Thursday, September 18, 2008

Two different district attorneys - which approach to the risk of taking an innocent life do YOU like better?

"I don't want someone executed on my watch for something they didn't do."

All of us would sign this sentence, wouldn't we? But think about this:

This week Dallas DA Craig Watkins made the remarkable statement he would re-examine nearly 40 death penalty convictions and would seek to halt executions, if necessary, to give the reviews time to proceed.

On the other hand Georgia Board of Pardon and Paroles denied clemency to Troy Davis although 7 of the original 9 witnesses have recanted by now. Davis is scheduled to be executed in just a few days.

Comparing these two stories I'll quote from here, think about the different approach to things and afterwards - if you get to the same conclusions I do - please help to save the life of an innocent man!

First article (Dallas Morning News):

Dallas County DA wants to re-examine nearly all of pending death row cases

Troubled that innocent people have been imprisoned by faulty prosecutions, District Attorney Craig Watkins said Monday that he would re-examine nearly 40 death penalty convictions and would seek to halt executions, if necessary, to give the reviews time to proceed.

Mr. Watkins told The Dallas Morning News that problems exposed by 19 DNA-based exonerations in Dallas County have convinced him he should ensure that no death row inmate is actually innocent.

"It's not saying I'm putting a moratorium on the death penalty," said Mr. Watkins, whose reviews would be of all of the cases now on death row handled by his predecessors. "It's saying that maybe we should withdraw those dates and look at those cases from a new perspective to make sure that those individuals that are on death row need to be there and they need to be executed."

He cited the exonerations and stories by The News about problems with those prosecutions as the basis for his decision. The exonerations have routinely revealed faulty eyewitness testimony and, in a few cases, prosecutorial misconduct.[...]

"At the end of the day, I'm not saying these people shouldn't be executed," Mr. Watkins said.

But, he added, "I don't want someone to be executed on my watch for something they didn't do." [...]

And here's the second story (Christopher Hill, ACLU Capital Punishment Project)

Lyin’ Eyes

In the Marx Brothers movie Duck Soup there is the famous quote which has been paraphrased over the years. The quote asks, "who are you going to believe, me or your lyin' eyes?” That line has become particularly poignant, and much less funny, in the context of today’s criminal justice system.

In many murder cases the only evidence available is eyewitnesses’ testimony, and Chico ’s quote has dire consequences when a jury is asked to convict someone of murder based solely on eyewitness testimony. ”Lyin’ eyes” are responsible for convicting Troy Davis in Georgia and sending him to death row. On Friday, September 12, Davis was denied clemency by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles despite substantial and convincing evidence that he is almost certainly innocent and that faulty eyewitness testimony led to his conviction. He has filed an appeal for a hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court and the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles still has the discretion to hear his case again. If those actions fail, Troy Davis is scheduled to be executed on Tuesday, September 23 .

Eyewitnesses were the only evidence used to convict Davis for the murder of off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail. No murder weapon was found. There is no physical evidence tying Davis to the crime. There was only eyewitness testimony.

Now, seven of the nine non-police eyewitnesses have recanted. They say they were coerced by the police to implicate Davis . One eyewitness signed a statement that he was unable to read. Unfortunately for Davis , however, his attorneys at trial did not investigate the possible police misconduct in obtaining the witness testimony.

Even when people are not coerced into lying, eyewitness testimony is extremely unreliable. Research has shown – and we all know – that the human memory is not perfect and eyewitnesses sometimes just get it wrong.

The Innocence Project has found that inaccurate eyewitness testimony is involved in more than 75% of the convictions overturned by DNA evidence. And DNA cases are a tiny slice of all convictions nationwide, so the number of wrongful convictions based on eyewitness misidentification could be astronomical.

Several organizations have suggested solutions to improve eyewitness identification procedures. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, The Center on Wrongful Convictions, The Innocence Project and The Justice Project have all provided alternatives to the eyewitness identification systems commonly used by law enforcement agencies. These solutions include sequential double-blind presentation of suspects – where suspect (or their photos) are presented one at a time, and both the person asked to make an identification and the person asking for the identification are unaware of who in the lineup or photographs is suspected of the crime.

Davis will not benefit from any change in eyewitness procedures. In fact, the way the statements were gathered against him was illegal. In addition to the other procedures, perhaps there should be real and harsh punishments for law enforcement officials that coerce eyewitnesses and use that testimony. It is unacceptable that innocent people are imprisoned or sentenced to death because of unreliable and, sometimes, illegally obtained testimony.

If Davis 's execution is allowed to proceed, we could all be witnesses to the death of a man who is almost certainly innocent. Then, we would only wish our eyes were lying.

"I don't want someone executed on my watch for something they didn't do."

I wonder whether the DA in Georgia would sign this sentence as well....?

The article above is due to the ongoing diligent work of my co-blogger, Susanne.
She raises an important question which include and lead to other concerns underlined in articles below. IF we are to continue to allow executions in the US as prevention of future crimes, just how do they work as deterrence? Have you ever heard a good explanation? Are we really doing anything about prevention by demonstrating more concern to execute recently in Texas for the world to see while the world and the US also see how many people are going homeless and without power for days and perhaps weeks on end in places like Texas? (see Susanne's piece on this below)

How can a state's executions help prevent or stop crime while this same state continues to raise the frustration and powerlessness of so many people who are not "well-connected"? How many realize the cost to a state of the long process that culminates in an execution? How many realize that even with the necessary length and cost of the most minimal of court-appointed legal aid, there are still many many who are executed with questions of possible innocence?

We are grateful for the many heroic efforts of so many including the medical, rescue groups, churches and Red Cross folk--some of these crises are just simply without obvious solution. Yet, what images and facts do we want to remain in the mind of folk near and far about US and state priorities and all the recent executions?

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