The Prevention of Innocent People??™s Execution
According to John J. Curtin, Former President of the American Bar Association, ???A system that will take a life must first give justice.??? The American justice system cannot begin to protect the innocent until the death penalty can be administered in a fair and non-discriminatory manner. It can no longer be overlooked that a lot of the three thousand, three hundred inmates that sit on death rows across the country have not received the quality of legal representation that the severity and the finality of a death sentence demand. (ABA) I believe the justice system is inconsistent and it is not a just justice system. For example, DNA testing should be performed on all items obtained from a crime scene immediately to help prove the innocence or guilt of the person that is on trial, and it is not always done. Without the results of DNA testing, how can you be certain, especially in death penalty cases, that you are condemning the correct person to death (ABA; Protess; Innocents Database)
Hank Skinner was to be executed on March 24, 2010, for the 1993 deaths of his live-in girlfriend Twila Busby and her two adult, mentally challenged sons. According to an affidavit from Howard Mitchel, Busby came home early from a New Years Eve party, between eleven p.m. and eleven fifteen p.m., and it was shortly thereafter that she was bludgeoned to death, and
both of her sons were stabbed repeatedly and died. Her oldest son was stabbed and murdered in his bed, and her youngest son was stabbed several times, but was able to crawl out of the home. (Case 1)
Prior to leaving the home the youngest son was able to get Skinner out of the house to try and find help even though Skinner was unconscious from a combination of Vodka and codeine that he had been taking all day long. (Case 1) It is unfortunate that the youngest son died shortly after retrieving Skinner from their home. In the same affidavit from 1994, Skinner??™s close friend Howard Mitchell testified that he came to the home of Skinner and Busby around ten fifteen p.m. to take them to his party and Skinner was passed out cold on the couch. Mitchell tried several times to awaken Skinner but was unsuccessful. (Case 1)
When the police arrived at the crime scene, investigative standards were not followed, as they would have been with any other crime scene. Based on the address alone, the sheriff knowing that Skinner lived there, and having a huge dislike for Skinner, I believe Skinner was automatically presumed guilty of the murders in the sheriff??™s eyes, due to fact that there were so many discrepancies in the way evidence was gathered, and lack of forensic testing performed on items gathered from the crime scene. (Case 2)
Two knives were found at the crime scene, both with blood on them, but the DNA was never tested because the sheriff and the prosecution did not believe that there was any evidence
that connected those two knives to the murders. (Case 3) How could they not be connected to the crime This is appalling to me. The blood that was at the scene of the crime was never tested for DNA as well because it was thought to be the blood of Twila Busby herself. (Case 3)
The contents of a rape kit that had been performed on Ms. Busby never had DNA testing either. (Case 3) This case screams prosecutorial misconduct and someone could possibly pay for it with his life. This is a serious problem, which represents gross misconduct and neglect of the police department in the town where the crime was committed. (ABA; Cicurel et al; Protess)
I happened upon this case as I was researching another case, one that actually made it to a television broadcast by PBS Television Station on their Frontline Program. That program was based on the case of Cameron Todd Willingham who was executed in the state of Texas, for the deaths of his three young children who perished in a house fire, that was thought to be started by arson, started by Todd Willingham. (Frontline ???Death by Fire???) Gerald Hurst, an arson expert, was called to the scene to go over the remains to see what his expert opinion was. He determined that this clearly was not a case of arson and listed reasons to substantiate his findings. (Lithwick) Gerald Hurst??™s report sat on the desk of Rick Perry, Governor of the State of Texas, for two weeks prior to the execution. (Rubac) Here is another case where there was evidence that the state of Texas had the wrong person on death row, but this information must have been overlooked because the execution went on as planned. The state of Texas admitted on August 29, 2009 that they murdered an innocent man. (dailykos)
This sort of injustice is unacceptable and is happening way too often. If there is DNA evidence available, it should be mandatory that it get tested immediately, to see if the police have the correct person or not. I believe that is called burden of proof. It is not fair for someone to lose their life entirely or even a day of it when there is evidence that can prove them innocent.
Along with that goes the fact that it is not right for someone to commit a crime and get away with it either. If the police and prosecution did a better job investigating and performing the proper tests at the beginning of a case, then it would leave less after the fact testing to be performed. If people don??™t want to do the testing because it is the ethical thing to do, I would hope that they would want the testing done so there are less criminals loose on the streets, which in turn would make the world a safer place to be. (ABA; Cicurel et al; Protess; Innocents Database)
In the Skinner case, ???The untested evidence includes vaginal swabs from a rape kit, bloodied knives, fingernail clippings, hair clutched in the female victim??™s hand and a blood stained windbreaker strikingly similar to one worn by the alternative suspect.??? (Case 3) Testing all the evidence may be costly, but is it more costly to test evidence in the beginning to see if you have the right person, or to house them in jail for possibly the rest of their lives or even worse, put an end to a life that you aren??™t one hundred percent sure is the person who committed the crime Furthermore, executing the wrong person would be considered murder. How is this acceptable If you convict and/or execute the wrong person then there is a murderer, an arsonist,
a child molester, etc., that is free to run the streets and commit the crime again. In an interview with Maureen Maher for CBS News, Mark Protess, Skinner??™s current attorney stated, ???All of this
evidence, should have been tested by the state because they have an obligation to exclude as well as convict a person.???
Both of the cases that I have mentioned represent that there is a serious problem with
some of our judicial system, and their misuse of power, and I would like to propose a change be made to make it fairer for everyone, not just those on death row. Too many times the courts convicted the wrong person, and that wrong person looses so much: their jobs, their dignity, self-respect, respect of others, and their life as they knew it. Just last week I heard on the radio that several people had been released from jail due to DNA testing which proved the police, judge and jury convicted the wrong people in all of these cases.
I was stunned to read the numbers of people that are in a database knows as ???The Innocents Database.??? According to this database, they currently have three thousand and twenty three people listed in the database. Five hundred thirty- eight people were sentenced to death, six hundred and nine people were sentenced to life in prison, and four hundred thirty-five people were exonerated after the police claimed they had given a confession that later proved to be false. Two thousand, eight hundred and thirty-four people have been judicially exonerated or pardoned which means all of the people listed in this database have been convicted of a crime
that they did not commit, DNA testing proved them innocent, and they were released from jail! (Innocents Database) It is extremely upsetting to me to think that the police, who are supposed to help, serve and protect us, are some of the ones who do the most harm to people.
I would like to propose a two-part solution. When an infant is born, along with taking their footprints, take the infant??™s fingerprints and a DNA sample and put them into a national
database. Then when you have a crime where there is compelling evidence leading one direction or another, or the prosecution is leading the case and/or jury to think only one way, then you match up the fingerprints and DNA samples taken at birth to see if you have the right person or not. If you have the right person, great! You have attained the burden of proof. If you do not, then you continue searching until you find the right person, but you do not convict an innocent person. That is morally and ethically wrong. Some may argue that this is in violation of a person??™s privacy, but I disagree. I disagree because if it is common knowledge that your DNA, and foot and/or fingerprints are in a national database, maybe people might think twice before committing a crime. I disagree on a second note because I would imagine that the people who oversee this database have more important things to do than to sit and study the DNA and prints of people listed in this database. I do not know how much it would cost to do this, but whatever the cost I would think it would be well worth it. In addition, this database might help identify unknown murderers of victims in cases for which the police haven??™t been able to solve. How are the members of families that have lost a family member due to crime supposed to get closure if a
case has been closed due to not being able to find who committed this crime I believe this is exactly why we should have this database.
My second suggestion is it should be mandatory to collect all evidence in connection with the crime and test it for DNA immediately. Skinner has been requesting DNA testing on several items taken from the crime scene, but has been denied for fifteen years. I believe if you are accused of a crime and you have nothing to hide, then there should be no problem with the DNA testing. What if a loved one of yours was convicted of a crime that they claim they did not commit Would you want the DNA testing done then
There is a sworn affidavit where the prosecutions star witness, Andrea Reed, recanted her whole testimony. She stated that the police coerced her into making the accusations on the stand that she did. (Case 11; Innocents Database, Rubac) The Innocents Database states that of the three thousand and twenty-three people listed in their database, four hundred and thirty eight people were exonerated after a false confession. Clearly this is not the first time a person has been coerced by the police or the prosecution. I doubt there is any way to completely stop coercion, but with the system I have proposed, knowing there is data in a national database,
maybe people may be less likely to commit a crime, which in turn would help cut down the
amount of police coercion that is happening today.
As with any form of change, there will always be people who will think that what I am
suggesting goes against their civil rights, and I believe the exact opposite would be true. I believe it goes against everyone??™s civil rights to punish, all the way up to executing a person when you do not know for fact that you have the correct person.
As for justice being served in the matter of the Skinner case, it was reported on
CNN for Justice that, ???State Senator Rodney Ellis and State Representative Elliott Naishat
were among some of the people who have called for a reprieve.??? Ellis stated in a letter to Rick Perry, Governor of the state of Texas, ???It has come to my attention that there are numerous problems with Mr. Skinner??™s case that raise serious questions regarding the fairness of his trial and whether or not he is guilty.??? CNN for Justice also reports that since 1995 when he was convicted, Skinner has maintained his innocence and has been very determined to gain access to untested physical evidence; he has been denied every step of the way by the District Attorney. The fact that so many people have been exonerated for crimes they were convicted of, I think this certainly proves that we have a serious problem within our justice system. In the Willingham case they had a report by an expert in his field that there is no way that case was arson and yet Willingham was executed anyway. (CNN for Justice) This makes my blood boil.
Reported by the Dallas News, ???If Skinner looses our state again could be in the embarrassing position of authorizing an execution with potentially exculpatory evidence locked away??? just like in the case of Todd Willingham. How many people have to die before the state
of Texas gets a clue To me it is unconscionable that a state??™s Governor had information that
exonerated a person of a crime, but more importantly he had evidence that would have spared someone loosing his life and he ignored it. I cannot comprehend how this can happen.
DNA testing should be paid for the same way anything else gets paid for that the prosecution tests. It is the state??™s responsibility to provide the burden of proof, not the defendant??™s responsibility to prove his innocence. If all evidence is not tested, how can the state claim that they have met the standards of providing the burden of proof
The Skinner case grabbed the attention of Professor Protess and eight of his journalism students, known to be the members of the Medill Innocence Project from Northwestern University. They are a group of individuals that fight for the rights of convicted people. They investigate cases where all the pieces to the puzzle don??™t quite fit. ???The state of Texas has denied Hank Skinner??™s request for DNA testing,??? says Protess, who states the testing costs as much as ten thousand dollars. ???If the state of Texas is too cheap to determine whether an innocent man is on their death row, then Northwestern University??™s Medill School of Journalism will pay for those tests.??? (Protess) They have become so involved in making sure that justice is
truly served, that Professor Protess stated, in a letter to the Governor that the Journalism program would pay for the testing. He has yet to hear back from the Governor. I cannot believe that the means have been offered to the state of Texas to do the testing for free and yet they still will not do the it. This is horrifying to me and in my opinion; the Governor of Texas should be removed from office on grounds of gross misconduct, neglect and derelict of duty.
Skinner was down to the eleventh hour of the day, eating what was to be his final meal on earth when he received a call, in his wildest dreams he never expected to get; it was a call from the Supreme Court issuing a stay of execution. (McNiff) Skinner has maintained since day one that he is innocent of committing the crimes for which he was convicted. This deed by the Supreme Court, reported by defense attorney Robert Owen, speculates that the Court believes there is merit to having the DNA testing done.
I believe if you did the crime you should do the time no exceptions. I do not believe that people, who are wrongly accused and convicted of various crimes, are treated as human beings. People want to know that when justice is being served, that it is being served to the correct person. As in the Skinner case, several of the jury members have demanded that DNA testing be done on all evidence. They want to know they convicted and sentenced to death the correct man. (Cicurel, et al)
I do not know that what I have suggested would work or not, there may be things involved that are beyond my knowledge that would effect if this is possible, but something has to change and it has to change now! I think my proposal is worth thinking about. Would you want someone to think about it if it was your life that was on the line for a crime that you did not commit
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