Will Proof That Texas Executed an Innocent Man Change People's Minds On the Death Penalty?
Cameron Todd Willingham's last words were: "I have been persecuted 12 years for something I didn't do." And now, five years after he was executed by the state of Texas, Willingham is probably as close to an exoneration as he’ll ever get. The blogs and news media have been filled with commentary about the revelation that Willingham was most likely innocent when he was executed, and it’s renewing calls for an examination of the death penalty in this country.
Without getting into all of the facts in this particular case, it is clear that we live with an imperfect justice system. The system makes mistakes. Wrong people are accused and convicted. Witnesses sometimes misremember the facts, and sometimes they lie for their own self-interest. Sometimes cops make mistakes, and sometimes prosecutors reach the wrong conclusions.
But the death penalty, when carried out, is always perfect. It always kills the target, and kills the target permanently. And once you kill the accused, you can’t really turn back the clock. If the system turns out to be wrong, as it does on occasion, saying you are sorry doesn’t do much good.
The Los Angeles Times reports that a new study by University of California, Santa Cruz, professor Craig Haney finds that support for the death penalty among Californians is down:
A majority of Californians still favor the death penalty, but their support has waned from 79% to 66% over the last two decades as fears of executing the wrongly convicted escalate, a researcher reported Tuesday.
…Support for the death penalty plunged to 26% when respondents were offered the alternative of guaranteed life imprisonment and the requirement that the offender work to pay restitution to victims and their families, Haney said.