Execution is Proof of Guilt in Texas

Radley Balko on why Texas might try to prevent anti-death penalty groups, as well as the rest of the world, from finding out whether Texas executed an innocent man:

Now, I can think of some reasons why a prosecutor would want to destroy a piece of physical evidence that could prove that the state executed an innocent man. But none of them are compatible with...um...being a human being.

Perhaps, for example, the prosecutor was one of the prosecutors who worked on the case, and doesn't want the stain on his career that might come with a wrongful execution. Perhaps he wants to avoid the inevitable stain on Texas' already execution-happy reputation that would come with proof that the state executed an innocent man. Perhaps he knows that proof of a wrongful execution will make it much more difficult for him to win death penalty cases in the future.

But here's the thing: While I can perhaps see a prosecutor harboring such sentiment deep down inside, I can't possibly conceive of anyone actually making these sorts of arguments publicly. Or with a straight face.

Claude Jones was executed in 2000 for the robbery/murder of a liquor store owner. During trial, the State’s expert proclaimed that a hair found at the scene ‘matched’ that of the defendant. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals cited the ‘matching hair’ as the corroboration necessary to affirm Jones’ death sentence.

Blogs have recently been covering the story of Texas’ attempt to block finding out whether this ‘crucial’ hair evidence would have actually exonerated Jones. See: StandDown Texas Project, the Innocence Project, Jeralyn Merritt, the Texas Moratorium Project, Capital Defense Weekly, DeathWatch, Grits for Breakfast, PWC Consulting, and finally, a tie for my two favorite blog post titles about this story, from Amnesty International USA “Hair Today, Not Gone Tomorrow” and from Yank in London ‘We’ll expect a retraction and an apology”.

Speaking of retractions/apologies, let’s get to the title of this post “Execution is Proof of Guilt”. There are definitely folks that need Jones to not be found innocent after the fact: death penalty supporters. Because he has already been executed, he is and will remain guilty.

I make this prediction. There will be 1 of 2 possible reactions to the results of the DNA test.

#1) The DNA test proves that indeed it was Jones’ hair at the scene of the crime. The reaction will be, basically “Ha Ha Ha,” and “See, we told you that the anti-death penalty crowd is just a bunch of murder lovers”.

#2) The DNA test proves that it was not Jones hair at the scene. The reaction from the pro-death penalty folks? Will it be, good grief an innocent man was executed? No. We will see all sorts of rationalizations that “just because the hair follicle wasn’t his, doesn’t mean he didn’t do it,” and “they didn’t prove his innocence”.

I’ll follow up on this when the results are in. In the meantime, anyone want to predict other possible reactions from the pro-Death crowd?

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Austin Criminal Defense Lawyer - September 27, 2007 9:38 PM
Jeffrey Deutsch responds to my post “Execution is Proof of Guilt in Texas”:Hello,I'm a staunch pro-death penalty advocate. I can't speak for others, but I for one support every effort to follow up innocence possibilities for any convict, ev...
Austin Criminal Defense Lawyer - October 5, 2007 10:42 PM
Robbie Cooper of UrbanGrounds has weighed in at the comments section of my post ‘A Staunch Pro Death Penalty Advocate Responds’.For some background, the blogversation starts with Radley Balko, comes to “Execution is Proof of Guilt in ...
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Comments (2) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Jeffrey Deutsch - September 21, 2007 11:40 AM

Hello,

I'm a staunch pro-death penalty advocate. I can't speak for others, but I for one support every effort to follow up innocence possibilities for any convict, even one who has already been executed.

Among other considerations, how can people be expected to trust prosecutors, police or other officials who cover up evidence showing that someone who was executed wrongly?

I care about innocent people being convicted, whether of a traffic infraction, misdemeanor, felony or capital crime. Of course, I care in direct proportion to the severity of the potential punishment.

Furthermore, capital punishment especially requires a degree of public confidence that it will be applied to as few innocent people as humanly possible. Zero innocent victims is not compatible with any human, and necessarily imperfect, institution, but we need to do our best - and be seen to do our best - to save as many innocent people as possible. Otherwise, we jeopardize capital punishment itself.

Last but not least, I also care about the truth. Only in rare circumstances should officials lie or suppress the truth. To the contrary, investigation of the possibility that someone who was convicted and executed for a murder really was innocent is every reason to find the truth and proclaim it - whatever it may be - from the rooftops.

Jeff Deutsch

Donna - January 18, 2008 3:38 PM

Jeffrey, I believe your comments are evidence of the facts that are currently undermining the justice system. As I've posted before, the Supreme Court of the US, and countless Judges have stated that it is a worse crime to punish the innocent, then let the guilty go free. The idea that we will punish 100 to get 1, is as appauling as punishing 10 to get 9. It doesn't matter what the punishment is: The entire purpose of the judicial system is to ensure fairness and equality, but more importantly, protect life, liberty and justice.

Furthermore - you miss one key element in this argument: to lie, or withhold information, or falsely charge someone with a crime (in which a failure to perform the duties of an office has resulted in substantial harm to an individual), is deserving of a punishment itself. Sure, if someone is falsely charged with speeding, then we shouldn't be, 'too,' worked up over the issue - however, if we truly cared about justice and not creating a system of abuse that would lead to continued abuses in capital punishment, then we should be proactive in every case:

Dependence begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition.

You can argue that there should be a level of concern of accuracy versus punishable crime, but as per the old analogy: give them an inch, and they'll take a mile, applies directly to the fallacy of human nature as an all-encompassing form of trustworthiness. By the way - the quote regarding designs of ambition - is Thomas Jefferson. And, unless you believe the Declaration of Independence to be without merit, then we should no so easily turn our noses at the words of one of our country's forefathers.

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