Why I don’t support the Death Penalty

Having been raised as a “law and order” conservative, I used to strongly support the death penalty and would have strongly supported its use being expanded to include all murders and even heinous instances of rape and child abuse.

Things like this are what prompted me to change my mind.

[John Thompson] was wrongly convicted not once, but twice — separately — for a carjacking and a murder. He spent 18 years at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, 14 of them on death row. His death warrant was signed eight times. When his attorneys finally found the evidence that cleared him — evidence his prosecutors had known about for years — he was weeks away from execution.

But what most enrages Thompson — and what drives his activism today — is that in the end, there was no accountability. [bold added]

The particularly striking thing about [the] argument that self-regulation and professional discipline are sufficient to handle prosecutorial misconduct — is that even in the specific Supreme Court cases where it has been made, and where the misconduct is acknowledged, the prosecutors were never disciplined or sanctioned.

It’s a very long piece, that touches on some unrelated topics and raises a few points that I disagree with, but the overall premise is right on the money:

In our legal system, which rewards prosecutors for convictions rather than justice and in which there are absolutely no repercussions for prosecutors who bend, twist and mutilate the law to obtain those convictions, there are no guarantees that the person convicted of a heinous crime is actually the one who did it.

Between 1973 and 2002, Orleans Parish prosecutors sent 36 people to death row. Nine of those convictions were later overturned due to Brady violations. Four of those later resulted in exonerations. In other words, 11 percent of the men Connick’s office attempted to send to their deaths — for which prosecutors suppressed exculpatory evidence in the process — were later found to be factually innocent.

Our system of “innocent until proven guilty” and respect for individual rights is supposed to be engineered to err on the side of caution. Much better, our philosophy opines, that many guilty go free than for one innocent to be unjustly punished for a crime they did not commit.

The current legal system, with its protections against prosecutors (and other government officials) being held accountable for blatant misconduct, turns that philosophy in its head.

I have no problem whatsoever with the speedy, public, and graphic execution of those who commit murder or other horrific crimes, however when, in some locales, a conviction carries with it a 25 percent chance that the conviction was obtained illegally and an 11 percent chance that the convicted is DEMONSTRABLY innocent of the crime, then I’m very glad that our executions are not swift and I would strongly support the halting of them altogether until we can come up with better protections to ensure that only the guilty are convicted.

First among those protections should be prosecutors that are held accountable, are arrested and tried for misconduct and, if convicted, are as swiftly and harshly punished for such crimes as those that they prosecute.

“These people tried to eliminate me from the face of the earth,” Thompson says of his own prosecutors. “Do you get that? They tried to murder me. And goddamnit, there have to be some kind of consequences.”

But for the Grace of God go you or I.


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