There are several good reasons to give every death row inmate an indefinite reprieve. This week the U.S. Supreme Court found another.
Particularly in Texas, the nation's execution leader, the criminal justice system is prone to mistakes and abuse. The system is too unreliable in its assessment of guilt to justify exacting the ultimate, irrevocable penalty.
As recorded by the Innocence Project, advances in DNA analysis have exonerated more than 200 convicted prisoners nationwide since 1989. The wrongful convictions often involved cases of mistaken identity. Police and prosecutorial misconduct were common. The odds are that many more innocent people are in prison for crimes they did not commit and for whom there is no DNA to analyze.
In Houston, the Police Department crime lab's incompetent testing of all kinds of evidence — combined with false testimony — tainted hundreds of cases, placing their convictions in doubt.
Tuesday the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide whether lethal injections are cruel and unusual and therefore unconstitutional. Critics allege the injections can cause great agony, but the drugs paralyze the prisoner before he can protest.
In an earlier case, Justice John Paul Stevens informed a deputy attorney general from Florida that the drug cocktail used by her state and all the others — sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride in various dosages — would not be allowed to be used to euthanize cats and dogs. In a California case, a member of the American College of Veterinary Anesthesiologists testified that those drugs were soundly rejected by his peers and would be very likely to cause pain in animals.
With lethal injections suspected of being cruel and unusual and therefore unconstitutional and unjust, it is inappropriate for Texas to proceed with executions until the court has ruled. A spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry, however, said executions in Texas would continue, as the cases under review affect only Kentucky.
That is a narrow and mean view of justice. Do the governor and the members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles wish to look back on a series of cruel and possibly illegal executions carried out under a legal cloud?
Death row inmates about to be executed committed their crimes 15-20 years ago. Where is the harm in postponing executions for a few months until the court makes its ruling? After executing more than 400 people since 1977, Texas can afford to wait.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Cruel punishment? Texas and other states should halt lethal injections while the Supreme Court weighs constitutionality
Thats the title of Houston Chronicle's editorial calling on Texas to stop all executions while the Supreme Court considers constitutionality of lethal Injections.