Michael Ransom, Contributing EditorLast Modified: 20:38 p.m. DST, 6 May 2014
WASHINGTON, DC - Until last week, the accuracy of death penalty application in the United States had been the subject of speculation. Given to the trades of debate and guesswork, even prominent thinkers with important positions in the judicial system add to the growing body of conjecture. In 2007, Justice Antonin Scalia calculated that the American legal system is correct 99.973% of the time. His math, data and motives are altogether dubious, and his claims carry very little weight in both judicial and scientific circles.
Rate of false conviction of criminal defendants who are sentenced to death is a landmark study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and written by Gross, O'Brien, Hu and Kennedy, who are researchers at University of Michigan Law, Michigan State Law, American College of Radiology and University of Pennsylvania Medicine, respectively. They conclude that no less than 4.1% of death row inmates have been wrongly convicted, a percentage they say is the most conservative calculation possible, according to records from 1989 to 2012.
These experts use data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics from the Department of Justice and numbers from The Death Penalty Information Center to arrive at their findings. Using survival analysis, the team is able to isolate the frequency at which wrongful convictions are overturned, and apply that ratio to the death row population. Resources and legal expertise are rationed to inmates nearing their scheduled execution, and survival analysis standardizes the effects of these efforts in uncovering groundless convictions across the board. The authors of the study and many in the national conversation agree that the true number of innocent convicts living on death row is much higher.
Meanwhile, executions throughout the country have gained considerable media attention. As European producers of lethal drugs have stopped supplying their products to the United States for the express purpose of execution, officials have struggled to obtain injections that are neither cruel nor unusual. Last week, convicted murderer and rapist Clayton Lockett was put to death in Oklahoma with a needle that introduced only certain ingredients of the drug cocktail into his bloodstream. Lockett's execution was halted midway, and he died ten minutes later of a heart attack. Charles Warner is the next to be executed in Oklahoma, and he is seeking postponement while Lockett's proceedings are investigated by a third-party.
Published: 6 May 2014 (Page 2 of 2)
The Supreme Court of Oklahoma has recently sounded off on inmates' request for the names and types of substances that they will be administered. The court found that it is constitutional to withhold this information from convicts. Justice Steven Taylor responded that they had no more right to this disclosure than "if they were being executed in the electric chair, they would have no right to know whether OG&E or PSO were providing the electricity; if they were being hanged, they would have no right to know whether it be cotton or nylon rope; or if they were being executed by firing squad, they would have no right to know whether it be by Winchester or Remington ammunition."
Well, that sounded poetic, and almost made sense. But Lockett's inadequate execution is just one of many similar cases recently, ever since untested American drugs have taken the place of better-researched European counterparts. This national experiment has yielded cruel results, such as the Ohio inmate who cried "I can feel my whole body burning" during his lethal injection earlier this year. So, Taylor's statement would be more accurate if he offered comparisons that mirror the humane nature of former injections and the inhumane reality of newer concoctions. Surely Taylor would agree that death row convicts should know whether they would be killed by high voltage or low voltage electric shocks; nylon rope or barbed wire; Winchester rounds or rubber bullets. Similarly, Taylor should acknowledge the inherent difference between the type of injection that renders the individual unconscious before killing him, and the type that leaves people writhing on the gurney, slowly dying from a heart attack.
True, the crimes of these two men in Oklahoma are heinous, and true, they should never be free to walk the streets again. But soon the nation will have to come to terms with the costs of capital punishment, and not in terms of dollars and cents. Of the 121 inmates on death row in Arizona, at least 5 are innocent according to Rate of false conviction. In Texas, the national sanctuary of the death penalty, 273 are awaiting execution and no less than 10 of these individuals are innocent. California's collection of convicts numbers 746, which includes at least 29 innocent people. Nationwide, 3,108 offenders are waiting on death row. The only problem? 124 of these people did not commit the offense. And probably more.
A common and intelligible rallying cry behind the death penalty is "if your loved one was senselessly taken by a vicious predator, maybe then you would understand." Certainly. It is a tragedy that anyone should be taken before their time. Inherent in that statement, though, is the value of human life, especially moral and upright people. Americans will need to address issues in the application of the death penalty and the conditions in society that make murder and rape commonplace. When the stakes are life and death, why perpetuate the injustice to 124+ more victims? Why extend that pain to countless more family members?
These 124 and more upcoming executions are preventable deaths. The desire to apply justice to reprehensible perpetrators should not turn us into criminals ourselves.Return to Page 1 »
- Obama troubled by botched Oklahoma execution (news.yahoo.com)
- Oklahoma botches first execution in 80 years (latimes.com)
- In victim's Oklahoma town, no tears for inmate in botched execution (latimes.com)
- Death penalty: Botched execution using new drug combo ends in Oklahoma prisoner's death by heart attack (vancouversun.com)
- A Botched Execution And The Death Penalty Now (onpoint.wbur.org)