Monday, October 19, 2009

This Can't Make Anyone Feel Safe

I've been trying to digest the idea that something like judicial or political pride in our state would trump wanting to make certain that we got a crucial matter like capital punishment right.

The case of Cameron Todd Willingham has been the source of significant public conversation nationally. Willingham, not the most upstanding of citizens, was, nonetheless found guilty of an arson that took the lives of his two daughters. He was executed in 2004.

It appears as if the forensic science that ruled the deaths of these two girls was the result of arson, was tragically flawed. If that is the case, one horrible mistake was compounded with another. You would think that the state would prefer to know that, going forward. You would think - that if we were going to have the death penalty, we would want to use it judiciously and correctly. You would also think that as a state in which we tout an individual's 'right to life', we do not cavalierly taking anyone's life carelessly - even if you believe the state has that right.

In recent weeks, the Governor of our state, has mocked those who have found the science which helped convict Willingham (using air quotes when referring to the 'experts'); has conveniently replaced members of the panel who were scheduled to hear the testimony from those experts and is now, and now is essentially saying that Willingham was such an unsavory character its not hard to believe that he may have been guilty of murder.

All of these stances are disturbing. The last one, more so to me. If we can incarcerate, let alone execute people because - although not guilty of the charge for which they are arrested and convicted - they must be guilty of something, we're headed down a dangerous path indeed.

Let me put it like this: I want to know if our state executed a man for something he didn't do; I want to know if the evidence was faulty and whether or not it was known to be faulty at the time. I'd like to know whether his conviction was a mistake or was it convenient. And I would like to know if there are others on death row, because of a similar 'mistake' or convenient conviction.

And I'd like to know that we have elected officials who are concerned about the same thing.

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