The Machinery of Death is Sputtering


I came across two death penalty-related stories recently, both of which confirm what has been a widely-held belief among death penalty opponents for many years: our scheme of capital punishment is inherently flawed.

In the September 7, 200p issue of the New Yorker is the story of Cameron Todd Willingham, an inmate on Texas’ death row who was convicted of burning his three children to death in their home.  The article’s long but well worth the read.  It’s hard for me to pluck out an excerpt  mostly because of how well the story is written; it’s the kind of reporting that put the New Yorker on the map of journalistic excellence.  The reporter, David Grann, does devote one section of the story to a general survey of death penalty jurisprudence in the U.S., which he ends with the following Scalia anecdote:

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, in 2006, voted with a majority to uphold the death penalty in a Kansas case. In his opinion, Scalia declared that, in the modern judicial system, there has not been “a single case—not one—in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit. If such an event had occurred in recent years, we would not have to hunt for it; the innocent’s name would be shouted from the rooftops.”

Is a feature length story in a national magazine on a wrongful execution the equivalent of “shouting from the rooftops”?  How many more of these stories do we need before people like Scalia come to their senses?

In another story, Anthony Caravella of Broward County, Florida, was released after DNA tests cleared him of wrongdoing in a 1983 rape and murder case.  Caravella has spent 26 years in jail and had confessed to committing the crimes, but only after, according to his attorney, he was coerced to do so by the police.  Prosecutors had initially sought the death penalty against Caravella but were rebuffed in their efforts by the jury (11-1 against the death penalty).  Caravella has an IQ of 67 and his conviction rested largely on his own admissions of guilt.

The Miami Herald has the story here, the Sun-Sentinel has a timeline of the case here.

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