"Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer." 4 William Blackstone, Commentaries at 358William Blackstone should be as revered as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Locke as one of the key intellectual inspirations behind the American Revolution and the Constitution that followed it. While Blackstone's "Commentaries on the Laws of England" were only his views of what English law was (or should be), they were so influential with the Founders that they became the basis for American law. Yet it appears in the two hundred and thirty four years since the Spirit of '76 moved the founders to sign the Declaration of Independence, we have strayed.
A DNA test on a strand of hair has cast doubt on the guilt of a Texas man who was executed 10 years ago during George W. Bush’s final months as governor for a liquor-store robbery and murder.Sadly, this isn't the only man Texas has put to death that might have been innocent.
The single hair had been the only piece of physical evidence linking Claude Jones to the crime scene. But the DNA analysis found it did not belong to Jones and instead may have come from the murder victim.
In December, 2004, questions about the scientific evidence in the Willingham case began to surface. Maurice Possley and Steve Mills, of the Chicago Tribune, had published an investigative series on flaws in forensic science; upon learning of Hurst’s report, Possley and Mills asked three fire experts, including John Lentini, to examine the original investigation. The experts concurred with Hurst’s report. Nearly two years later, the Innocence Project commissioned Lentini and three other top fire investigators to conduct an independent review of the arson evidence in the Willingham case. The panel concluded that “each and every one” of the indicators of arson had been “scientifically proven to be invalid.”Barry Scheck a founder of the Innocence Project, an anti-death penalty group based in New York City, makes a good point:
In 2005, Texas established a government commission to investigate allegations of error and misconduct by forensic scientists. The first cases that are being reviewed by the commission are those of Willingham and Willis. In mid-August, the noted fire scientist Craig Beyler, who was hired by the commission, completed his investigation. In a scathing report, he concluded that investigators in the Willingham case had no scientific basis for claiming that the fire was arson, ignored evidence that contradicted their theory, had no comprehension of flashover and fire dynamics, relied on discredited folklore, and failed to eliminate potential accidental or alternative causes of the fire. He said that Vasquez’s approach seemed to deny “rational reasoning” and was more “characteristic of mystics or psychics.” What’s more, Beyler determined that the investigation violated, as he put it to me, “not only the standards of today but even of the time period.” The commission is reviewing his findings, and plans to release its own report next year. Some legal scholars believe that the commission may narrowly assess the reliability of the scientific evidence. There is a chance, however, that Texas could become the first state to acknowledge officially that, since the advent of the modern judicial system, it had carried out the “execution of a legally and factually innocent person.”
Just before Willingham received the lethal injection, he was asked if he had any last words. He said, “The only statement I want to make is that I am an innocent man convicted of a crime I did not commit. I have been persecuted for twelve years for something I did not do. From God’s dust I came and to dust I will return, so the Earth shall become my throne.”
“Reasonable people can disagree about the moral appropriateness of the death penalty. The issue that has arisen is the risk of executing the wrong person,” he said.And that risk is too high--10:1.