Thursday, October 15, 2009

Poll: Execution of innocents wouldn't sway death penalty opinions

For those hoping the Todd Willingham case (or more generally, the execution of an innocent person) might spark public reconsideration of the death penalty, don't hold your breath. According to Gallup, as reported by Doug Berman:
for many Americans, agreement with the assertion that innocent people have been put to death does not preclude simultaneous endorsement of the death penalty. A third of all Americans, 34%, believe an innocent person has been executed and at the same time support the death penalty. This is higher than the 23% who believe an innocent person has been executed and simultaneously oppose the death penalty. Looked at differently, the data show that 57% of those who believe an innocent person has been executed also support the death penalty. This is significantly higher than the 39% who hold this belief and (perhaps more consistently) oppose the death penalty.
This is why I've said it's regrettable that debate over the Willingham case isn't more focused on the arson science, a point Lisa Falkenberg reiterated in the Houston Chronicle this morning. Even if you're a death penalty opponent, this is not a winning strategy. Meanwhile, faulty arson forensics have resulted in numerous apparent false convictions, so it'd be unfortunate if those issues go unaddressed because the culture warriors want to fruitlessly squabble over the death penalty.


Karo said...

Assume that some innocent person was executed in the past. Do you think that means Paul Devoe should not have been sentenced to death?

S said...

Yes, Karo, I think Paul Devoe should not have been sentenced to death. But not just because some innocent person has been executed in the past.

I agree that the focus in the Willingham case needs to be on junk science, not on guilt or innocence or the death penalty over all. John Jackson and Rick Perry have been so busy defending themselves against claims that they executed an innocent man that we're losing the opportunity to learn anything from a review of the science in the Willingham case.

Robert Boyd said...

I think that's why Perry has been saying the Willingham case is all a bunch of hooey dreamed up by anti-death penalty activists. He knows that will ring true with many people, even if those people might otherwise be made uncomfortable with the thought of sending innocent men to jail (or to their deaths).

I think that folks who want the justice system reformed need to emphasize the desire to see justice done--which means sending guilty people to jail, not innocent people. This means better use of of science (whether arson science, DNA, the research on eyewitnesses and how to get the best evidence from them, etc.) as well as better incentives for people who work in the justice system (DAs and police departments shouldn't be rewarded for closing cases at all costs). The main thing is to emphasize that every innocent person put in jail is not only a horrible injustice, but at best represents a waste of time and taxpayer money, and at worst means a criminal got away with a heinous crime--and may still be free today.

Charlie O said...


The death penalty is NOT justice. It is revenge. If you think executing an innocent is OK, just so you can get the Paul Devoe's, you are one sad individual.

Cheri Lincoln said...

Ditto Charlie O...the death penalty is only about revenge. One would think a civilized society would not feel compelled to commit murder as a means for their so-called punishment. Spend a week or so in one of our illustrious Texas prisons and then tell me a life sentence isn't hell.

I am all for punishment if a person is guilty, do not get me wrong. However, this state had executed innocent prisoners. If they had a life sentence perhaps we could have precented such a travesty. Ask a few of the men already released due to the diligent work of Craig Watkins and his team. Just imagine if we had killed one of them.

By abolishing the death penalty once and for all, we no longer run the risk of murdering another person in the name of justice.

Karo said...

Revenge is an integral part of justice and I didn't write advocating the execution of innocent people.

The American public relatively recently expressed overwhelming support for our military and their assaults which lead to the deaths of up to 100,000 innocent Iraqi civilians. To many Americans, these deaths were justice for the victims of 9/11 and anyone complaining about that situation was an anti-American bed wetter.

Welcome to the new century; same as the old century.

Ryan Paige said...

I personally still support the death penalty, though my support has grown shakier over time.

I think for a lot of people, when we think of an innocent person being executed, we think that 1. we couldn't have known at the time because technology was different, and 2. we'll know better now because technology is better.

Of course, neither of those really holds up if we really think it through. But even with that, there are certainly many cases where guilt is not in doubt and the particular heinousness of the crime makes the death penalty appropriate, in my opinion.

My position is constantly evolving, though.

Chris H said...

A great op-ed by GOP candidate Debra Medina, that echoes many of your tones.

Anonymous said...

Well darn, Grits, looks like the anti-death penalty establishment might have to move on from the Willingham case in their never ending pursuit of the "holy grail." I'm just a little irritated this morning that the Forensic Science Commission saw fit to spend $30,000 of our tax dollars on this "objective" report from an out of state "expert" on a case that was long since closed and where there was so much overwhelming evidence of guilt.

Notwithstanding the FSC's foolishness in allowing themselves to become a liberal pawn in the death penalty debate, couldn't they have found at least one qualified fire scientist in Texas to buy an opinion from? Good grief!

Anonymous said...

Well 7:47 I think your priorities might be a little out of wack.
Using numbers from
We spent better than 2 million to put Willingham down. Estimates for trial, appeals and incarceration costs. Yet it fell to Willinghams's cousin to find Dr. Hurst to provide the expert review of the states witnesses. I'm thinking we might of got a little short changed on the defense we paid for.

Hurst is a Texan, with credentials a mile long, who took the case pro bono. He didn't get a dime. His only dog in the hunt appears to be a profound distaste for seeing people complete irrational acts out of ignorance. Unfortunatly for us those in the govenors office don't appear to have such a discriminating appitite.

So you figure it out there cowboy. Two million blown and we didn't even bother to ask the right questions. And that don't even factor in the State's fire marshal.

How much did we blow on the career of the man who swore to facts he had no clue about. Jeezus, any redneck who's knocked down a few beers around a camp fire knows damn well aluminum will melt in a wood fire... Where did that guy come from and how many more like him are out there? You think that's money well spent?

The 30 grand the TFSC spent is cheap money. Hell, if it just prevents one person from having to go through another witch trial, we'll get a hundred to one return on that investment. And it's not just Texas, the whole damn country has been infected with this nonsense that once passed for arson science.

Where we are getting robbed is by Perry who wont man up and let the commision complete it's work. He's put his political intrest ahead of the states and we'll all be poorer for it.

I'll admit I'm a little pissed myself about these so called "conservatives" who talk a good dance about responsibility and run for cover when the tab comes, due. I didn't sign on for that.

You insinuate that we are "liberal pawns" for doing the right thing for expecting the state to do the right thing, for trying to leave the place better than we found it. I don't know what turnup truck you fell off of, but those have always been conservative values. I've had a belly full of so called "conservatives" who are actually nothing more than reactionary partisans. Ignorant pawns for a govenor who's shown his colors.

Anonymous said...

It costs a lot of money to execute somebody because of all the processes to prevent an innocent person being executed.

Conversely we save a lot of money on Life Without Parole because we aren't so concerned about sentencing an innocent person to Life Without Parole.

If the defendant is actually innocent of capital murder they have a better chance of eventual release if they are sentenced to death.

Anonymous said...

That is perhaps true if one has competent defense. Again, it was Willingham's cousin who sought out a competent expert to review the evidence.

Here's the trail attorney. He didn't need to read NFPA 921, he had a can of lighter fluid.
Good lord...

Anonymous said...

That's the key: IF ONE HAS COMPETENT DEFENSE. Too many people don't have competent defense. Sadly the Hate mongers I read on ABC News, SF news blogs and Austin Statesman blogs serve up hate without thought to the consequences of the innocent. Habeus and appeal laws have changed to the point the truly innoncent don't have a chance. Just pray it isn't you or your loved one who is falsly accused.