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.