Death penalty is simply wrong

Since Jan. 17, 1977, when the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty, 1,510 people have been executed in the United States. During that time, 166 people who were convicted and sentenced to death have been exonerated because of their innocence. (There have been two exonerations in Indiana.) These exonerations are 166 examples of systemic failures, not systemic safeguards. When handing down death penalty judgments, the United States judicial system is less than inadequate and less than inaccurate, it is killing innocent people.

On Feb. 17, 2004, the state of Texas executed Cameron Todd Willingham. He had been charged with the arson murder of his three children. Cameron Todd Willingham was innocent — not because of a legal technicality, but because he never committed the crime and in fact, there was no crime — the fire was an accident. Nationally, at least 13 other executions have substantial questions about the innocence of the persons who were executed.

In the United States, the proven execution of an innocent person cannot be viewed as a regrettable exception or a terrible mistake. The execution of an innocent person is a terminal indictment of the death penalty. Along with the Revolutionary War came a revolution in judicial philosophy. A foundational tenet of the new judicial system would be the concept that a person is innocent until proven guilty. No longer, as it had been under British rule, would it be an acceptable consequence for innocent people to be convicted, imprisoned or executed because it increases the likelihood of convicting, imprisoning, and executing more guilty people. 

Overtly implicit in the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” is the accepted consequence of innocent people not having to face criminal adjudication even if it means some guilty people will not incur deserved criminal justice. When an innocent person is falsely accused or wrongfully imprisoned, the ability to seek redress is a constitutionally protected right (Amendment I). There is no redress for a person who is wrongfully convicted and executed. In the United States, there can be no room for a death penalty that can execute an innocent person.

The death penalty, which makes redress impossible, is unavoidably plagued with arbitrariness; racism; enforcement, prosecutorial and judicial hubris; too few post-sentencing corrective measures; and almost no avenues for a post-sentencing presentation of new evidence proving innocence. The evidence against the death penalty is substantial and should be considered conclusive.

There are those who say, “If a murder happened to your family, you would feel different.” It has happened to me and I do not feel different. The death penalty is wrong and must be abolished.

— Douglas C. Sloan, Father of Chad Sloan, murdered Jan. 22, 1977

Terre Haute

III

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