I did not committed," he said. "I have been persecuted for 12 years for something I did not do."

Can you imagine the agony of this man? His 3 children are dead, his home destroyed, and he is wrongly accused of being guilty of the whole thing. It would cause unimaginable grief and suffering just to lose your children. Yet it now seems that society as a whole compounded this poor mans already horrible experience by accusing him of being guilty of causing the deaths of his own children and then killing him for it. This simply is not acceptable, and has caused me to completely put aside the last vestige of support I once held for the death penalty.

Under my previously held support for the death penalty, Mr. Willingham would have been eligible because of the special circumstance of being found guilty of multiple killings. Reading the article in, we see that eyewitness accounts are proving to be highly inaccurate, being the single largest reason for wrongful conviction. Also it is becoming apparent that forensics experts are only human and quite a few cases are now coming to light of exaggerated and falsified testimony throwing hundreds of convictions into doubt.

Quite simply, the chance that society is wrong as shown by this case and several others that have seen deathrow inmates released, even in a very small percentage of cases, is cause enough for me to change my position on this matter. I am now against capital punishment in all circumstances. This may mean 1000 guilty murderers will be spared death at the hands of society, but it also assures me that we will not be responsible for the death of one more innocent citizen. That trade off makes this a no brainer as far as I'm concerned.

and how many other cases like this are out there one wonders?
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