Friday, November 12, 2010

Was one more innocent Texan put to death?

"Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer." 4 William Blackstone, Commentaries at 358
William 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.

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.
Sadly, this isn't the only man Texas has put to death that might have been innocent.
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.”

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.”
Barry Scheck a founder of the Innocence Project, an anti-death penalty group based in New York City, makes a good point:
“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.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

feeling down and out of it

i have not written in a long time for several reasons: first, I had a ton of work to do in October and early November, and second, I felt helpless about what was happening. I was supposed to have volunteered by legal services to the Corroon campaign, but that fell through due to conflicts. I had a big oral argument on Election Day and no real spare time to donate in the meantime. So I was reduced to watching from the side lines and did not like what I saw happening and what I saw coming. But since I was doing nothing about it, it did not seem appropriate that I complain. To avoid the crushing feeling to come, I have pretended not to care.

But I cannot pretend any longer. This planet has a number of serious problems that urgently need addressing. And people are too interested in winning the next election and some ideology to try to fix things. Take Obama trip to Asia for example. Clowns like Rep. Michalle Bachman use obviously false internet rumors about the cost of the president's trip to India to oppose it. Then the Chinese use the Fed's belated helicopter drop ("quantitative easing") to distract everyone from their currency manipulation.

Meanwhile, back home, Washington wants to talk about "defecit reducion" under the assumption that all 310 million Americans are like their friends at cocktail parties rather than you know, people that have to physically work to get paid. Proposd staff of new members of Congress are happy to call the outgoing speaker "garbage" and everyone seems happy that nothing of substance will get done for two years. Perhaps this new wrecking crew will realize that they need to try to fix things, and not just break stuff. But I am not going to hold by breath for two years. And neither should you.