Executing an Innocent Man

By Steve Weinberg, freelance writer

Those who read the CQ Researcher of April 17, 2009 ("Wrongful Convictions"), already understand the wrongful conviction conundrum across the United States. Far too many innocent men and women are incarcerated for crimes they never committed. In many instances, the actual murderers, rapists and burglars remain at liberty to murder, rape and burgle again.

The discussion about wrongful convictions becomes extra emotional when the death penalty is involved. Various prosecutors, judges, law professors, governors and legislators state vehemently that no innocent defendant has ever been put to death by any state government or the federal government during the entire history of the United States. That statement is both statistically unlikely, and is especially naive given the number of documented wrongful convictions since the advent of DNA testing three decades ago, as well as a better understanding of why wrongful convictions occur in cases without testable DNA evidence.

Perhaps the most irresponsible spokesperson for the rose-colored-glasses view of "no innocents ever executed" is U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. A summary of his so-called reasoning can be found in the April 17, 2009, issue of CQ Researcher. I'm not the only critic of Scalia on this matter--among others, four of his eight Supreme Court colleagues fault his thinking.

In the past two months, a debate from earlier in the decade has resurfaced about the 2004 Texas execution of Cameron Todd Willingham. To any dispassionate examiner, the arson murder conviction of Willingham has been discredited. He never should have been imprisoned, much less executed. Yet those too heavily invested in the rightness of the criminal justice system continue to deny the holes in the Willingham case. Those deniers need to awake, before they become complicit in future miscarriages of justice.

If you want to join my open discussion wrongful convictions, please visit www.trueslant.com/steveweinberg

An excerpt of the report on "Wrongful Convictions" can be found here on the CQ Researcher blog.

For more information see the CQ Researcher report on "Wrongful Convictions" [subscription required] or purchase the CQ Researcher PDF