Monday, February 16, 2009

Execution of the Innocent

Underway in Texas is an attempt to prevent the execution of the innocent. Legislation has been introduced to test DNA evidence and require fair identification procedures.

In Alaska, DNA evidence testing has been refused to a condemned prisoner, and it is the state that refuses to test. The Supreme Court appeal is in process. New York has filed arguments against ruling for DNA testing.

Laws vary throughout the country, and it is time that national procedure to prevent execution of the innocent be prevented. Of course, I'd like to exclude execution altogether, but know all the disparate elements won't let that happen. It would remove the means for the rednecks to prove their manhood, I suppose.

Ten years after he died in prison serving time for a rape he didn’t commit, Timothy Cole had his day in court. If police and advocates for the wrongfully convicted have their way, he’ll get another at the Legislature.

Both groups are separately pressing lawmakers to pass bills they say could help keep others from suffering the same fate as Cole, who earlier this month became the first Texan posthumously exonerated of a crime.

A measure sought by some Texas police chiefs would allow taking DNA from suspects arrested for mid-level misdemeanors on up, which could include offenses ranging from indecent exposure to writing a bad check for child support.

The other would set legal standards for how eye witness evidence can be collected by police.
Cole was convicted resulted largely from faulty eyewitness identification of him as the rapist.

Ellis has filed bills to set legal standards for how police lineups are conducted. He also wants to create a state Innocence Commission to investigate wrongful convictions.

Michele Mallin, the rape victim in Cole’s case, was a Texas Tech University student when she was attacked in Lubbock in 1985. She picked Cole out of a photo lineup that included five other pictures. All were standard jail mug shots except for Cole’s color Polaroid. She also later identified Cole in a live lineup and again at trial.

The Associated Press does not typically identify rape victims but Mallin came forth publicly to help clear Cole’s name.

Mallin says she remembers telling police “I think that’s him” when she first saw Cole’s picture, but that investigators encouraged her to be more certain. A note in the case file suggested she was more confident of selecting Cole than she really was.

Experts at Cole’s exoneration hearing were highly critical of how the lineups were conducted.

Cole’s photo would “stand out like a sore thumb,” said Mike Ware, a Dallas County prosecutor in charge of that office’s conviction integrity unit.

Ellis’ bill requires lineups be conducted by someone who doesn’t know which person is the suspect. That would prevent them from encouraging witnesses to pick that person.

In Alaska, no such decency has been exhibited. The state is seeking to avoid testing the evidence.

For years, a man who was convicted of that rape, William G. Osborne, has claimed that advanced DNA tests on the condom would prove his innocence, but prosecutors in Alaska say that he is not entitled to them. As time went by and the case rolled up and down the courts, the tests have never been performed.

In fact, it appears that no one convicted of a crime in Alaska has ever been able to get a DNA test after trial, according to a brief filed by Mr. Osborne’s lawyers, and no state law says that prisoners must be given them.

Next month, the United States Supreme Court will hear Alaska prosecutors argue that Mr. Osborne got a fair trial and does not have a constitutional right to such tests.

It's hard to understand why, in view of the number of criminal convictions that have been overturned by DNA evidence, any member of civilization would avoid insuring that the innocent be defended against unjust execution. Maybe it's a test of character. Alaska fails. New York fails. The verdict isn't in on Texas.

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Blogger shrimplate said...

Texas, eh. Good on them.

7:31 PM  
Blogger Cosa Nostradamus said...

Waste of the State's time & money. Very few if any straight white non-drug-using employed Anglo native-born middle-aged middle-class Christian Americans will have been wrongfully convicted. The system works for the people who work for the system.

As for the rest, if they are none of the above, can they truly be said to be Americans? Do they really deserve to be called human, even? With all the laws we have today, those who are none of the above are always guilty of something. If they didn't do the crime for which they are to be executed, they probably did something else.

In any case, they are, by birth, outside the system. The system cannot be expected to work for those who do not work for the system. That's just basic genetics. Support your local gene police.

7:48 PM  
Blogger Ruth said...

Cos, it seems like that's finally being rejected by the public. Those whose manhood isn't challenged.

2:58 AM  
Blogger Cosa Nostradamus said...

Even the (previous) corrupt Governor of Illinois couldn't stomach it. Our "justice" system is bad enough without giving them a death-ray.

You know what you call a lawyer with an IQ of 60?

"Your Honor."

5:05 AM  
Anonymous larry, dfh said...

DNA-testing isn't that expensive and should be required in support of exonerating evidence. That is, a mismatch should be very obvious, even given that samples were taken by different people and the results 'worked up' by different laboratories, at different times. It is important to consider that the 'DNA' is processed and probably only the results are considered. The DNA is enzymatically cut into fragments and the fragments are compared with standards of known composition. Still, in the cutting process, and in the analysis of the fragments, if samples are not run side-by-side, false interpretations are possible; maybe not likely, but possible. There are variabilities associated with method, labortory, and reagents. For these reasons, I do not favor relying on DNA for conviciton purposes, unless supported by other evidence.

8:09 AM  
Blogger Ruth said...

Agreed about the conviction aspect, but this is about execution for crimes that can't be proven. And yes, I'm 'soft on crime' when it comes to executing an innocent person.

10:41 AM  
Blogger Curious Texan said...

Here's another example of when DNA evidence exonerated an innocent man.


In the spirit of the O.J. trial, Mr. Osborne could simply try on the condom, and in the words of Johnny Cochran, "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit."

2:37 PM  
Blogger Curious Texan said...

I'm all for the use of DNA in the adjudication of criminal offenses, but it can't be a "heads I win - tails you lose" proposition.

If DNA can be used to exonerate the innocent (and indeed it should), it should be used to convict the guilty as well. My guess is that the cases of the latter would far outnumber those of the former.

7:20 AM  

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