Sunday, December 04, 2005

Dead Man Walking

Are you paying attention to crime and punishment in America? The one thousandth execution since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976 took place last Friday morning at 2:00 a.m. when North Carolina killed Kenneth Boyd. Many cheered.

And waiting on Death Row in California’s San Quentin prison is Tookie Williams, scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on December 13th for four murders he was convicted of committing 25 years ago. Cheers again.

Next Wednesday, the case of the youngest person to sit on Oregon’s Death Row will reach the Supreme Court. The justices will consider whether a jury pondering death is obligated to re-evaluate any lingering doubts about the defendant’s guilt. The “facts” of the case make a riveting story of good and evil. But “truth” is elusive. Many will cheer if Lee Guzek is put to death, waiting once more to pronounce “justice served.”

But is it? Did you miss another milestone? In November of this year, the State of Texas admitted it wrongly executed a man now proven to be innocent of the crime for which he was put to death in 1993. Ruben Cantu was falsely accused and falsely convicted. Texas officials have belatedly acknowledged their error.

Courts make mistakes. People lie. Juries get confused. Judges look the other way. Facts are not always true or false. Evidence gets lost or never found. Witnesses die or can’t be found. Misidentification is common. Eyewitnesses disagree. What if it was you? What better reason for abolishing the barbaric practice of murdering convicts? “Beyond a reasonable doubt” still leaves room for innocence.

It’s too far to travel this time. But I will light a candle on December 13th and remember other times I stood in the rain outside San Quentin protesting the death penalty. Will you join me in this protest?


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