I read this horrible article in the New York Times a few days ago and haven’t been able to get it out of my mind.
The gist of the article is that two men were convicted of murder by arson many years ago. Subsequent inquiries into both cases determined that the methods used by the investigators of both ‘crimes’ were faulty, and that the very evidence used to exonerate one man on death row was the same used to condemn the other.
The report [complied by a panel of private arson investigators and released in Austin, TX] says that prosecution witnesses in both cases interpreted fire indicators like cracked glass and burn marks as evidence that the fires had been set, when more up-to-date technology shows that the indicators could just as well have signified an accidental fire. In one case, the signs were accepted as proof of guilt, the report said; in the other, they were discarded as misleading.
One man on death row was recently exonerated and pardoned based on this faulty evidence and was paid $430,000 by the state as compensation for wrongful imprisonment. The other condemned man didn’t fare as well. He was put to death by lethal injection on Feb. 17, 2004 after appeals to everyone imaginable had failed.
In what has to be one of the great understatements of all time, on learning of the report of his innocence, the executed man’s stepmother said:
“I’ve known it all along. I wish it could have happened before he was executed.”
Because the time from condemnation until the actual execution takes so many years, I don’t believe the death penalty has much deterrent value. And, just as I know there are innocent people in prison, I know there have got to be innocent people on death row. Some of these innocent people have been executed as will be innocent people in the future. If it is determined that an innocent person has been imprisoned, then that person can be released and compensated in some small measure by the state for his years of incarceration. There is no compensation for the executed, no matter how unjustly they were condemned.
I guess it’s all a part of my libertarian bent.