22 Years Later…

So a judge here in Arizona has dismissed all charges against Debra Milke, a woman who was convicted of the murder of her four-year-old son. You can read a bit about it here and here. But what I’d mostly like to focus on is the fact that the case was thrown out because of prosecutorial misconduct.

You see, it turns out that the lead detective in the case claimed she confessed to the crime. There was no record of this happening and no witness to the confession. The detective in question said he threw away his notes on the interrogation. The detective also had several instances of misconduct in various other cases, including lying under oath. That information was withheld from the jury by the prosecutors.

Saldate had been suspended five days for taking “liberties” with a female motorist and lying about it to his supervisors. Four confessions or indictments had been tossed out because Saldate had lied under oath. Judges suppressed or vacated four other confessions because Saldate had violated a person’s constitutional rights.

Well, how charming.

So basically an innocent woman (or at the very least, one the state never proved was guilty), spent 22 years with the specter of death hanging over her head, and did so at least in part because of a detective with a history of lying, and a prosecuting attorney’s office that refused to share evidence of that lying with the jury.

If this sounds familiar, it should, since the previous blog article I wrote was about the same subject, though in that case the person convicted of murder was actually killed by the state. Whoops.

This is yet another great example of why we need to get rid of the death penalty. It’s expensive, it’s not a deterrent, we’re one of the only civilized nations that still uses it, and in cases like this, where you have a prosecutor stepping over the line, it can all too easily lead to an innocent person being killed.


Getting Head

The fallout continues over the recent botched execution in Oklahoma. As it does, we as a nation are required to consider whether or not we should have the death penalty, and if so, what methods should be used to kill people who we could just otherwise keep in prison for the rest of their lives? My stance against the death penalty is pretty well-documented at this point, so let’s instead discuss methods.

The electric chair and gas chamber have both been benched for being too cruel. Hanging is potentially an extremely cruel way to die, since it can go pretty wrong pretty easily, leaving someone strangling to death. But there is one sure and certain way to kill someone that leaves them dead, and has a zero percent failure rate, in addition to being very, very quick.

Let’s bring back the guillotine!

It’s quick, it’s certain, it’s humane. It’s almost impossible to screw up, and has, as mentioned, a zero percent failure rate. It just uses gravity to drop a sharp, heavy blade onto someone’s neck, killing them by their head falling off.

Now admittedly, this might be a bit of an extreme measure for people who have to witness this. I’m sure there’d be quite a bit of blood, and watching someone’s head get cut off would probably be fairly traumatizing. Seriously, don’t click that link unless you want to actually see three people executed by this method.

So it would be bloody and grotesque, but it would also be quick and painless and certain. And what’s more important; being humane to the person the state has decided must die rather than just spend their lives locked away in a cell, or the comfort of those watching?

A 4% Failure Rate

How much of a failure rate would you accept for seat belts? If your seat belt was of a kind that was known to fail approximately 4% of the time, would you be ok with that? What about with an airplane of a variety that was known to crash about 4% of the time? What if there was a wonderful kind of food that, unless it was prepared perfectly, stood a 4% chance of killing you? Actually, to be fair, that exists, and it’s called fugu, and apparently has a death rate of 6.8% for people who eat the sort that’s prepared wrong. So…yeah.

Anyhow, I think we can all agree that, in general, a 4% failure rate is not acceptable in any field, really. Yet it turns out that, according to a new study, about 4% of the people in the United States who are sentenced to death may actually be innocent. Whoops.

Now regardless of where you stand on the issue of the death penalty, I’d like to think that you’d at least want a fairly high level of proof before someone is sentenced to die, and that you’d find a failure rate of even 1% to be unacceptable. But 4%? I don’t see how any person with a conscience can accept a system that would intentionally kill innocent people approximately 4% of the time. That’s insane, if you really believe that’s acceptable, than, frankly, your morals are seriously fucked-up.

Oh, and by the way, for those of you who think life sentences are acceptable, something I’m increasingly against, then you should know that the failure rate for that is likely way, way higher.

Leaving the Valley of the Shadow of Death

Washington state governor Jay Inslee (D, naturally), has announced that he is suspending use of capital punishment in the state. His reasoning? Basically there’s been too many exonerations over the last few years, proving the system is less-than-perfect. Given that, he reasons that killing people who may be innocent is just too damn risky.

I couldn’t possibly agree more. The death penalty is a relic of an outmoded way of thinking and needs to go away. Inslee didn’t commute anyone’s sentences, so in theory another governor could come along and restore them, but at least this is a step in the right direction.

Oh, Texas. Tsk, Tsk.

Well, sounds like Texas may have executed an innocent man back in 1989. That’s the conclusion reached by a group of law students and their professor who spent five years looking into the case of a man named Carlos who was accused of murder. He said he didn’t do it, but had a crappy defense lawyer and was eventually executed on the basis of eye-witness testimony alone. Turns out that, “hilariously,” another man actually did the crime. It was a man, also named Carlos, who, up until the day he died in prison where he was being held on an unrelated offense, said that he was actually the one who did it.

So, yeah. Texas. Way to go, guys. It’s worth noting that the executed Carlos was 27 when he was murdered by the state. Were he alive now, on, say, a life prison sentence, he’d be 50. We’d be able to hold a new trial and, once he’s found not guilty, he’d be able to walk free. But since the state wanted him dead, he’s dead and there’s no way to make up for that.

I’m sure this case won’t get widespread attention and even if it does, it won’t likely change anything. People who love the revenge-driven death penalty will simply shrug and say something about making omelets. Cold comfort to the family of the dead man, I’m sure.

Alone Among the “Civilized”

In 2011, 20 countries carried out state-mandated murders against helpless people, something more euphemistically called “capital punishment”. And if you don’t categorize convicted criminals as “helpless”, ask yourself how helpless you’d be locked in a small cell with several large, armed men coming to put you in chains and haul you off to die.

Those countries are:

South Sudan
Saudi Arabia
North Korea

And in case you didn’t see this one coming…

The United States of America

Notice the company we keep on this list. States like North Korea, Iran and Syria, who are known sponsors of state sanctioned terrorism. Dictatorships like Belarus. Countries who were so rotten that we invaded them, like Afghanistan and Iraq. Notice also the countries that aren’t on that list. Mexico, Russia, Libya. And then there’s us. The land of the free, the home of the brave, etc. A nation not built on the concept of revenge, but one that’s fully embraced it.

Don’t pretend the death penalty is anything other than revenge and murder. It’s clearly not self-defense, since we’re quite capable of putting people in prison and keeping them from escaping. Don’t pretend it’s a deterrent, because we know it isn’t. Don’t pretend it’s anything other than revenge and murder. Revenge against someone for doing something we don’t like, and murder because they’re helpless and a threat to no one at the time they are killed (and if you do think they’re a threat, again, ask yourself how much of a threat you could be locked in a 6′ by 8′ cell with large armed guards available 24/7).

We continue with this bizarre, appalling, barbaric practice despite the fact that we like to claim we’re the best, most civilized country in the world. Many people also like to claim we’re uniquely virtuous and Christian. I guess if you think that your god was killed by capital punishment, than perhaps it isn’t too bad, but remember that as far as I know, Jesus never called for people to be murdered by the state.

We can and should be doing better. I don’t want us on the same list with these other countries.

Well Done, America. Well Done.

Despite appeals from around the world, the state of George has executed Troy Davis. For those of you unfamiliar with the case (as I was until fairly recently), he was a black man convicted of killing a white police officer in Georgia in 1989. There was almost no physical evidence and he was convicted largely on the basis of testimony from nine eyewitnesses (seven of which have since recanted). Despite these recantations and calls for clemency, the state went ahead with the execution.

It’s worth pointing out, once again, that the United States is one of the few civilized countries that still kills people in the name of justice. It’s basically us and a handful of Asian countries, including those with such highly-regarded human rights records as China and Iran. That’s the company we keep on this issue. Europe has gotten rid of the death penalty as has most of South and Central America, but we cling to it mightily.

I’m clearly against the death penalty, but even if you’re for it a case like the Troy Davis one must give you pause. If we are to have such a system of revenge (and make no mistake, it’s revenge and not punishment. Punishment is designed to correct a behavior. You can’t correct your behaviors if you’re dead), then we must make sure it’s held to the highest standard possible. In a case like this, where the vast majority of eyewitnesses have since recanted and eyewitness testimony, which is notoriously flimsy, is basically all you have, we cannot and should not go forward with killing someone in the name of justice.

At the very least we could have delayed carrying out the execution and scheduled a new trial. Sure, it would be hard on the victim’s family, but what’s more important; their personal feelings or justice? Failing that, his sentence should have been commuted to life in prison. Simply waiting a little longer to execute him, waiting until there was certainty beyond a reasonably doubt, would not have been that great of a burden. Certainly not as great as the burden of possibly killing an innnocent man and creating a whole new set of victims in the form of his family.

The time is coming, and soon, where we will have incontrovertible evidence that we’ve killed an innocent person. At that point most of the supporters of the death penalty will likely shrug and say that it’s the price of doing business (this in a country where we’re supposed to believe it’s better to let a thousand guilty people go free than to hold one innocent person in prison). They’ll say that, yes, it was bad this guy was killed, but come on; he probably did something wrong, and he had a fair trial and, well, it’s no one’s fault, really. Of course, not only does this dismiss any of the great moral concerns, it also ignores that fact that any time you punish someone who is innocent the guilty person is still out there doing things.

I titled this post “Well Done, America. Well Done,” rather than, “Well Done, Georgia. Well Done,” because as a nation we’re all responsible when horrible things are done in our names. Each of us bears the burden for the bad choices our government makes, especially when it’s something like the slow and methodical execution of a possibly innocent person.