It is no secret that I am unalterably opposed to capital punishment. One of my earliest posts in this blog was this.

There I recounted how I came to this position when I was about 14 years old. I have touched on this topic in other posts and in many comments in other forums.

There are many reasons why I believe the death penalty is wrong but in reality it boils down to this—it is wrong to kill. While I do allow for exceptions those are irrelevant here. But the most practical and possibly persuasive argument is that innocent people can be executed. The proving of innocence post death is very difficult to establish but there are some notable cases in which a good argument could be made that the condemned was not guilty.

One of the cases cited here, that of Cameron Willingham,  I paid particular attention to him in my blog post linked to above and his story can be found here.

Willingham’s situation is singular if not unique in that he was convicted of murdering his children by arson but there is ample evidence that not only was he not guilty of setting the deadly fire but that the conflagration was an unfortunate accident and no crime whatsoever.

That is shameful of course but our Supreme Court has ruled that actual innocence is no justification for overturning a death sentence so long as the procedures that led to that sentence and denial of appeals met Constitutional criteria. The language in that case, Herrera v Collins, 506 US 390 (1993) is not precisely those words. Herrera was seeking Habeas Corpus relief from his death sentence because new evidence suggested he was innocent. However, Chief Justice Rehnquist looked at the innocence claim as not a Constitutional claim so the Court could not consider it.

Were petitioner to satisfy the dissent’s ‘probable innocence’ standard…the District Court would presumably be required to grant a conditional order of relief, which would in effect require the State to retry petitioner 10 years after his first trial, not because of any constitutional violation which had occurred at the first trial, but simply because of a belief that in light of petitioner’s new-found evidence a jury might find him not guilty at a second trial.

But in a later case, and only in dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote this:

This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is “actually” innocent.  Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that question unresolved, while expressing considerable doubt that any claim based on alleged “actual innocence” is constitutionally cognizable.

In re Troy Anthony Davis, 557 US____(2009)

One might believe, though, that the execution of an innocent person is exceedingly rare. But a new report from the National Academy of Sciences of The United States of America sheds some scientific light by statistical analysis to conclude that 4.1% of death sentences (1 in 25) is imposed on an innocent person. (Spare me the Mark Twain reference here).

There have been 1373 executions in the U.S. since 1976 as of April 1, 2014. Applying this analysis means that 57 of these condemned were not guilty.

But another aspect of the death penalty is highlighted by this story. Jill Meagher was raped and murdered in September 2012 in Australia. Adrian Ernest Bayley pled guilty and was convicted of this murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Australia does not have capital punishment but still the story of her surviving husband, Thomas Meagher, is remarkable for the absence of a blood lust for revenge on his part towards Bayley.

Indeed, he learned to look at Bayley not as the thoughtless crude animal he originally envisioned but as a human being who was somewhat a victim of the circumstances and total environment in which he existed.

I’ll let Meagher speak for himself and note that I am not in total agreement with his premise. Truth be told I would take a harsher tone with the killer.

Far too often when I am reading or hearing about true crime cases the victim’s family members, close friends, and even some of the law enforcement folks who investigated the murder or the prosecutors speak of how the murderer “deserves to die” for his crimes.

They never cite how execution will prevent other murders or any of the other ephemeral effects of imposing the ultimate sentence. Instead their vocal support lies entirely within the realm of pure vengeance. “You took this life and now you must die”.

Tom Meagher’s utter disregard for vengeance is significant in that he refuses to totally demonize the man who took the  breath away from the woman Meagher loved to the max.

Well, “vengeance is mine” saith the lord. If the folks looking at destructive tornadoes and other killing events are willing to attribute all this to god’s will, mysterious or not, why then can they not leave the question of vengeance to her?


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  • Wayne Muller  On April 28, 2014 at 9:49 PM

    Why not leave vengeance to God indeed? I see no deterrent value to the death penalty, and I see yet another cause and at the same time symptom of a culture of death. We live in a violent time, and to answer with violence is futile. Evil means will never result in anything other than evil ends; the ends are always conditioned by the means.

  • umoc193  On May 2, 2014 at 9:30 PM

    One area in which we are in agreement. The comments in response to Rob Rogers P-G cartoon on the topic on May 2 reveal there are some primitives remaining ever eager to extract revenge for its own sake.

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