Thursday, December 31, 2009

Good News For New Year: LWOP Up, DP Down - UPDATED

Charles Kuffner of 'Off the Kuff' tells us the good news from the Chron:
Since a new life-without-parole law took effect in 2005, Harris County — with a national reputation for pursuing capital punishment and home to the fourth-largest city in America, with a population of nearly 4 million people — has sent fewer inmates to death row than Tarrant or Bexar counties, urban counties that include Fort Worth and San Antonio, respectively. Tarrant County’s population is about 1.7 million; Bexar’s is 1.6 million, U.S. Census records show.
Bexar and Tarrant each sent eight newly convicted killers to death row in the four years since the law took effect, state prison data show. In the same period, larger Harris and Dallas counties sent six apiece, based on the Chronicle’s analysis of Texas Department of Criminal Justice death row arrivals.
Statewide, only about 50 inmates have been added to death row since the law took effect Sept. 1, 2005. In contrast, from September 2001 to September 2005 — the four years before the law was enacted — 90 were sentenced to death.
OK, calm down a minute. Put aside how you feel about the death penalty as an implement of justice in cases of truly egregious crimes. Yes, I know: you disagree with me on that one, and from my experience, very, very few people ever change their minds on the rightness or wrongness of executing convicted killers. So I'm not going to try to dissuade you from advocating executing the guilty.


There is an appearance that this has finally happened, in... where else... Texas. In this case, apparently faulty or perhaps sloppy forensic investigation of a fire led to the conviction of a man for the murder of his children. He was executed in 2004. There's not much chance of rectifying that horrifying error. Dead is dead, and because Texas is so enthusiastic about the death penalty, and because Rick Perry seldom appears actually to review clemency appeals, the State of Texas... that would be you, my friend, if you are a citizen here... have murdered someone, as surely as if you were a member of a street gang. How does that feel?

Back in the early days of the space program, some of my friends who worked for NASA, most of them engineers or programmers, kept small signs near their desks, signs that read ZERO DEFECTS. They meant it, too: think about the consequences of a serious defect in a spacecraft system. Now think about the impact of a serious defect in a murder conviction. There is no perfect solution to the problems of the fragility of spacecraft in operation. But there is a simple, straightforward solution to the risk of executing innocent people: don't execute anyone, ever. Imprison them for the rest of their born days... prisons are quite reliable in our era, society is protected, and there is no danger of executing the innocent. This is not about whether the convict deserves to be executed; that's the wrong question to ask. The right question is this: do you want the burden of even one innocent person convicted and executed in your name? I thought not.

UPDATE: for the obsessive Republicans among you who never met a taxpayer dollar you didn't pretend to want to save, please note that executions are UNBELIEVABLY expensiveoften enough running $1 million to $2 million. to see one capital trial through to execution. Can you think of better uses for this money? So can I.

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