April 15, 2007
DMN: No more death penalty in Texas

Wow. The Dallas Morning News looks at some high profile death penalty cases in Texas and realizes that the system is irrevocably broken.

And that uncomfortable truth has led this editorial board to re-examine its century-old stance on the death penalty. This board has lost confidence that the state of Texas can guarantee that every inmate it executes is truly guilty of murder. We do not believe that any legal system devised by inherently flawed human beings can determine with moral certainty the guilt of every defendant convicted of murder.

That is why we believe the state of Texas should abandon the death penalty - because we cannot reconcile the fact that it is both imperfect and irreversible.

Flaws in the capital criminal justice system have bothered troubled us for some timeyears. We have editorialized in favor of clearer instructions to juries, better counsel for defendants, the overhaul of forensic labs and restrictions on the execution of certain classes of defendant. We have urged lawmakers to at least put in place a moratorium, as other states have, to closely examine the system.

And yet, despite tightening judicial restrictions and growing concern, the exonerations keep coming, and the doubts keep piling up without any reaction from Austin.

Powerful stuff, especially considering the source. As you know, I am not philosophically opposed to the death penalty. I have always believed that for some crimes, and for some criminals, it's the only appropriate response. But it's also been clear for a long time that the system has many cracks in it, and that too many people have fallen through them. From prosecutorial misconduct to bad eyewitness identifications to incompetent defense attorneys to an impenetrable appeals process that is completely indifferent to questions of innocence, we have lost any right to say that the death penalty is applied in a fair and impartial manner, assuming we were ever able to say that. Giving up the death penalty for the few that truly deserve it in favor of life without parole and never executing another innocent or inadequately represented person again is in my mind more than a fair bargain. I hope that the Morning News' change of heart is a catalyst for others.

More from the DMN is here, including a response from someone who thinks things are just hunky-dory as is. There'll be more from the DMN during the week, so I'll check back. Grits also chimes in.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 15, 2007 to Crime and Punishment

This *is* huge. I've never been totally against the DP myself. I do think it is useful in cases where the guilt of the individual is a foregone conclusion. It is questionable why they should be in prison for the rest of their lives as opposed to being done away with in duie time. But I have always been a supporter of a robust appeals system within my support for the DP.

One of the other tragedies of the system, Illinois' total abuse of the DP under Governor Ryan, is what made me really start to think about it.
The knowledge of just how flippant the Lone Star State has been for so long with its own DP practices, has really made me start to question just how good a thing it is to have. So many innocent people have been put to death wrongly over the last 20 or 30 years that one can only help but feel that the DP needs to be put on hold and the legal system reexamined. To put a citizen to death over a wrongful conviction, and destroy not only their lives, but the lives and honor of their family, is an injustice of incalculable cruelty and ignorance in my mind. That this has happened so many times now in certain states is a point of real sadness for me.

Posted by: BlueIndependent on April 16, 2007 9:54 AM