July 6th, 2000

Column 26

There has been a lot of talk about the death penalty lately. I'm pleased about this, but I am concerned the attention, though it is important, focuses on only one problem with the death penalty. It takes attention and energy away from the areas that need it just as much, or even more than the part which has been getting all the attention. What I'm talking about is the attention DNA testing is getting, in proving the innocence of people in prison and on Death Row, over the last few years.
Don't get me wrong, I think DNA testing is a great tool in proving the innocence of people and getting innocent people out of prison and off of Death Row. It is disturbing to me that DNA testing is getting all the attention while other problems, that are just as important, are being overlooked or ignored.

The News Media has been creating this wrong impression in the publics mind, that DNA testing is the ‘save all’ and ‘cure all’ in efforts to save innocent people from going to prison, or being sentenced to death. DNA testing is important, but it's only a factor in a small number of cases. For most people on Death Row and in prison, DNA testing doesn't play a part in their convictions and couldn't prove guilt or innocence at all.

DNA testing is fine, in the narrow category of cases it applies to, however what bothers me is how the public seems to have this misconception that, ‘If DNA testing doesn't clear you, then you must be guilty’. To use an example of the recent Gary Graham execution in Texas. DNA couldn't prove his guilt or innocence, yet there was considerable doubt he was guilty of the murder he was convicted and executed for. The only evidence against Gary Graham was the questionable eye witness testimony of one witness, who by her own admission says, ‘There are too many appeals and it is time to stop all the appeals and start executing people’. Hardly an objective and credible witness, especially when you take into account two other witnesses stated Gary Graham was not the person who they saw at the crimescene. So, DNA testing doesn't clear the ones who are victims of wrongful identification or Police and Prosecution misconduct.

There is a report that came out recently. This report was the findings of a study on the death penalty in the USA. The findings in this study seemed to surprise a lot of people. The report can be found at this url: (http://www.thejusticeproject.org)
This report examines all the death penalty cases from 1973-1995. In 68% of the cases errors were found. The errors were mostly defense lawyers incompetence, or misconduct by the police and prosecutors. The report also mentions the errors the courts make in these cases as well. The Pro Death Penalty people have been trying to discredit this study and are saying it is a partisan report. But this was a study conducted on behalf of the US House of Representatives or the US Senate. Can't remember which one at the moment.

I read one newspaper article where a Victims Rights Group spokesman said, when trying to discredit this study, ‘there isn't proof of a innocent person ever being executed in the USA’. This is typical of the phony statistics and mis-information these groups love to present as evidence to back up their distorted view of reality. This spokesman knows very well that once a person is executed, there is never any further investigation done on the case.
So regardless of guilt or innocence, no more investigation will be done. That is the reason there isn't proof of a innocent person being executed. (I talked about this a little bit in #21) it’s these kinds of people, who use misleading information and statistics to support their arguments, who are trying to discredit this study and report. How hypocritical of these groups to use the word Justice in the names of their organizations. I think if these groups really believed in justice and fairness, they would do everything in their power to make sure there are no further victims created. Their view of justice seems to be very limited and self serving. 

DNA testing is fine for proving the innocence of prisoners in some cases, but what I see happening is the public being conditioned to think if DNA isn't involved in a case, than the person must be guilty. What I don't hear anyone talking about is, if there are this many innocent people being freed by DNA testing, than why aren't there more questions about the majority of cases where DNA doesn't play a part in the case. After all, it's not just cases with DNA where innocent people are sentenced to death. The fact is, most death penalty convictions have no DNA evidence at all. Common sense dictates that if this many people can be proved innocent IN THE MINORITY OF CASES where DNA testing is involved, then the cases where DNA can't prove guilt and innocence should be looked at even more closely. Extra care needs to be taken in these cases, because it's much harder to make sure a innocent person isn't convicted and executed. The way to do this is by making available more Lawyers and Investigators and allowing more time and providing more resources in the appeals process. Unfortunately, the trend is towards less time given for the appeals and less money and resources granted to try and prove you were wrongfully convicted. More on the claim, by this Victims Rights spokesman, about how it has never been proved that a innocent person was executed in the USA.

I read another article about a Man from Texas, who was executed a few years ago. I can't remember the mans name, but he swore he was innocent and begged to be allowed a DNA test. Governor Bush denied this guy the DNA testing and had the man executed. But, before this man was executed, he gave his lawyers some of his hair samples. He wanted these to be tested after his execution. The lawyers went to Governor Bush's office, after the execution, to get the evidence (the State of Texas had the evidence in their possession) so the DNA testing could be carried out and prove George W. Bush had just killed a innocent man. Suddenly, after all those years of having this evidence in their possession, George Bush's people claimed they ‘lost’ the evidence and couldn't provide it for testing. So the lawyers couldn't carry out the tests. How convenient for George Bush that this evidence was ‘lost’ and the DNA testing couldn't prove they killed a innocent man. I guess George Bush wants to make sure no one proves he is wrong when he claims he never executed a innocent man. Maybe a more honest and accurate claim he should use is, ‘No one will be able to prove he executed a innocent man, if he can help it’.

P.S. The next time you see Bush on TV, look into his eyes, then try and tell me this is a sane man.
Okay, I am out of here for this one.