FEATURED POST

In the Bible Belt, Christmas Isn’t Coming to Death Row

Image
When it comes to the death penalty, guilt or innocence shouldn’t really matter to Christians.  

NASHVILLE — Until August, Tennessee had not put a prisoner to death in nearly a decade. Last Thursday, it performed its third execution in four months.
This was not a surprising turn of events. In each case, recourse to the courts had been exhausted. In each case Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, declined to intervene, though there were many reasons to justify intervening. Billy Ray Irick suffered from psychotic breaks that raised profound doubts about his ability to distinguish right from wrong. Edmund Zagorksi’s behavior in prison was so exemplary that even the warden pleaded for his life. David Earl Miller also suffered from mental illness and was a survivor of child abuse so horrific that he tried to kill himself when he was 6 years old.
Questions about the humanity of Tennessee’s lethal-injection protocol were so pervasive following the execution of Mr. Irick that both Mr. Zagorski and M…

California Gov. Brown should do the right thing and grant clemency to death row inmate Kevin Cooper

DNA testing
Stymied by legal challenges, the state of California has not executed any of its more than 700 condemned prisoners since 2006. But if the machinery of death ever does rev back up, Kevin Cooper will be on the short list of people to receive lethal injections. He shouldn't be, and Gov. Jerry Brown needs to ensure that it doesn't happen.

Cooper was convicted of horrific crimes. Douglas and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter Jessica, and 11-year-old houseguest Christopher Hughes were hacked and slashed to death in June 1983. The Ryens' 8-year-old son Josh miraculously survived having his throat cut.

Even though Cooper has spent more than 30 years on death row for the murders, however, serious questions have lingered.

For instance, Josh Ryen initially told hospital workers that the family had been attacked by 3 or 4 white men. Cooper is black.

What's more, a woman said that on the day of the murders, her former boyfriend had been wearing a tan T-shirt similar to one found near the crime scene. She also said he showed up at her house wearing blood-spattered coveralls. (The coveralls were discarded by a sheriff's deputy, the blood untested.)

No matter what the DNA test finds, Brown should commute Cooper's sentence to life in prison without parole.

The forensic evidence linking Cooper to the killings was thin, and there are strong arguments that some of it was planted after his arrest. For instance, years after Cooper's arrest, a blood test was performed on the tan T-shirt and, according to analysts, the test detected his DNA. At first, that seemed to be the incontrovertible scientific evidence that had for so long eluded investigators - but an appellate judge noted that the blood on the T-shirt contained signs of a chemical used by the sheriff's office to preserve blood in a laboratory for later testing. According to the judge, that suggested the blood "had been planted on the T-shirt."

That shirt remains at the center of the current battle over Cooper's guilt. Trace DNA tests not available at the time of the crimes or Cooper's trial or his earlier appeals could, experts argue, determine whether Cooper or someone else had worn the shirt. But since Cooper has exhausted his appeals, prosecutors have refused to conduct the test.

There are 2 outrages here. First, there is no rational reason not to do the tests. A man's life hangs in the balance. If the state wants to execute someone, it must go to extreme lengths to make certain the inmate is actually guilty. It's true that Cooper has exhausted all his legal appeals, but that's no reason to refuse to take another step to determine whether the state has convicted the wrong man. It was just 6 weeks ago that Vicente Benavides Figueroa was freed after a quarter-century on death row when it was finally determined that the medical evidence against him was based on incomplete records. 7 months ago, Craig Coley was released from a life sentence when new DNA tests of evidence from his 1980 trial proved his innocence.

Second, there are serious accusations here about the planting of evidence and the destruction of other evidence, the failure of prosecutors to share exculpatory evidence with Cooper's lawyer, lies by investigators and other acts of official misconduct. These demonstrate yet again why the capital punishment process is too imperfect and manipulable to be relied upon. Even if the DNA test doesn't provide incontrovertible proof that Cooper is innocent, it is still the case that actions by police and prosecutors - such as throwing away the bloody coveralls - deprived Cooper of due process and a fair trial.

Cooper filed this clemency petition more than 2 years ago, yet Brown has not acted on it. No matter what the DNA test finds, Brown should commute Cooper's sentence to life in prison without parole. (Because Cooper has prior felony burglary convictions, four state Supreme Court justices would have to approve, too.)

The Times opposes the death penalty under any circumstances in part because of cases such as this, in which a person who may very well be innocent could get executed. There is no known mechanism to ensure against that.

The governor, who also opposes the death penalty, knows the capital punishment system is inherently flawed. And the Cooper case bares those flaws in excruciating detail. The system has failed from beginning to end, and it would be both an error of judgment and a failure of morality to keep Cooper on death row any longer.

Brown has over his recent 8-year stint in the governor's office made tough decisions on a range of issues. This one actually is easy. Brown should grant clemency and see that the DNA test is conducted.

Source: Los Angeles Times, Editorial, June 12, 2018


⚑ | Report an error, an omission, a typo; suggest a story or a new angle to an existing story; submit a piece, a comment; recommend a resource; contact the webmaster, contact us: deathpenaltynews@gmail.com.


Opposed to Capital Punishment? Help us keep this blog up and running! DONATE!



"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

Most Viewed (Last 7 Days)

Florida executes Jose Jimenez

Texas executes Alvin Braziel Jr.

Iran: Billionaire To Be Hanged After Government Collects His Money

The Electric Chair Is Back and the Death Penalty Is on Life Support

Prisoner executions in Belarus ‘simply unacceptable’, says UN rights body

Will change to ‘Savings Clause’ save Florida death-row inmate?

Opinion: Jerry Brown Has the Power to Save 740 Lives. He Should Use It.

Iran: 2 men hanged in Urmia, Qazvin over drug, rape charges

As next execution looms, Florida debates the drugs it uses to kill

Lukashenko: Decision on capital punishment should be made by people