From the inside: Innocent on death row reveal system’s faults
By biconews On 29 Feb, 2000 At 05:00 AM | Categorized As Archives | With 0 Comments

By Adrian Doerr
State News

EDITOR’S NOTE: Just last week Texas executed Betty Lou Beets, a woman who stood convicted of murder. As a result issues of the rights of battered women and the principle of self-defense again were entered into the national debate over the death penalty. In the following perspectives piece, from the Feb. 25 State News at Michigan State University, the writer addresses broader ethical questions. His column challenges the idea of the acceptance of capital punishment as a means of justice

(U-WIRE) EAST LANSING, Mich. - Imagine you were convicted of a crime you didn’t commit. Now imagine you live in a state that has the death penalty. Although you committed no crime, you are scheduled to die. As execution day approaches, your last appeal has been denied and your death seems imminent. Would you say justice has been served?

In light of the recent moratoriums on the death penalty, I think it’s important to reevaluate why our country continues this inhumane action, which more than 100 countries throughout the world have prohibited.

The current interest in moratoriums was started in Illinois by Gov. George Ryan, whose state has the dubious honor of having killed fewer people under the penalty (12) than those released for their innocence (13). Recently passed or proposed legislation elsewhere in the country, such as in Pennsylvania, has asked for similar moratoriums. Since 1973, 85 death row convicts were set free because they were found innocent.

These troubling figures lead me to question the very nature of an obviously flawed system, and why our society feels the need to perpetuate it. Given that this process deals with something as fragile as life, the realization of errors is particularly horrifying - especially when an innocent person is as likely to die as a guilty one.

And the worrisome facts about innocent citizens sentenced to death only go on. Florida leads the nation with 18 wrongful death penalty convictions, but Gov. Jeb Bush says no moratorium will be issued. He is convinced that no innocent people have been executed in his state.

Bush’s statement contradicts Florida’s legacy of difficulties with the penalty, only highlighting the myopic vision many public leaders have on the subject. How can Governor Bush even begin to say the death penalty is working when so many people have been wrongfully sentenced to die? Coupled with the problems of deciding actual innocence or guilt, the death penalty continually targets non-Anglo, working class and poor citizens.

Although a relatively equal number of black and white inmates are on death row, a June 1998 review of death penalty studies by the Death Penalty Information Center found that in 96 percent of the studies, “there was a pattern of either race-of-victim or race-of-defendant

discrimination, or both.”

Even more disgusting is that the United States is one of only five countries in the world that still applies the death penalty to people younger than 18. This action runs against several international human rights laws, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

These cases often have as many fundamental flaws as the adult cases. There have been instances of juveniles sentenced to death row where the defendant had a mental capacity below his or her age and did not fully understand the crime. How is a punishment like death valid if the offender does not understand the consequences?

Now I can hear someone saying, “There are crimes so horrendous that they deserve no other punishment but death. And it keeps others from repeating these actions.” I agree that crimes like rape and serial murder are horrific and have no place in our society. And yes, I agree we must pursue actions to prevent these crimes from happening. But if the death penalty is a deterrent, as many of the penalty’s supporters insist, then it’s definitely the worst kind of prevention, like torture and terrorism.

Whether it may intimidate a would-be criminal into not committing a violent crime, forcing a confession from a suspect or bombing a building to promote the release of a political prisoner, each uses violence and fear to coerce desired result. And when the answer is violence, it’s usually met by a violent response and nothing is resolved. If the human race learned anything over the course of history, it should be that violence rarely, if ever, solves a problem.

In the end, it’s tragically ironic how politicians and citizens lament the numerous school shootings over the past three years, blaming bad parenting, movies, violent video games, etc., while ignoring that we continue to allow state-sponsored killings. Could the death penalty be a contributing factor in these shootings? It seems too convenient that we forget our government plays a major role in developing cultural ideology.

In the novel “Naked Lunch,” William S. Burroughs wrote America “is old and dirty and evil,” and sometimes I think he’s right. So maybe all these executions are OK in the end, and we’ll keep on living in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

America is free enough to realize our barbarism before falling asleep each night, and brave enough to clear out our consciences in the morning when we wake up.

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