Wednesday, December 07, 2005

"Pro-Life" Lost

One of the main arguments against the death penalty in the U.S. has been the fact that there is a sizable potential for error: more than 120 prisoners on death row have since been exonerated since the Supremes effectively cleared the way for states to resume the killing in 1972; some by days, a few by hours befor the scheduled execution (1,000 have been killed since the landmark ruling allowing the states to decide). Most of these corrections have been possible through the technological breakthrough of DNA comparative testing, a crime tool not even envisioned in the early 20th century, though others have been through other means. This is precisely the kind of mistake that led Republican Governor George Ryan of Illinois to place a moratorium on the death penalty in his state on January 31st, 2000.

The pro-death crowd (usually the pro-"life" crowd) cite these exonerations as evidence that the "system works", the executions were halted in time, and of course there is no evidence of anyone innocent ever having been put to death.

The problem with this argument is several fold. First, its not the "system" that has saved the condemned in most cases, its been law student class projects and other bleeding heart legal vigilantes who have dedicated time to investigate and prove these cases, taking place entirely outside of the system of capital checks and balances. Second, as some of these exonerations have taken place within days or even hours of execution it is a flip attitude at best to conclude that the system had plenty of play in these cases to correct itself.

But finally the last house of cards defending this barbaric practice has at last sadly been breached.

The Houston Chronicle tells us that the first credible story of an innocent being put to death has finally been documented.

Ruben Cantu was put to death in Texas (duh!) in 1993 for a murder committed in 1984. Trouble is that there was only one eye witness who would implicate Ruben only after 3 police interrogations over a 5 month period. There was no physical evidence linking Ruben to the crime, no murder weapon found; The only thing that killed him was a possibly coerced witness, nothing else between execution, Texas style, and him. This witness has since recanted, leaving no evidence to support a conviction, much less execution. But it is too late. The strongest reaction of the DA? Bring perjury charges against the witness! Listen to more on NPR.


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