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DAVID ROSMAN: Guilty until proven innocent, or guilty even when innocent?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011 | 7:57 p.m. CDT; updated 7:05 p.m. CDT, Friday, October 7, 2011

Texas and the death penalty. The two seemed to go hand-in-hand, even before Gov. Rick Perry’s administration.

During the September debate among Republican presidential hopefuls, NBC News anchor Brian Williams mentioned that 234 executions had taken place under Perry’s reign. The audience applauded.

Many from both sides of the political aisle were appalled. None of the candidates acknowledged the audience.

Perry later indicated that he did not hear the audience's reaction. And to be honest, it was no more than a smattering of applause. Microphones tend to pick up more sound than the human ear.

However, presidential candidate and debate participant Herman Cain on the Sunday morning talking-heads circuit said he did hear the applause. Cain said nothing because he wanted to stick to “issues important to the American public.” Translated, he did not want to chase away votes.

Last month, the death penalty came to the forefront once again with the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia.

I am not going to argue the merits of his appeals and the actions by the various courts involved, but if there was any legitimate question about his death sentence — regardless of the magnitude of that information, the court should have stopped the execution.

The question of wrongful convictions was brought to light again with news from Texas that Michael Morton, convicted of the murder of his wife in 1986 and sentenced to death, was released from jail. DNA tests, not available three decades ago, proved his innocence.

In Morton’s case, evidence provided by the Innocence Project indicated that the district attorney may have suppressed evidence.

In fact, the Innocence Project says it has freed about 275 wrongly convicted individuals in its 20 years of existence, 43 from Texas and seven from Missouri and not all from death row.

English jurist William Blackstone said it would be “better that 10 guilty persons escape (from conviction) than that one innocent suffer.”

From Voltaire: “It is better to risk saving a guilty man than to condemn an innocent one.”

In his 1997 thesis titled “n-Guilty Men,” Alexander Volokh wrote, “The Roman emperor Trajan (52 CE — 117 CE), who was later deified, wrote to Adsidius Severus that a person ought not ‘to be condemned on suspicion; for it was preferable that the crime of a guilty man should go unpunished than an innocent man be condemned.’ ”

Then there are the multitudes of biblical passages from Genesis to the Sermon on the Mount instructing followers to strive for leniency. In the Quran, it says that the blessed are “the ones who have exchanged guidance for error and forgiveness for punishment.”

What confuses me is that the ones you think would fight for those whose convictions are questionable seem to stand shoulder-to-shoulder for the death penalty and longer imprisonments.

These are the same men and women you find throughout the country protesting the use of abortion to terminate a pregnancy.

Isn’t the innocent life of the unborn equal to the known life of a person wrongly accused? How is one life more important than another?

On Aug. 2, a Missourinet report concerned Reginald Griffin, accused of murdering another inmate in 1983. Originally sentenced to death, the court ordered a new trial and revised the sentence to life in prison.

That sentence was recently set aside when it was discovered that the prosecution failed to disclose evidence that Griffin was possibly not with the guilty party. The court freed Griffin, though still allowing the prosecutor to re-file the charges within 60-days.

One impression of legal strategies in court is that it isn't to find a person innocent or guilty but to win a case. Sometimes by any means possible.

As our prison population grows and the call to build new prisons increases, we need to rethink our priorities. As Tom Selleck’s character said on the CBS drama "Blue Blood," it takes a lot of work to find someone guilty.

It takes a lot more work to find them innocent.

David Rosman is an award-winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at ColumbiaMissourian.com and InkandVoice.com and New York Journal of Books.com.

 

 


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Comments

James Krewson October 5, 2011 | 8:35 p.m.

I am guessing many of your ilk are applauding the death of millions of innocent unborn babies, many of those being born and then murdered by doctors in the name of "choice." If I have to choose which side to applaud, I will stand with the victims, not the murderers..in either case.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams October 5, 2011 | 9:23 p.m.

Isn’t the innocent life of the unborn equal to the known life of a person wrongly accused?
________________________

For me, you asked the wrong question: Isn’t the innocent life of the unborn equal to the known life of a person found guilty?

For me, the answer is no. One is innocent, the other isn't.

I do favor a change in the way we decide on the death penalty. For heinous crimes, I believe affirmative fingerprint/DNA/or some other science-based unambiguous evidence is sufficient proof and MUST exist.

Eyewitnesses? Not so much.
______________________

It amazes me Rosman is confused why someone would be against abortion yet favor the death penalty. I guess, to him, a killing is a killing without mitigating or aggravating circumstances. Not to me. A heinous crime is heinous because there are aggravating factors. As noted above, one is innocent and free of ANY crime, the other is not.

HUGE difference.......

(PS: It also amazes me that Rosman thinks a right to life is transferred to a human immediately upon successful conclusion of a tight squeeze through a 4" muscular canal. To him, if you are one on side of that canal, you have NO rights. If you are on the other, then you have LOTS of rights.

How absurd.)

(PSS: He also probably thinks a homicide of a pregnant woman that also kills the baby should be a SINGLE homicide, not a double.

Don't you, Dave? Well?.......)

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush October 5, 2011 | 9:34 p.m.

Banning abortion
Doesn't save any babies.
It just kills women.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush October 5, 2011 | 9:39 p.m.

No one applauds an
Unwanted pregnancy. The
Notion is absurd.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush October 5, 2011 | 9:42 p.m.

To stand with victims
And the oppressed, I truly
Admire your stance.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush October 5, 2011 | 9:44 p.m.

The culture of life
Should extend to the justice
System and beyond.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams October 5, 2011 | 10:37 p.m.

OK, Gregg,

Since you are on a roll, riddle me these:

(1) If a pregnant woman is killed by a gunman along with her fetus, in your opinion is it a single or double homicide? Before you answer, remember a homicide MUST involve the death of a human being, not a cow, horse, insect, or a leaf.

(2) A newborn caught on the wrong side of the birth canal (i.e., outside) can be just as unwanted as one on the other side. Should the mother have a right to kill her unwanted newborn, or does the newborn have rights?

I eagerly await your answers........

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush October 6, 2011 | 7:33 a.m.

A corporation
Goes bankrupt - is it murder
Or euthanasia?

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking October 6, 2011 | 8:34 a.m.

A corporation
Goes bankrupt - likely death from
Natural causes.

DK

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking October 6, 2011 | 8:37 a.m.

Twitter-like sound bites
Haiku cute but has effect of
Limiting discourse.

DK

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking October 6, 2011 | 8:46 a.m.

Dammit:

Twitter-like sound bites
Haiku cute but severely
Limits our discourse.

That's what you get when most of your counting is done on a computer.

DK

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams October 6, 2011 | 9:39 a.m.

No answers from Gregg. I guess he has his individual thoughts in order about abortion, but the societal implications remain a bit fuzzy.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz October 6, 2011 | 9:53 a.m.

Just like soylent green,
Corporations are people
Just not as tasty.

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley October 6, 2011 | 10:53 a.m.

I do favor a change in the way we decide on the death penalty. For heinous crimes, I believe affirmative fingerprint/DNA/or some other science-based unambiguous evidence is sufficient proof and MUST exist.

Eyewitnesses? Not so much.
------------------------------------------------------

But... Taking 40 years of their life away from them with no physical evidence and eyewitness testimony from a "kook" is okay.... LMAO!

(Report Comment)
David Rosman October 6, 2011 | 10:55 a.m.

I happen to like Gregg'sand John's hiakus, but Mark is right - real sentences are so much better.

Here is the problem with one who is found "guilty" either by peers or judge - Humans are known to be wrong. As with the cases cited here and many more, sometimes it take new technology and science to figure that out.

For Michael - As it concerns the Right to Life groups, they are, for the most part, of the conservative ilk and the conservative movements support the use of the death penalty as a form of punishment. Ergo...

Concerning Pro-Choice as being pro-abortion, that is one of the great misconceptions being spread. I am not pro-abortion, but am pro-choice. I know of no-one who is Pro-Choice who is pro-abortion.

Any couple or individual facing this decision needs to do it based on their own moral considerations, not the morals forced on them by someone else's religion or by the government.

Here, Michael, I disagree with your assertion of my beliefs, which you really do not know. So let me braeak this down for you.
1) A life is a life. A label or innocence or guilt has nothing to due with that fact.
2) It is not my choice how you daughter or wife or girl friend conducts her life. All anti-abortion and most pro-death penalty advocates use their Bibles to justify their position. I prefer science.
3) I do not answer hypothetical situation questions. Period

Your assumption that I would count the killing of a pregnant woman as a single death just may be wrong. There are too many variables involved.

Please do not tell me, or anyone else, how or should think. We both base our opinions on our own "truths," teachings, and backgrounds, and mine are not yours, And yours not mine.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush October 6, 2011 | 11:19 a.m.

My haiku's limit
Discourse? How do they stop you?
You limit yourself.

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley October 6, 2011 | 11:28 a.m.

"I do not answer hypothetical situation questions. Period."

I don't blame you there; that requires some real intellect and thought......

But a life is not a life...... And innocence does makke a difference... Does not the newborn or even unborm baby have more of a right to life than a full grown man that has murdered one, two, or several people? Is that man's life worth the same as the unborn child that has not taken a life or several lives? Does that man that has committed murder have the same and equal right to life as the unborn child that has not?

Don't answer those questions, they require a hypothetical situation before they can be answered....

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams October 6, 2011 | 12:34 p.m.

Well, Dave...your last missive is a complete series of intellectual dishonesties and cop-outs. Here's why:

(1) Cop-out #1: My 1st example was hypothetical.

Fact: Pregnant women are murdered and their fetuses die. This actually happens; there is no "hypothetical" involved. In our laws, such an event is treated as a double homicide. A homicide, by definition, involves the murder of a human being, but not any other organism. Hence, our laws treat a fetus as a human being when it comes to homicide.

Any person who is pro-choice or pro-abortion is tacitly admitting that a fetus is not a human being and has no life rights. For intellectual honesty, any person with such beliefs MUST argue that the homicide of a pregnant mother which results in death of the fetus is a SINGLE homicide.

(2) Cop-out #2: My 2nd example was hypothetical.

Fact: Women give birth to newborns they don't want. Women also abort fetuses they do not want. The only difference is the location on one side of the birth canal or the other.

Any person who is pro-choice or pro-abortion makes a distinction between one side of the birth canal or the other, as though squeezing through that narrow chute is a right of passage to the right to life. This position is absurd. Such a person should argue that a mother has the right to kill her unwanted child pre- or post-partum....unless, of course, the Book of Gaia states that successful tunneling through a muscular chute confers THE diploma for a right to life.

(3) Cop-out #3: You're "pro-choice" but not "pro-abortion".

Well, how convenient for you that you found a sequence of words, a soundbite if you will, that teeters on the razor brink of irrational thought and gives you comfort! I've got news for you: Society has a stake in the lives of its children. That's why we prevent their murder, educate them, protect them, and help them grow up into good adults. Your statement, "Any couple or individual facing this decision needs to do it based on their own moral considerations, not the morals forced on them by someone else's religion or by the government" ignores society's stake and permits the demise of what our laws say is a human being!

(4) Cop-out #4: "A life is a life."

Really? Then start arguing that murder of a pregnant woman and her fetus is a SINGLE homicide. Say it outloud! Otherwise, you're being intellectually dishonest.

(5) Cop-out #5: I do not answer hypothetical situation questions. Period.

Be honest: you do this all the time in your daily life. Perhaps you just don't do it...here.

I could go on; there's at least 3 other cop-outs but I'm outa room.

(Report Comment)
Greg Allen October 6, 2011 | 1:30 p.m.

Upwards of seventy percent of war casualties are civilians -- innocents. If innocence makes a difference, should we outlaw war?

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams October 6, 2011 | 3:32 p.m.

Greg: If innocence makes a difference, should we outlaw war?
_________________________

Beats me. I'm still trying to find out if murder of a pregnant woman and her fetus is a single or double homicide.

It really shouldn't be a difficult answer if one doesn't twist their intellectually honesty into an unrecognizable mess.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire October 6, 2011 | 6:53 p.m.

Send them to IRAQ!!!

(Report Comment)
Greg Allen October 7, 2011 | 12:29 p.m.

Mr. Williams: interesting line of thought. Any ideas on how to get there? Simplicity can be a really, really good thing at the right time in the right way.

(Ooh. Did I just go Socractic? Wasn't trying to.)

(Report Comment)

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