Death penalty outdated, kills innocent people

Freedom New Mexico

It’s time for another review of the death penalty, and the growing evidence that we can’t do it well enough to justify continued use.

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland has delayed two planned executions pending a new review of the process. The order comes after Strickland ordered a halt to another killing on Sept. 15 after prison officials tried unsuccessfully for two hours to find a vein through which to inject lethal drugs into the body of Romell Broom.

The Ohio review will focus on the process of killing inmates.

Broom certainly isn’t the first unsuccessful execution. Horror stories of botched procedures abound. Some inmates had to be reinjected or were heard groaning long after they should have been dead; some bodies going through electrocutions caught fire; bad hangings and firing squads have left others injured, but still alive.

But the process is hardly the most important question. We should be asking if the death penalty should be an option in the first place.

Texas continues to lead the nation — by far — in the number of people put to death. It reveals an unsettling blood thirst by many officials, and members of the public at large. That lust seems to cloud our very reasoning.

Famous movies have documented the cases of Lenell Jeter and Randal Dale Adams, who were among the hundreds of people released from death row after they were later proven innocent. Those cases and others revealed prosecutors’ willingness to dismiss exculpatory evidence that might get in the way of a conviction, innocence be damned.

State criminals appeals court Judge Sharon Keller recently was tried on charges of judicial misconduct after she refused to accept a late appeal on the behalf of death row inmate Michael Richard in September 2007. Richard was executed after the attorney was unable to get the court to accept the petition.

More recently, a report prepared for the Texas Forensic Science Commission found that the 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham was based on faulty investigations.

Willingham was convicted of setting a fire in his own home in which his three children died. The review found fire investigators had “poor understandings of fire science,” and their conclusions regarding the cause of the fatal blaze were inaccurate. Gov. Rick Perry last week dismissed three members of the commission, leaving it unable to review the report of an innocent man’s execution.

This goes beyond the problem of finding a humane way of killing a person, something that on its face seems oxymoronic. The real question is why society should accept the deaths of so many innocent people for something that is so flawed, and that has been shown is no deterrent to crime.

How many restrictive laws have been passed after supporters declared that “if this law saves one life”; “if this pulls one family out of poverty”; “if one person gets that education he dreams about,” then the impositions on millions of other Americans is justified? How, then, can we say that we can accept the fact that we put to death four or more innocent people simply because our system of justice is imperfect?

Most countries in the world already have recognized the injustice of capital punishment. It’s time this country, which boasts that it is the most advanced on earth, move closer to modern times and stop killing innocent people.