Judge’s critics not arguing right facts
Since State District Judge Kevin Fine of Houston declared the death penalty unconstitutional, critics have pointed out that he:
A. Is a Democrat.
B. Is a recovering alcoholic.
C. Is a former cocaine user.
D. Has a lot of tattoos.
They have not provided a coherent defense of the death penalty as it is administered in Texas.
If you want to read some really brutal criticism of Texas’ death penalty, forget about Judge Fine for a minute. Take a look at the justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, most of whom were appointed by conservative presidents. For the past decade, they’ve had a lot to say about Texas.
The court threw out one conviction, not because it doubted the guilt of the convicted murderer, Thomas Miller-El, but because it found that, for decades, prosecutors in Dallas County “had followed a specific policy of systematically excluding blacks from juries.” That’s a decadeslong problem of procedure that poisoned countless cases. It’s not something that can be covered by an excuse.
When the Supreme Court began questioning the practice of executing people for crimes they committed before the age of 18, they looked at Texas, which had 26 such people on death row.
When the Supreme Court expressed qualms about executing people who are mentally retarded, it looked at Texas.
The U.S. Supreme Court is not obsessed with Texas. The justices were just looking at the most obvious problems.
Here are just three:
• The possibility of error is great. The problems Texas has had with some of its crime labs are notorious. You’d have to be dense not to wonder about the evidence that has been presented to juries. The state has released people who have spent years in prison after DNA confirmed their innocence.
• There are still too many questions about racial bias.
• Too often the question of who lives or dies has more to do with money than with justice. Those who can afford to pay for a near miraculous defense often get one. Meanwhile, poor defendants often get poor representation.
For the past decade, The Daily News has asked the governor to declare a moratorium on the death penalty and to ask the Legislature to study the problems and address them.
We think real leaders would find that an interesting, challenging proposal — a more challenging topic than Judge Fine’s tattoos.
The Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break March 15-19 in Austin