June 22, 2000
3:56 AM   Subscribe

What will George do? Gary Graham is on death row and would be president Bush has a decision to make. Only one of six witnesses has identified Graham as the killer and four witnesses say Graham was elsewhere when the crime took place. I'm not saying the death penalty is wrong, but isn't it the greatest injustice of all to be executed for a crime you didn't commit.
posted by jay (26 comments total)
The greatest injustice is to be executed during an election year for a crime you didn't commit.
posted by rcade at 5:10 AM on June 22, 2000

The last sentence in this post doesn't make any sense to me. Isn't the possibility of dying for a crime you didn't commit one of the more compelling reasons why the death penalty is wrong? You can't exactly un-execute someone but you can release them from life inprisonment.
posted by Markb at 5:27 AM on June 22, 2000

Don't forget that the one witness that did identify him was shown a picture of him before the lineup.
posted by alana at 5:47 AM on June 22, 2000


I didn't want to get into an argument waying up the pros and cons of the death penalty and perhaps it came out the wrong way. Personally, I believe the death penalty is wrong, but some people believe the opposite and I didn't want the thread to become 'an eye for an eye' v 'the state shouldn't kill' argument. The crux of the matter here is that there is a chance this guy is innocent and will be killed. This is how it should have come out "Whether you believe the death penalty is right or wrong is irrelevant, surely the greatest injustice is executing someone for a crime they didn't commit." I couldn't even begin to imagine going through the justice system pleading your ignorance, spending almost 20 years in jail, and about to be told you will 'probably' soon be executed when there are doubts about your guilt.
posted by jay at 7:45 AM on June 22, 2000

actually, bush doesn't have a decision to make. the pardon and paroles board is the only one with the power to stop the execution. if they vote against clemency, graham is dead. if they vote for, THEN bush will have to decide whether or not to do it.

i would bet that the board, with their cushy bush appointed jobs will not put him in the position to make a decision during an election year.

if they do vote for clemency, i would bet bush upholds it.

god have mercy on them if they choose political gain over a person's life. graham is no innocent, but if there's even a question of his guilt or innocence the execution should not occur.
posted by centrs at 8:26 AM on June 22, 2000

The Texas Parole Board is a joke; as far as I can tell, their current reason for existance is to provide political cover for the governor so he or she can claim to have clean hands when justice is miscarried. And they rarely, rarely, grant clemency.
Since the reintroduction of the death penalty in 1976, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles has never recommended commutation after considering a request from a condemned inmate and has held only one clemency hearing in a death penalty case.... Amnesty International considers the clemency/commutation procedures in Texas to be in violation of international human rights standards. The process fails to comply with any reasonable concept of a fair procedure and provides no protection against arbitrary decision-making.
(Quote from Amnesty International.) Salon also ran an article on the death penalty in Texas that I found chilling.
posted by snarkout at 10:07 AM on June 22, 2000

The faulty parole system is in fact in need of a national review. According to the U.S. Dept. of Justice, every day in America, on average, 18 innocent people are murdered by parolees. I dare say that number of innocent victims is significantly higher than the number of innocents on death row.
posted by netbros at 12:40 PM on June 22, 2000

The much bally-hooed recent study on the death penalty makes this discussion pretty much moot. The facts are it revealed that the appeals system works just fine and that NO KNOWN INNOCENT PARTIES HAVE BEEN EXECUTED....I blogged a Rant about it I call No Innocent Executions...feel free to follow the links to yet another article and to comment on my thoughts both here and on my The Daily Rant site....
posted by webwide at 12:45 PM on June 22, 2000


What, ever? Not even Bruno Hauptmann?
posted by snarkout at 2:17 PM on June 22, 2000

[6/21/2000 1:12:15 PM] Glenn "No Innocent Executions"

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posted by aaron at 2:28 PM on June 22, 2000

The facts are it revealed that the appeals system works just fine and that NO KNOWN INNOCENT PARTIES HAVE BEEN EXECUTED

Even if we assume that you're right, your argument is still broken. Why should we need to know they're innocent? What the hell are we doing killing someone if we even suspect that they are innocent? People aren't even supposed to be convicted if there is "reasonable doubt" about their guilt, much less executed!

As far as Graham, there's apparently enough doubt about his guilt that two of the jurors have come forward and said that if they knew then what they know now - the testimonies of the witnesses for his innocence which were never heard in court, among other things - they would not have voted him guilty.

posted by Mars Saxman at 2:56 PM on June 22, 2000

Something else to consider - Graham has been minutes away from death on 6 separate occaisions.

I believe he has a good case for cruel and unusual punishment - even if he is guilty. Indeed, by prolonging his death sentance, and continually serving him his "last meal" the state of Texas is essentially torturing this man.
posted by aladfar at 3:21 PM on June 22, 2000

well, he's about to be executed anyway. the supreme court just handed down its rejection of his last appeal. i'm watching it on television, and there are protestors, flag-burners, kkk members, new black panthers, and jesse jackson. wow.
posted by bluishorange at 4:14 PM on June 22, 2000

OK, having code problems...to view without the gas and review/comment on it go here:

The Daily Rant

and click on the article (under June 21)

To answer a question, the appeals process is to make sure *before* executions are carried out, and it has been working just fine, thanks.....the fact is we *can* carry out executions with full confidence of guilt because the courts are so good at weeding out problem cases. If there have been any errors they have been in the form of letting the guilty go free and allowing them to add victims to their list before being recaptured. Follow the link and you will find another link to an article in (I think) the Washington Post which goes into greater detail on that subject.
posted by webwide at 8:16 PM on June 22, 2000

Wow, fascinating article. I wish it had said flat-out who produced the resport, though, so I could go look at it myself...
posted by aaron at 10:14 PM on June 22, 2000

Interesting article, but I don't see how the example of the person who was let out has an relevancy to the guy's argument. Perhaps, the cruelty he was subjected to while on death row made him flip when he got outside.Shouldn't you be 100% sure that if you are going to execute someone that they are guilty? Mother Jones also has another interesting article here about calculating the risks. Would you like it if you were executed for a crime you didn't commit?
posted by jay at 11:29 PM on June 22, 2000

What will George do? George will let him die. It's over, folks. Shrub and his cronies took a pass.
posted by Ezrael at 11:38 PM on June 22, 2000

Yes, you should be 100% sure.....thus, the lengthy appeals process. Heck, even Hurricane Carter got out. The fact that he was released validates the system while also calling into question what led to his wrongful conviction in the first place.....while one jurisdiction may have problems, the appeals process opens you up to entire state, region and even national courts, which usually ferrets out local biases, prejudices, etc.
posted by webwide at 5:53 AM on June 23, 2000

A friend who's a practising lawyer provided the best argument I've heard: the ultimate punishment requires ultimate proof, and we're not omniscient.
posted by holgate at 7:05 AM on June 23, 2000

'ultimate proof'...........so 500 eye-witnesses wouldn't be sufficient because, after all, we're not 'omniscient'???

sorry, not buying :o)
posted by webwide at 7:51 AM on June 23, 2000

Okay, web, let me ask you. If George "Kill them all and let God sort them out" Will thinks that it is likely that the Death Penalty is putting innocent people to death, based on the irregular application of and availability of techniques that could clear them, if several states are proposing or enacting moratoriums (irony in the word) on the death penalty until they can work out a way to apply it evenly, if people are now being released from Death Row who were there for years and years and who faced execution once, twice, or even thrice before managing to get the DNA evidence to acquit them...what, exactly, do you need? If the Supreme Court feels that death penalty convicts are too restricted in many cases to prove their own innocence, what are we supposed to do, shrug and wave goodbye? And as for eyewitness reliability...well, she was an eyewitness, and she was wrong, and she admits it. (Thanks to Ethel the Blog, BTW, one hell of a page and proof that there's brilliant life on the blogging scene...however, that is, of course, a seperate rant.)

Do you need testimony that the death penalty is being applied in a racist fashion? Even Florida admits that now. Does it matter to you that the people of Texas assume that innocent people are being put to death? Do you need to know that in many cases, DNA evidence is not used because the prior conviction means that the state is not required to permit it?

What, exactly, do you need? If you don't object to the state applying the ultimate sanction in a racist, haphazard, rigid way, what do you object to? I'm serious, here. I want to know how I can convince you, what arguments you need to hear. I apologize already for the strident tone of this post, because I'm not trying to be strident. I'm seriously looking for a way to convince you that, until we can have a better system in place than we do, we have to stop killing people.

We are killing the innocent. We know we are. We have to stop. Out of selfishness, if nothing else. If we are to have a death penalty (and I actually am not opposed to putting people to death, just to doing it to innocent people) for our own sake, we have to be as sure as we can get. Why not use DNA? We're going to kill the guy. If he turns out to be innocent, we can't un-kill him. Give them every possible chance to prove their innocence, don't deny them tools. If you're worried about taking too long, hell, DNA evidence doesn't take but a few minutes to collect and a week or two to process it, especially if every state with a death penalty was to have a Death Penalty DNA lab that worked solely on this.

I don't see how anyone can object to that.
posted by Ezrael at 9:49 AM on June 23, 2000


First of all the *fact* still stands that the STUDY that started this most recent round of debate still can not point to a single known case where someone that is completely innocent has been convicted, sentenced and executed. If you can show me *factual* evidence, not hearsay or conjecture, that innocent people are being executed (not just convicted or sentenced) then I would be all in favor of moratoriums and the like. Your statement of "We are killing the innocent. We know we are. We have to stop." is based upon what facts? I don't 'know' that we are killing innocent people. Murderers, on the other hand, are killing innocent people every day. It puzzles me why so many people get so worked up about keeping cold-blooded killers alive while seemingly not giving a RIP about their victims.....

As far as DNA tests go I have no problem with using them to prove guilt or innocence. However, if you think that the current uproar is all about DNA testing you are mistaken. Death penalty *opponents* are using the Bush candidacy as a convenient soapbox to forward their agenda, and retroactive DNA testing is a convenient tactic to halt executions while drumming up a fervent pitch of hysteria in the media.
posted by webwide at 11:06 AM on June 23, 2000

Webwide, the report you're citing yields such gems as "It may be that capital sentences spend too much time under review and that they are fraught with disturbing amounts of error. Indeed, it may be that capital sentences spend so much time under and awaiting judicial review precisely because they are so persistently and systematically fraught with alarming amounts of error." You may find the report's conclusion that "nationally, over the entire 1973-1995 period, the overall error-rate in our capital punishment system was 68%" to be a cheering sign that the process is working, but I sure don't.
posted by snarkout at 11:57 AM on June 23, 2000

No, webwide, deduction and induction aren't the same. Basic logic.

And it's not even a question of implementation. Capital punishment has no place in modern society, and if the fucked up way in which the states implement it proves anything, it's that there's no right way to do it.

If we stopped worrying about the way in which we kill the convicted, then perhaps we could concentrate a little more on preventing the deaths of the innocent.
posted by holgate at 6:35 PM on June 23, 2000

To Holgate I would say this: innocent people have been murdered since "Cain slew Abel" and if you really think that could possibly be prevented well....you probably think Cuba has a pristine human rights record too.....

To snarkout: I find the reports conclusions to be pure bullshit. The 68% you refer to is a bit of statistical juggling. The Wall Street Journal analysis includes the following quotes: (do I really have to read this for you guys?) :o)

1) It turns out to include any reversal of a capital sentence at any stage by appellate courts -- even if those courts ultimately uphold the capital sentence

2) the study skews its sample with cases that are several decades old

3) These decades-old reversals have no relevance to contemporary death-penalty issues. Studies focusing on more recent trends, such as a 1995 analysis by the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, found that reversal rates have declined sharply as the law has settled.

4) About half of the report's data on California's 87% "error rate" comes from the tenure of former Chief Justice Rose Bird, whose keen eye found grounds for reversing nearly every one of the dozens of capital appeals brought to her court in the 1970s and early 1980s. Voters in 1986 threw out Bird and two of her like-minded colleagues, who had reversed at least 18 California death sentences for a purportedly defective jury instruction that the California Supreme Court has since authoritatively approved.

5) The report also relies on newspaper articles and secondhand sources for factual assertions to an extent not ordinarily found in academic research.

6) These obvious flaws in the report have gone largely unreported. The report was distributed to selected print and broadcast media nearly a week in advance of Monday's embargo date.

7) The report continues what has thus far been a glaringly one-sided national discussion of the risk of error in capital cases. Astonishingly, this debate has arisen when, contrary to urban legend, there is no credible example of any innocent person executed in this country under the modern death-penalty system

'nuff said
posted by webwide at 9:27 PM on June 23, 2000

and to answer the original question of "What Will George Do" ... he'll probably do what Ma Richards did and let the Criminal Justice system take care of itself. Where were all these questions and scrutiny when Democrat Richards was governor???
posted by webwide at 9:29 PM on June 23, 2000

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