Tuesday, March 5, 2013

An innocent man executed by the state

In October 2011 I declared that, after a lifetime of indifference, I had come to oppose the death penalty. After discussing a couple of the justifications for this ultimate punishment, and concluding that they weren't as "just" as they first appeared, I concluded:
... call me a softie if you will, but I am one of those who believes it's better to let a dozen guilty men go free than to take one innocent man's life.
I've been catching up on LongReads recently, and I just encountered this harrowing story in the UK's Guardian about the execution of an innocent man, Carlos DeLuna, in Texas in 1989. The article describes a litany of incompetence and neglect by law enforcement; the extent of their failure, I would say, rises to the level of gross misconduct.

Worst of all, there's no way to know if this grotesque travesty of justice is an anomaly, or the norm. As the professor who led the investigation into DeLuna's case — years after his execution — remarked:

"This wasn't the trial of OJ Simpson. It was an obscure case, the kind that could involve anybody. Maybe those are the cases where miscarriages of justice happen, the routine everyday cases where nobody thinks enough about the victim, let alone the defendant."
If you want a textbook case of why the death penalty is an unacceptable punishment, this is it. Even better, the book on the subject isn't a textbook.

If you're a death-penalty supporter and a Texas resident, you helped create the system that killed Carlos DeLuna. You therefore have some of his blood on your hands (blackly ironic, really, considering that DeLuna had none of the victim's blood on his). You are complicit in his murder at the hands of the state.

How do you sleep at night?

If somebody harmed someone I loved, I would probably want to kill the perpetrator. I get that everyone can be driven to want that kind of vengeance. But damn it, a civilized society cannot indulge that kind of bloodlust. A civilized society recognizes that even with the most exacting requirements, mistakes happen in the administration of justice. A civilized society does not act in a way that only an infallible being could justify.

A civilized society has no damned business taking an innocent life.


1 comment:

  1. Well stated, Stranger. You might also like to dig a little deeper into the cases of Ruben Cantu and especially Todd Willingham. Compare Willingham's case to that of Earnest Willis.

    Unfortunately (Unsurprisingly?), all of these cases were in Texas.