Thursday, September 18, 2008

Blogger wants Collin County to follow Dallas in reviewing capital cases

Upon observing that Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins this week told the press he wanted to re-examine about 40 death penalty cases from Dallas County, Bill Baumbach at the Collin County Observer said the Charles Hood and Michael Blair cases show a similar review is needed in his county, offering this blog-cry in the wilderness about the damage recent incidents have caused to pubic confidence in the courts:

Collin County is well known for its no-nonsense harsh sentences and vigorous prosecution of evil doers. Unfortunately, it appears that, at least some of the time, our zeal to convict has overrun our sense of justice.

Our notion that all defendants are innocent until proven guilty in a fair trial is one of the glues that holds our society together. Most of us don't fear our courts, because we are confident that even if we are wrongly charged, the truth will prevail.

When that confidence is lost, we no longer live under the rule of law, but the rule of men - men who wish us harm.

In a letter to DA Roach on the Hood case, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott wrote, "... a death sentence is most serious and solemn act of any state. The impartiality of a defendant's trial and conviction must be beyond reproach."

As important as the notion of a fair trial is the unavoidable problem that when an innocent man is convicted, a guilty criminal is left free to commit new crimes - to hurt more victims.

Beyond those high-profile cases, he said, "Judicial and prosecutorial zeal has caused the recusal of another Collin County judge in the case of Mark Bell," an incident I hadn't heard about.

While I share Baumbach's sentiment that these cases show something may be deeply wrong with Collin County justice, asking John Roach to review these cases is a lot different from Craig Watkins doing it in Dallas. There are reviews and then there are reviews.

One facet of Watkins decision I found interesting was when the man he beat in the DA's race, Republican Toby Shook, complained to the Dallas News, "Perhaps he hasn't thought this through, but essentially what he's saying is, 'There is one more court of appeal and that's me."

That's a clever way to phrase it, but it's not really what's happening. The DA has a role in when executions get set and his office is exercising its prerogative. Instead, Watkins is issuing a no-confidence vote on the work of his predecessors at the Dallas DA's office, including Shook, in light of the rising tide of successful actual innocence claims.

Michael Blair's exoneration shows that even in death penalty cases the system can make mistakes and get the verdict 100% wrong, with appellate courts routinely approving even obvious mistakes. Watkins is right to want to identify and correct any errors before they become irreversible.


Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, I had a 1:00 AM lapse of consciousness.

"Chris Bell" should be "Mark Bell"

I have corrected the post, and apologize for the error.

Bill Baumbach
The Collin County Observer

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I fixed it in the text. Thanks, Bill.

Anonymous said...

But... but... txblues says there was nothing to the problems in Collin County.

I fixed it in the text.

Did you also was off all of the metrosexual?

Anonymous said...

Does "reviewing" change the assumption to "guilty" until proven innocent?

Anonymous said...

Good Job! :)'