Our system of justice is built on the belief that it’s better to let a guilty man go free than to imprison – or kill – an innocent man for a crime he did not commit. That’s why there are all those procedural hurdles from the beginning of an investigation all the way through that last minute request for stay of execution.
This dedication to protecting the innocent threads through the controversy surrounding Texas Chief Justice Sharon Keller and her infamous “the clerk’s office closes at 5:00” phone call. It’s why the DNA revelations of Israel’s Dan Frumkin are reverberating around the world. It’s why the Innocence Project exists.
It would seem self-evident that the continued revelations from our scientific community, particularly the new DNA warning by Frumkin, would obviously balance against any continued use of capital punishment, given the fragility of reliablity of prosecution evidence over time.
Wouldn’t it? This seems obvious from the defense counsel’s perspective. This seems to be what our system of justice and the parameters of due process require.
Maybe it takes something that hits home, touches people’s hearts for this truth to become self-evident. Sometimes there is the one case that really hits home with a lawyer — and in The Huffington Post today, Cy Vance (a veteran criminal lawyer currently running for District Attorney of Manhattan) gives us an eloquent piece on the case of Cameron Todd Willingham.
Willingham may well have been another innocent man executed by the State, whose innocence was revealed after his death due to scientific advances that gave more details to the evidence found at the scene of the crime. Willingham’s case is particularly poignant because he was convicted and killed for the death by fire of his own children. Now, arson experts are saying that this was never an arson case, the fire was not intentionally set.
I highly recommend you take the time to read what Cy Vance has voiced about the Cameron Todd Willingham case, as well as the death penalty overall. It’s worth your time. And it really demonstrates, concretely, that continued technological advances is one of the biggest argument against the death penalty.