Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Remembering Molly Ivins

Molly Ivins, the irreverent nationally syndicated columnist from Texas who rankled conservatives and delighted liberals, died late this afternoon after a seven-year battle with breast cancer. She was 62.

Molly Ivins has written several pieces criticizing the death penalty and here is one of her columns about the execution of Gary Graham in 2000.

A mock-ery of a death penalty trial
June 21, 2000

The Supremes are probably right about prayer at football games in the Santa Fe School District case, but you must admit that there's a slight cultural gap here. The court's decision noted that the Fifth Circuit had ruled that students could offer prayers at graduation, but not in the far less solemn and extraordinary setting of a football game. That's all they know about Friday nights.

I've heard a good many proselytizing public prayers offered in this state, as opposed to the "To Whom it may concern: Let no one get injured in tonight's game, Amen" variety, but I doubt you could prove that this increases intolerance. On the other hand, in May, three Santa Fe High students were arrested on accusations that they threatened to hang a 13-year-old Jewish boy, an eighth-grader at the middle school. If true, we would have to say that the three have failed to grasp some of the central tenets of the Christian faith, let alone the principles on which the country is founded.

And now to the case of Gary Graham, who is about to be executed on what has to be the slimmest evidence that anyone has seen in years. It's hard to believe that anyone could be convicted, much less given the death penalty, on the evidence of one eyewitness -- who saw him for maybe a second, from 30 to 40 feet away, at night. The two eyewitnesses who say the killer wasn't Graham got a much better look at the killer and were never heard from at trial, nor were his four alibi witnesses.

This is in part a tribute to Graham's lawyer Ron Mock, a defense attorney who has more clients on Death Row than most prosecutors ever put there. In fairness to Mock, like other public defenders, he had almost no money to prepare a defense. Mock called no defense witnesses. In recent years, he has been disciplined four times for professional misconduct.

Graham is no poster boy for the anti-death-penalty camp. He's a bad actor who belongs in prison -- several violent robberies and a rape. But whether we like it or not, his record doesn't prove that he's guilty of the Bobby Grant Lambert murder for which he is about to be executed.

For that matter, Lambert was a bad actor himself, a known drug dealer -- but that is just as irrelevant as Graham's record. Murder is murder. The relevant precedent here is the case of Henry Lee Lucas, the serial liar, whose sentence Gov. George W. Bush finally had to commute after the state convicted him of a murder that occurred while Henry Lee was out of state.

I've read some moving statements by victims in Graham's other crimes, who understandably want him dead. But I think the question here is simple: Would YOU want to be put to death on the strength of one eyewitness who got a glimpse from 35 feet away at night -- especially if there were better eyewitnesses and alibi witnesses?

(In 1998, a judge ruled that two of the four alibi witnesses who came forward after the trial were not credible -- they are both kin to Graham. But who else are you likely to be hanging out with but your own family and friends?)

If we could all calm down enough to get off our knee-jerk death penalty stands here and try to learn something from this case, there's a really useful change in process that we should consider here. It involves how eyewitness IDs are made.

The one eyewitness against Graham had described him as clean-shaven; she was shown five photographs of possible perps, of whom only Graham was without facial hair. She did not positively ID him from the photos, but the next day, she picked him out of a line-up.

Graham was the only one both in the photographs and the line-up, and experts say that photo spreads can influence line-up ID. There's a better way to do this.

Crow eaten here: In a recent column on the highlights of W. Bush's record as governor, I erroneously reported that Lonnie "Bo" Pilgrim, the chicken magnate and tort reformer, had given generously to Texans for Public Justice. Actually, Texans for Public Justice is a public interest group that keeps track of the contributions of major players like Pilgrim. I doubt that Pilgrim was thrilled by the error, either -- apologies to both camp

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