A Death Penalty Fight Comes Home

Kirk Noble Bloodsworth, the nation’s first death row inmate exonerated by DNA, is pressing to end capital punishment in Maryland, the state that sought his execution.

Comments: 100

  1. See? The system works!!!

    Just had to get that in. Remember Cam Willingham.

  2. The death penalty is just one of many reasons why politics and the criminal justice system don't mix very well.

  3. How do we teach our young that the taking of human life is ALWAYS intrinsically wrong when the state is licensed to kill in our name!
    When juries are deciding who shall live and who shall die, we need to think about the fallibility of humans and our enormous capacity for false certainty.
    At least with life as the punishment, the travesty of injustice can be reversed.

  4. I also don't believe that any government has the right to take someone's life no matter what they did.

  5. ...and sometimes not. Why now the debate on 'gun control'?

  6. I don't understand why conservatives and liberals can't agree on the issue of capital punishment. If we can't agree that murder is abhorrent, state-sanctioned or not, how can we be expected to agree on anything?

  7. Remember, Jesus was executed by the Powers-That-Be.

  8. Literally millions and millions have be killed in wars and executed in Jesus' name. E.g., the Navy sniper was recently murdered in Texas said he was God's tool. Most Christians believe that Jesus smiles every time some "evil" person is killed even though the Gospels actually suggest that Jesus weeps. I hope I go to Hell...so I can see the looks on the faces of all the Christians when they find out that they are standing in the same line waiting to get in.

  9. A bright light shone on me after reading this article. For years I vascillated in my opinion of the death penalty. One moment when calm, I was against it, especially because of innocent people being killed, but when angry like after the recent 58th street execution of Brendan "Lincoln" Woodard, I would have pulled the switch myself happily. But now I came to realize that cops and federal people who murdered are never executed and usually escape justice, so therein lies a more important reason to be against the death penalty. It is predjudiced and unequal justice or really revenge.

    If you don't apply the sentence equally among all people, it is unconstitutional and must be vacated.

    A difficult life without parole in prison will give plenty of time for the guilty to reflect on their crime and perhaps they will become staunch advocates for teaching the public self control as they probably would wish they had been self controlling.

    More importantly, they don't learn when they are dead.

    As for those that killed Mr. Woodard; you can send an army against them and make it a fair fight.

  10. In some cases the government will end up being hypocrites because many times there has been death sentences where the person who is being sentenced murdered some one. In any case no one deserves to be killed by another.

  11. The death penalty serves two and only useful purposes: The existence of the death penalty proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that 1) we humans are just one more species living in a godless universe and 2) that most human beings are incapable of using higher-order cognitive processes.

  12. This is one of my nightmares--being falsely imprisoned. Bless Mr. Bloodsworth for his lack of bitterness, dogged spirit, generosity, and grace.

    I'm against the death penalty not just because of the mistakes that can send an innocent person to death but because killing seems a barbaric way to punish. This type of vengeance does not provide what it promises: relief, end of suffering, comfort.

  13. I'm a tough law and order guy. Can you imagine the horror of being executed for a crime you did not commit? Anyone who thinks our justice system is infallible is naive. I am against the death penalty because death is FINAL for even the innocent, and our justice system makes plenty of mistakes. Our society should be willing to pay the price of lifetime incarceration to make sure that no innocent person is EVER put to death.

  14. Last I heard supporting someone for life while in prison is less expensive than killing him or her outright.

  15. There needs to be punishment for prosecutors, accountability. Maybe even jail time for prosecutors who bully the defendant. Prosecutors have no place in a democratic society, no government official should have that much unchecked power.

  16. I hope you didn't actually mean that "prosecutors have no place in a democratic society." Prosecutors are an essential part of the justice system in a democratic society. However, the focus of prosecutors needs to be on ensuring that the right person is prosecuted and punished, rather than "winning cases," "closing cases quickly," or "putting someone behind bars for a long time regardless of whether they actually committed the crime."

    Prosecutors shouldn't be held to an impossible standard of perfection. But they should be held accountable for doing justice (i.e., carefully investigating to find the actual perpetrator rather than finding someone to prosecute) rather than for merely winning cases. Unfortunately, the fear of crime that permeates American society encourages prosecutors to act as if their only job is to put as many people as possible behind bars for as long as possible as quickly as possible, without regard to accuracy or justice.

    Prosecutors should not necessarily face sanctions when one of their "victories" is later exonerated. But they should definitely be held accountable when the process of exoneration reveals egregious abuse, incompetence, or arrogance.

  17. Ah the good old US of A. The highest incarceration rate in the world, and a what...billion-dollar? 'industry' for the prisons.

    And yet for some reason we can't seem to grant DNA testing to EACH AND EVERY inmate who asks for it?! We have seen time and again that people are often wrongfully imprisoned and/or put to death.

    http://www.innocenceproject.org/

  18. I have thought about this for a long time and I am no crazy conservative or violent person. still, I believe that from time to time, some people knowingly put themselves out of the human race by committing atrocious and heinous crimes that cannot be understood. some of these people are just beyond recovery, without being ill. I think it is reasonable to put those to death, as they don't belong among us.

  19. If you think OJ did it, then you don't trust the court system to always get it right. (I think OJ did it).

  20. Who decides what being outside the human race is?

    Are you willing to be the executioner?

  21. But Peppone, don't you see that that is exactly what happened to Kirk Bloodsworth? There was a heinous and atrocious crime and the jury decided that he had to be put to death. But he was innocent. How can you - how can any of us - be sure that we would not make the same mistake?

  22. It disturbs me how frequently people who are pro life are also pro death penalty. It is not about rights or justice. It is about someone gaining power through some one elses pain or loss.

  23. Abortion = mass murder, a national tragedy, never acceptable under any circumstances.

    Capital punishment = God's vengeance with a biblical sanction.

  24. God didn't write the Bible, old leaders did.

    God wrote to Moses; "Thou Shalt NOT kill"

    There were no exceptions given. Man created those exceptions.

  25. Pete
    Reread the article. This is about human error, and if you would hold that God makes no errors you have just impeached your argument.

  26. Reread the article. Your reaction is just as wrong as what happened to the neighbor, the police and the prosecutors, in this case.

    The appropriate lesson: Thou shall not bear false witness against a neighbor.

  27. Kirk Noble Bloodsworth's attempt to end the death penalty is indeed noble. However, it's a futile attempt because in the (not so distant) future, the drones will eliminate any criminal before they are arrested and tried. Who will decide? “An informed, high-level official” of the government, according to the memo reported by NYT today.

  28. I am not against the death penalty per se. But this story makes me think that DNA testing should be required to prove guilt in any case in which a sentence of death is imposed, rather than a tool to exonerate prisoners already convicted.

  29. DNA testing is only as good as the police work behind it and the specimens being tested. Requiring a test for conviction or exoneration is not really the point.The point is that regardless of the case, mistakes happen. And executing someone who may be innocent is really a big mistake.

  30. DNA should indeed be tested whenever it's possible (and, by the way, the backlog in testing rape kits is a national disgrace), but until we have 100% incorruptible and 100% competent lab technicians, detectives, and prosecutors, it's still not sufficient to take someone's life. Like any other evidence, it can be planted and misrepresented.

  31. In many murder cases, there is NO biological evidence to subject to DNA testing. Often, the perpetrator leaves no semen, blood or other bodily fluids behind and so DNA testing cannot offer the sort of certainly you propose.

    Over the past 20 years, DNA evidence has demonstrated so clearly the fallibility of traditional forms of evidence, like eyewitness identification and even confessions. And, in the majority of death penalty cases, people are convicted based entirely on this sort of fallible evidence. Proving innocence in a non-DNA case is extremely difficult.

  32. I ask this so-called Christian nation, "what part of "thou shalt not kill" do you not understand?"

  33. Actually Rebecca, I believe the original verse is "Though shalt not murder" Soldiers kill, and that is not murder. By the way, are you for Abortion?

  34. Charlie; The commandment reads, "Thou Shalt NOT KILL"

  35. "...with the police and prosecutors under intense pressure to solve the crime, it was a short route to trial, conviction and a death sentence..."

    Too often the so-called "justice" system focuses on finding a suspect and closing a case rather than finding actual perpetrators. Prosecutors are driven to get convictions with no regard to whether or not the facts support their case. Worse yet, they consistently oppose re-opening cases in light of new evidence (including DNA) that could exonerate those wrongly convicted. Their priority is their win-loss ratio (i.e. conviction rate) not justice.

    The case against Mr. Bloodworth was apparently purely circumstantial and there were five witnesses placing him at home during the crime, yet they pushed forward unrelentingly.

    As long as our system persists in pursuing convictions rather than actual justice for the victims and the culprits, innocent people will be convicted and incarcerated. The burden falls especially heavily on the poor and minorities who don't have the financial ability to mount a competent defense and who suffer prejudice in the eyes of jurors. Prosecutors who bury exculpatory evidence should be held criminally liable and made to pay restitution to the victims of their over zealous behavior.

  36. No one is "for abortion"; no woman who seeks an abortion wants one -- she'd much rather not have gotten pregnant in the first place, but no form of birth control is perfect, and the same forces and politcians arrayed against the legal practce of abortion providers are also opposed to all legitimate family-planning services, and that includes the distribution and availability of contraception.

    No one is "for abortion," but no one except those would reduce women to chattels is for denying them the right to control their own bodies and health.

  37. Head for head,eye for eye is a sharia law.It is not suitable in a democratic country like USA.
    If you execute a person and after sometime later if he is found innocent ,Can you bring him back to the life??No.

    So you can not kill a person in the name of justice.There are other alternative ways to punish murder.Every country should think about it.
    Funny enough there is another big democratic country India,They also passed a law of capital punishment for rape case also.

  38. I don't get it...

    Why would we ever want to put anyone to death?

    That penalty debases all of humanity.

  39. It seems that every couple of months we read in the papers about some poor guy who was accused of murder and on Death Row, or of rape, who is condemned to rot until Alzheimer's comes to call, who, through DNA testing, we find is innocent.

    The prosecutor invariably denies any mistakes; the detectives who hounded the man are conveniently dead.

    The man shuffles out from prison blinking in the light.

    What about the poor guy who is innocent of a crime but no DNA is left behind to be tested? What about him?

    He's not dead, but he might wish he were.

    Our entire criminal justice system must be overhauled. We have over 2 million people in prison, and over 7 million ensnared in the crimal justice system, here, in the Land of the Free.

  40. You're absolutely right! Ironically, the penitentiary system was introduced in the USA in imitation of the new"panopticon" type systems being used in Britain, to replace the old transportation system and the preceding"Bloody Code".
    The Bloody Code was the awful use of execution and often torture,(occasionally on children, and usually adults for minor thefts. .
    The Penitentiary, in the US was supposed to "cure" the convicted criminal,(murderers were hanged, whether guilty or not). It wasn't originally conceived as a long term housing system. and inmates were kept in "isolation cells" as part of the punishment.
    Naturally, it all went downhill as the prisons became industries themselves, and locals refused to allow prisoners any leeway because it was a threat to their cushy and vicious employment.

  41. Good for Mr. Bloodsworth...I hope his passion to educate others about his experience brings positive changes to the court system! There are most likely many others like him awaiting exoneration.

  42. The name of the woman who wrongly accused Kirk in the first place, deserves at least her fair share of publicity, her name published for all to see...
    It just shows how easy it is for someone to point a finger without realizing the impact it can have on someone who is innocent.
    Then again it seems almost noone could have handled the injustice better or with a more creative response or grace than Kirk has. Perhaps he had to be the messenger, as very few other people would have been strong enough to do it as well as he has...
    Little by little, we are moving in the right direction...

  43. No. We want people to call the police if they suspect something. If calling in a tip is likely to lead to an injustice, that's a problem with the police. If it's not likely to lead to an injustice, then the woman did nothing wrong.

  44. It is the police and prosecuters who are to blame. What have they been doing the past 30 years that they haven't heard that "eye witnesses" can be wildly wrong about identifying strangers, or that tortured suspects will admit to anything. (8 hours of non stop questioning is torture- doubt it? Have someone try it on you.)

  45. I too feel the name of this witness should be made public. The prosecutors should have been disbarred and the detectives should have been fired.

  46. Our criminal justice system is terrible. I have a client charged with assaulting a cop who found out at trial that his lawyer was representing the cop in a post-divorce contempt proceeding. So when the lawyer cross examined the victim, he was cross examining his own client. The trial judge saw nothing wrong with this. Why do I have to appeal a no-brainer?

  47. It's mindboggling that we still allow the state to kill people. In 20 or 30 years we're going to look back on this period in utter shame, especially that we allowed states like Texas to kill people who couldn't afford adequate representation.

    How can any human being with a conscience and a moral compass read this story and think we can continue executing prisoners. It's especially disturbing to know that Christian evangelicals are strong proponents of capital punishment. Just another good reason to do away with religion.

  48. According to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, 3,146 people were on the nation's death rows as of last Oct. 1, and only 63 or 2 percent were women.

    One of those women is my cousin Susan D. Eubanks in the CCWF at Chowchilla, CA. While Susie is guilty of her horrific crime her family has never wanted her to be killed by the state of California. We have been firmly on the side of life in prison and an end to the death penalty nationwide.

    I testifed during the penalty phase of her trial asking the jury to spare Susie's life and, in the alternative, give her life in prison. It is extremely difficult to have a relative on death row especially a female relative we have seen mature and change.

    At her trial Susie had no living parents are grandparents to plead for her life. Her mother died when Susie was only 8 years old. Her late father and grandparents who she lived with were alcoholics. One brother and sister are now deceased. She has only 1 living brother left in her immediate family and he offers little support. We remain hopeful that either California or the U.S. Supreme Court will stop capital punishment some day. I am thankful Susie is still alive today and pray that she will remain alive for many years to come. Reading about progress in another state gives us a dim glimmer of hope for our Susie.

  49. It's interesting that you don't describe the crimes your cousin was convicted of -- murdering her four children, aged 4, 6, 7, and 14, in an act of vengeance against her ex-husband.

    I'm against the death penalty, but it takes a special kind of chutzpah to plead for someone as having no living relatives when she's the one who killed our of them.

  50. I used to do death penalty appeals. In a way, death row inmates have advantages other inmates do not. At some point, usually, they're going to get really good, dedicated lawyers who are going to scrutinize the case from top to bottom. Not all of them do. But if you're poor and wrongfully convicted, you get nothing after the direct appeal unless DNA is involved and you can get the Innocence Project interested. Clive Stafford Smith's recently published book about a Miami case acknowledges this reality. And, as hard as it may be to understand this, it is true. Not to dismiss the fact that if you're on death row, you have the possibility of being executed hanging over you. But that very fact means your case gets more attention. I was lucky that I started my legal career working on behalf of death row inmates. The attorneys who do this work are amazing including Mr. Stafford Smith, Bran Stevenson, Steve Bright . . . .

  51. I find outrageous that a civilized society would allow the state to kill its citizens.

  52. You think we are a "civilized society? Really? Some parts of the U.S., like Alabama, are more like Afghanistan than the U.S.

  53. “I think no single individual has changed as many minds as Kirk,” said Jane Henderson, the director of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions, a lobbying group. “He’s articulate, patient, and he’s got a huge heart.”

    She left out "white."

  54. If prosecutors were held responsible for these miscarriages of justice, then perhaps they would happen less often. In Texas this past week a "commission of inquiry" was held to determine whether the former District Attorney of Willamson County should face criminal charges for allegedly lying and concealing evidence in the case of a man who was convicted of the murder of his wife and sentenced to life in prison. Michael Morton was exonerated in 2011 via DNA evidence after he served 25 years in prison. The former DA faces possible arrest and jail time if the inquiry finds that he broke state laws.

    http://www.statesman.com/news/news/crime-law/morton-prosecutor-faces-cou...

    True, this does not mitigate Texas' egregious use of the death penalty, but if there's a way to deter some of these prosecutorial overreaches through criminal sanctions, maybe some overzealous prosecutors will think twice before advancing their careers on the backs of individuals convicted using dubious and/or false evidence..

  55. Where are all of those "pro-life" politicians in this argument? Where are the poohbahs of the Catholic Church, whose Pope has condemned Capital Punishment and unjust war as equally incompatible with Church doctrine on the sanctity of life as abortion is? Antonin Scalia, a cafeteria Catholic, wrote in an opinion on a *capital* case that "actual innocence is no bar to conviction." As long as he deemed the trial to be "fair," he would have no compunction about executing a man later found to be innocent. It shocks the conscience.

  56. A civilized society does not execute its citizens.

  57. On the reliability of eye witness testimony: Check out this link to a BBC program about an experiment set up by Manchester Police.

    It shows that eye witness accounts of an event, even when uncontested by exculpatory evidence, should be treated with the greatest scepticism. If I were a juror and if there were no forensic evidence to back it up, I would tend to discount it entirely.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/8617945.stm

  58. I am a lawyer in Ontario and started an Innocence Project in Ottawa about 10 years ago, which I recently placed in another lawyer's capable hands. Here in Canada we have had a lot of cases overturned on the back of discredited forensic pathology evidence, recanting witnesses, confirmation of an alibi - it's not always DNA. But what I find troubling is the myth that the adversarial system is the best method for getting to a just result. Why is it that so many famous wrongful convictions of the world stem from the UK, USA, Canada, Australia? More importantly, why do prosecutors oppose a substantive review, tooth and nail, for most cases? By contrast, a Norwegian criminal conviction review tribunal will reopen ANY case for ANY new evidence; the most common cases are theft.

    Why do we not hear about myriad wrongful convictions from inquisitorial jurisdictions like Germany, France? They happen, but the numbers are low, far lower than in adversarial jurisdictions. Could it be that actively searching for the truth is more effective than trial by debating club?

    Lives are ruined daily with "small" wrongful convictions produced in the usual course of things, yet we never examine the potential root causes.

  59. Thank you for this reply. Woof67, the aussie who stated that the system used in the US, UK, Australia, NZ & Canada is the best in the world should take note. Yes, the inquisitorial system used in France is better at getting to the truth than our adversarial "debate club" approach.

  60. I admire Mr. Bloodsworth's fortitude and perseverance. He was a very young man, barely in his 20s, when his ordeal began. I am deeply saddened for his profound troubles and loss; that his mother died with her innocent son behind bars, on death row.

    That humans are prone to error is reason enough, in a civilized society, to put capital punishment in the past. Yes, many times, the real murderer is caught and when the crime is especially horrific, condemning the guilty to death may carry a sense of justice or resolve...but that's where civility comes into play and overrides primal emotions.

    And while I realize an accused typically has an attorney as his or her advocate, I think there ought to be a non-biased advocate in the prosecutor's office, keeping in check the human motives of the prosecutors.

  61. A few years ago a film called 'Exonerated' was made about this very subject. If I'm mot mistaken Kirks story is among those used in the film.

  62. The whole Western justice system is dysfunctional, as is well depicted in the 1979 movie "And Justice for All." Defense attorney Arthur Kirkland (Al Pacino) summarizes it best: "They all want to win, they want to win so much that..." The system is about winning, not about justice, not about truth. It is based on the obviously wrong assumption that if each side is given a fair chance to present a biased, one-sided, intentionally distorted narrative then, through a judge and/or jury, truth and justice would emerge. (Let alone the financial cost of "fair" chance!)

    How different is this paradigm --and that of democratic politicking -- from the ideals of the other system of truth finding, science. Here is how Richard Feynman famously put it: "... scientific integrity ... a kind of leaning over backwards ... [In] an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid--not only what you think is right about it ..." In trials involving capital punishment, in particular, prosecutors should behave as Feynman's scientists rather than your common variety lawyers.

    And innovations must be introduced into that stale system. Capital punishment should not be altogether abolished, since this goes against the Social Contract--the victims deserve satisfaction. The problem is its irreversibility. So why not invent SUSPENDED death penalty, for guilt established "beyond a REASONABLE doubt," while reserving ACTUAL death penalty for cases proved "beyond ANY doubt?"

  63. I am an experienced Australian lawyer. There is no such thing as a case proved 'beyond any doubt". Anyone who has been in a courtroom and is honest with themselves knows that.

    Also, "western justice" (by which I take it you mean justice in the english speaking world) is not dysfunctional. On the whole it works better than any other system of justice. There are ways it could be improved (starting with abolishing the medieval concept of prisons) but it is still better than the methods used around the world, including the civil law systems of continental Europe.

    And by the way, yes, the death penalty is a barbaric institution. My country abolished it decades ago and last used it over 50 years ago. There is no evidence that it ever deterred a murder or a serious crime.

  64. With its flaws such as it is, I'll take Western justice any time over that of, say, Saudi Arabia or the British grandmother who has been sentenced to the firing squad in Indonesia for, in her account, having been tricked into smuggling cocaine in her purse.

  65. As long as the twin pillars of human error and the desire to achieve political gain exist there is no justification for the death penalty.

  66. I have no problem with the death penalty provided that executions are public, and provided that, in the event someone is posthumously exonerated, the prosecuting attorney, sentencing judge and any police who tampered with evidence suffer the same fate with no further trial than is necessary to establish their identities.

  67. Would you take a job where a mistake would be punished by death?

  68. I truly believe some people are so evil that they do not belong on earth, however we seem incapable of properly identifying them. Our process is unscientific, varies from state to state, relies too heavily on witnesses with vested interests in the outcome, involves unscrupulous and sometimes corrupt practices by law enforcement, and at the end of the day depends on the whims and varied legal expertise of the presiding judges. Not to mention the horrible defense that many poor accused receive.

    I am certain we’ve killed innocent people – the biggest shame a nation claiming itself to be civilized can commit. That poor man whose house burned several years ago, killing his young kids. He was accused of murder by spreading flammable material and igniting the fire, and sentenced to death (why do I think this was in TX?) largely based on junk science from the local-yokel fire-dept investigator whose analysis has since been discredited by numerous national experts on the forensics of fire.

    I have little doubt there have been many more.

    For this reason, I am fully against the death penalty.

  69. I work in a prison. I am not "soft" on criminals - I believe they need to pay for what they did. I also believe in humane incarceration.

    Prison staff are constantly reminded to avoid "excessive use of force." This means that, no matter what the inmate has done, once the situation is contained, no more force is allowed. It doesn't matter if the guy just spit on you, threw urine in your face, or whatever - you can use the necessary force to bring him under control, but once he's restrained, you're not allowed to throw in a couple extra kicks just because you're angry.

    Let's compare this to the death penalty.

    The criminal has committed a horrible crime. He's caught. He's arrested. He's in prison. He is under control and is no longer a threat to society.

    Isn't killing him at that point the most extreme example of "excessive use of force?"

    How can we, as a society, possibly justify taking such an action?

  70. Although I can understand a gut reaction to wanting the death penalty for someone who has murdered, especially a child; nevertheless, I'm not for the death penalty because it makes us what they are -- killers.

  71. Absolutely, AG. The death penalty is simply an act of revenge, and our country's implementation of it has proven to be racist, classist, expensive, and an international embarrassment.

    I live in the infamous state of Georgia, which is preparing to execute Warren Hill, a mentally disabled man. The state supreme court motto reads: "May justice be done, though the heavens fall." And so they shamefully have--with stars like Troy Davis shedding light, showing love, even as malice tears them from our sky.

  72. Like healthcare, the criminal justice system parts fail to act as a whole for the intended purpose.

    Much the same result. Are we surprise?

  73. What about the guilt of police and prosecutors who are responsible for sending someone to prison (or death row) when they have not done the work necessary to prove guilt or innocence, and simply want to get a difficult case cleared from their books?? Shouldn't police and prosecutors who have sent people to "death row" based on bad evidence and sloppy investigative work ( as in this case) be accused of attempted manslaughter and be forced to suffer the same loss of liberty as the innocent victims of their unprofessional behavior? A crime committed by government employees should still be a crime.

  74. This opens up the entire issue of accountability.

    Such as: What about the tremendous pressure in horrendous cases to "succeed" (convict someone)? Why is the pressure to be "productive" and "succeed" put mainly on the players within a system rather then on the system as a whole? How is vengeance used to avoid feelings of pain & fear & chaos? How does vengeance drive the pressure to "succeed" ?

    It is easy to look rationally from the outside and believe (rather then hope) smugly that we ourselves wouldn't have enabled such a scenario, but only those there at the time were in it.

    We as a society need to sustain social pressure on the system to meet the goals of justice. Justice may not be kind. But justice does not even exist where there is no patience.

    Justice requires the ability of society to sustain patience within a pressure cooker. This is not the same as providing rapid relief for our emotions, something we apparently expect from our politicians.

    Our expectations for rapid relief create pressures which do, forcefully, trickle down. We ourselves create the need for sacrificial lambs.

  75. The system itself needs to be indicted. Although there is nothing stopping a prisoner from filing a habeas corpus case on DNA evidence while imprisoned, the problem is that DNA is relevant in a negligible # of cases. Morever, we have no right to factual innocence in this country. DNA exoneration notwithstanding, there is no legal requirement for a DA or judge to overturn a conviction that has satisfied the legal fiction of "due process" and a "fair trial." In other words, if there is no appealable issue (legal grounds), then the verdict can stand. Exoneration has only come for people who have found prosecutors with a conscience or a public megaphone to shame decision-makers into doing the right thing (e.g., the Innocence Project). When our supreme court looks at replaces "procedural due process" with substantive rights and employs equal protection to look at WHO is being executed in the U.S., then maybe change can occur.

  76. The interesting thing is that without the death penalty Mr. Bloodswroth would still likely be in prison serving out a life w/o parole sentence and NO change of getting anyone to listen to his story. Shouldn't the focus rather be on improving the system so that innocent people don't end up in prison while the guilty walk the streets? Or would we not care about Mr. Bloodsworth if he had been sentenced to life w/o, because he'd still be in prison today.

    Getting rid of the death penalty will lessen the pressure on states to improve their entire system. State now use Life w/o parole as a way of getting questionable cases beyond review. Courts have limited their review to death penalty cases.

    When the death penalty disappears no more innocent people will get out of prison.

  77. Excellent point from the legal perspective, but I think that the death penalty, with its gravity and controversy, forces decision-makers such as prosecutors, law enforcement, and the judiciary to defend the process and their own decision because "being wrong" has such troubling consequences. "Death is different" (Prof. Craig Haney) and the social psychological reality leads to groupthink and a desire to justify the result. Capital punishment is chosen in cases that rise above "mere" homicide (so-called "aggravated cases"). Here, the crime itself forces people to rush to judgment in order to "solve" the case (and quell public fear) as quickly as possible.

    You are quite right that the realities of unreliable witness identification, etc. need to be exposed in order to reform the U.S. prison system overall, but the death penalty leads to results that would NEVER happen in other trials. It is the only scenario where jurors punish rather than judges, and it is the only trial that has two parts---by the time the jury gets to hear mitigating arguments against the death penalty in sentencing, they have already been exposed to the "aggravating" factors twice---once in the fact-finding trial and once in the sentencing phase. This, from the psychological perspective, makes a sentence of death a more likely result.

  78. I quite disagree. Speaking for myself, but I will bet vastly many more, there is something worse than death, and that is living in hell on this earth. That would be prison, cockroaches, cracked skull and all. Were I innocent yet convicted of a life sentence without the death penalty, I would indeed agitate for DNA tests or an exposure of whatever flawed procedures there were.

    I would agree on improving the system, and that can start now: I have heard that there are people who have been exonerated by DNA, yet still are locked up because some DA refuses to believe that the persons concerned are innocent. Locked up because of pride, saving a career and the desire for vengeance.

    And morally, how can we as a society say it is wrong to kill, then turn and kill?

  79. I am not denying that "death is different" but it is because death is different. I raised two points;

    First that the focus on the death penalty has limited the quest for a better system. Courts routinely refuse and most stats laws on review of cases focus on death penalty case to the EXCLUSION of other cases, court cite that death is different in refusing to allow review on non-death penalty case making it harder for L w/o cases, let alone some who just got 20-50 years, to even be able to raise. Opponents to the death penalty has ceded to the courts even the possibility of review for other in their focus on death penalty case.

    Second; the inertia against reform will gain strongly when the Death penalty is gone. the banner "Mission Accomplished" will be hung, parades thrown and everyone goes back to business as usual.

  80. For me, the rightness of the death penalty comes down to one thing: can it be guaranteed that no innocent person is ever convicted and put to death. The answer is a resounding, "Of course not."

  81. Therefore put the innocent to death as a guarantee that the guilty will go with them?

    How can we as a society say that it is wrong to kill—then turn and kill?

    We want vengeance and retribution, not justice.

  82. Thor, you miss Larry's point. He's against the death penalty.

  83. I learned from my father, who in his teens had been pressured to present a favorable story as an eye witness (after being locked up, this was in the 40's) that the chance that we may execute even one innocent man or woman far outweighs any advantages gained by capital punishment. It's really that simple.

  84. I wonder of Mr. Bloodsworth supported the death penalty prior to his ordeal. What a game changer. I hope we're all able to have our minds change that drastically in favor of the safety and benefit of the greater majority, but without such a tragic ordeal.

  85. In case none of the comments has addressed the problem of ineffective counsel, it should be noted that in capital cases where the defendant can't afford to hire a high-powered attorney, he/she has to rely on a court-appointed public defender.

    Those PDs are almost always low-paid, without the means to hire specialists and take other expensive steps for their clients. Even worse, they often have no experience trying a capital case.

    Then, of course, there are the immoral public defenders who don't even TRY to exonerate their clients; they have been caught sleeping in court and doing other acts that should get their license pulled.

    Many an innocent person has been incarcerated and even killed judicially, for lack of a sturdy defense.

  86. A bizarre two-facedness that appalls me: Death Penalty and Pregnancy Termination.
    I support both while appreciate that they are very hard verdicts.
    Termination of pregnancy before 24 weeks gestation is legal in most states in US and performed regularly. I am in the field and have been involved in many second trimester pregnancy terminations – so called medical abortions. The death penalty procedure of these fully developed fetuses starts with injecting potassium chloride into their small heart which stops beating rather quickly. Most of them are terminated because they have a genetic condition, and are therefore unsuitable for a “normal” life in our society. They have committed no crimes, have done no harm to anyone - unlike the human beings who have committed unspeakable crimes.
    The technology has advanced so well that neither a genetic diagnosis, nor a guilty verdict can remain in doubt . And if in doubt then do not terminate, nor execute.
    Why you can be fine with the execution of innocent fetuses not fit for this world, but adamantly oppose the execution of heinous criminals? Why ?

  87. I would turn your question around. You say you support the death penalty, yes? but oppose abortion. How can you be fine with execution and so outraged by abortion? Isn't there a moral inconsistency in that position? Is your claim that in one case innocent life is being protected, and in another, a just punishment is being meted out?

    I think the larger point here is that the justice system occasionally gets it wrong and in execution, there is an unavoidable risk that innocent people will be put to death.

    If you accept that capital punishment necessarily puts innocent men and women to death, how is that different from your "innocent life" argument vis-a-vis abortion? That is, how do you justify the death penalty knowing that innocent people will be killed?

  88. I am an attorney who handled death penalty cases. I firmly feel that life in prison is a stronger penalty, assuming guilt. One death penalty inmate in this state wanted to be executed because he said death was better than the horrors of prison life. He spoke of the vile and disgusting conditions in prison as more punitive than being dead. All of this presupposes that someone is guilty. Sometimes the level of guilt is the issue. Is it really manslaughter instead of murder? DNA is a wonderful tool, but it won't solve all the cses or legal problems simply because DNA is not applicable to every case. But simply taking the death penalty off the books is an improvement.

  89. I don't care if no one is ever executed for any of the valid and emotion based reason that the opposed present e.g innocence. I do however believe the State, even though necessarily an imperfect human system, can execute those who take the life of another person. Unfortunate it not usually possible to kill potential killers before they kill, in self defense or to protect others. But most of would if we had a chance kill a killer in such circumstances to prevent the loss of our own life or that of others. State based execution is, in a way, killing the killer too late, but it still may be justified. It is not simply an eye for an eye philosophy. It is paradoxically, valuing life and recognizing that nullifying another persons existence, killing them, is an act so terrible, so horrible that it is not savagery to believe that a killer thereby forfeits his own existence.

  90. Can't you see the irony in your argument? Who cares if killing is carried out by an individual or the state - the act has perfect and symmetrical moral equivalency. What damns one damns the other.

  91. The death "penalty" is wrong for a number of reasons, but to me the most compelling is not the possibility of executing an innocent person, repugnant as that is. Rather, the compelling argument against it is the fact that though the rest of us may, in our darkest moments, thirst for revenge and demand blood for blood, we are wrong in this impulse. In each of us resides the darkness and hate that the death penalty personifies, but we need society to restrain each of us from these worst impulses. I may want to strangle the guy who killed (maybe) my wife, but I would be wrong to do so. I would need help...I would need civilization, to be civilized away from my basest impulses in order not to become what I hate. This is how we become better collectively than we are individually. This is the very essence of society.

    Abolition of the death penalty is a profound way to affirm that we are a society that has norms and some basic ideas that we all agree on ("Thou shalt not kill," for instance), and that we exist and coexist together. And if one of us falls and breaks one of these covenants, the rest of us are still bound. Though we are wretched terrible creatures individually, we can bind ourselves to one another and become something better. By rejecting the death penalty, I choose that world.

  92. This is like the anti-matter version of Billy Budd, with the final result being far more satisfying.

  93. The injustice and near execution experienced by Mr. Bloodsworth is yet another reason why the death penalty must be abolished.

  94. To me, the strongest argument against the death penalty is that the more heinous a crime is, the more likely the wrong person will be convicted of it. When a crime is particularly heinous, authorities are under a lot of pressure to find someone to pin it on, and the chance of errors increases.

    I used to think that the death penalty was needed to give the loved ones of victims closure. But then someone pointed out that in fact, it has the opposite effect. Since it takes 10 years to execute someone, it only delays their getting closure. If the person were sentenced to life without parole, they'd get it a lot sooner.

  95. How unbelievably cruel to be innocent and on death row at the time of death of one's mother!

  96. The problem with the death penalty is that there is always the possibility of an error.
    While being imprisoned for a crime that one did not commit is horrible enough, death is not reversible.
    The criminal justice system still does not understand Bayesian probability.
    Suppose the probability a single eyewitness misidentifies a subject is one part in one thousand. That does not mean the person misidentified is not guilty is one part in one thousand.
    Suppose the probability of a misidentification is p and N possible persons could have committed the crime and there is no other evidence except the identification.
    Then the marginal probability P that the misidentified person is guilty is approximately P = 1 /[1+ (N-1)p]
    If N were 100 and p =.001 then P=91% or a 9% chance person is innocent. Should we convict or worse execute on that basis.
    Readers can evaluate P for other choices of N and p. p is probably larger [greater chance of a misidentification] than .001.

  97. The problem with the death penalty is that it's immoral. Whether or not there's an of identification, it's always a moral error.

  98. As a lifelong resident of Michigan, I am very proud that our state is the first governmental body IN THE WORLD to outlaw the death penalty, in the 19th century. We may have our problems but Michigan has historically been a very progressive state.

  99. Was a supporter of the death penalty, prior to being convinced by DNA evidence that people who are not guilty are being condemned, unjustly.
    Still believe it is appropriate in many case, and do not think it morally reprehensible, but not willing to support it if we're wrong even once....so, it should be replaced by life sentences where appropriate.