Monday, May 21, 2012

Yes, America, We Have Executed an Innocent Man

(Cites recent Columbia U Law School Report: proof Texas killed an innocent prisoner in 1989)

Citing Carlos DeLuna, Protesters Call on Dallas DA Craig Watkins to Abandon the Death Penalty

Photo by Leslie Minora
Anti-death penalty demonstrators plea for Watkins to stop seeking the ultimate punishment.
Rick Halperin, head of SMU's human rights program, has been saying for years what became nationally recognized this week: "Yes, America, We Have Executed an Innocent Man," to borrow a headline from the Atlantic. Halperin has spent his career doing the academic equivalent of banging his head against the wall trying to get people to recognize that it is possible to kill innocent prisoners and hosting event after event with death penalty exonerees sharing their stories.
Finally, a lengthy report released this week by Columbia University's law school concludes what Halperin's been saying all along: America killed an innocent prisoner in 1989. Or, more specifically, Texas killed an innocent prisoner in 1989.
That man's name is Carlos DeLuna, as the signs of anti-death penalty demonstrators outside the Dallas County Courthouse read this morning. Flaws in his case lead to his wrongful conviction and eventual death at the hands of the state. Halperin gathered a small crowd, in the face of this revelation, to plea that District Attorney Craig Watkins stop seeking death sentences for people charged with capital crimes.
Halperin made it clear that life without parole is often an appropriate punishment -- just not death. "A death sentence is many things, but it can never be equated to justice," Halperin said, demanding that Watkins do his job of "seeking justice."
Watkins has said many times, including in an interview with Unfair Park, that he is conflicted about the death penalty, but that he feels bound by duty to pursue it in cases that warrant the ultimate punishment. Halperin doesn't buy it.
"It's preposterous for a grown man who happens to be a District Attorney to be conflicted about the death penalty," he says. "This man needs to come out one way or the other."
The Columbia report on DeLuna has "profound ramifications" in Dallas, Halperin says, since Watkins' policies have made the county ground zero for exonerations, leading the charge in releasing wrongfully convicted prisoners. The current count is 33.
Halperin hopes the Columbia report will be a "catalyst to renewed and wider debate on the death penalty." While Columbia report has catapulted his message to a national stage, he's strengthening his cause locally, on the steps of the courthouse, with drivers speeding by and news cameras zooming in.
"It says something pretty dark and disturbing about us," Halperin says of the death penalty and the lost life of an innocent man. Several supporters of Ben Spencer, including his mother, held signs supporting the man many believe to be innocent of the murder that landed him behind bars. Others held signs listing the names of Dallas exonerees, the others on death row who may be innocent, and those executed in Texas despite evidence of innocence.
Halperin's message and the cases listed on the signs serve to show that Columbia's report, "Los Tocayos Carlos: An Anatomy of a Wrongful Conviction," may have prequels that have never been published. And that's why, Halperin says, "One is too many ... Carlos DeLuna is too many."

1 comment:

CN said...

From the Comments under the published article above:

Richard Miller:

Check out Warner Herzog's Movie "Into the Abyss" for a very compelling look at capital punishment. It's on netflix and worth the hour or so.

Here's a Comment from someone who although is not a convicted abolitionist (of the death penalty) nevertheless believes we should call for a MORATORIUM:

As a middle-aged, white, slightly right-of-center thinker, I was formerly of the hang 'em high persuasion, especially as crimes seemed to get more heinous and inhuman, and generally trusted the justice system. I first drew back somewhat from the death penalty when execution delays first stretched into years and then into decades (and in California's and other states', into perpetuity.) That's because "justice delayed is justice denied."

I was and still am disgusted at the appeals attorneys who inevitably, purposely promote publicity for the last-minute appeals. That's a cynical ploy, and serves no good. My disgust spread, and I withdrew further from my former beliefs, when posturing DA's such as Williamson County's John Bradley. Encouraged by gubernatorial confidence in his case, he cynically and cruelly refused to permit DNA testing for years in the Morton case. Stupid, stubborn Bradley, it's not as if the prisoner is going anywhere.

Now with the list of exonerees stretching into the dozens, with this story, and with political profiles pulling even further to the right among such as Bradley, I say we start with a moratorium on executions. Throw a bit of state funds into a third-party investigation, such as the Innocence Project; throw some education grant money at grad school programs to pursue faster DNA testing and relieve that backlog; and let's evaluate for 12-18 months. Depending on results, then let's have a voter referendum on the death penalty itself.

For more on this story:

Keep watching Rick Halperin's Death Pen News & Updates -- see the list of links in the Right Column on this site.