Thursday, January 05, 2006

I Dont Know Why I Feel Compelled to Post on This...

I see things and I feel compelled to comment on them. That was my whole reason for starting a blog in the first place. So I saw this article on CNN's website and I feel like I need to say something about it. This despite the previous post I made a couple weeks ago on the topic and over which I'm still smarting. I'm not kidding - my feelings were really hurt when I read some of the reactions to what I had to say. You will need to read the complete strands of postings on both sites to understand why, but suffice it to say I got a good verbal thrashing for what I posted and still feel it was unfair and based on emotion rather than logic.

Maybe I'm just a masochist (yeah, those of you who actually know me are rolling on the floor laughing over that one, I know) but I'm gonna post on this subject again, so here goes....

O.K., I support the death penalty. I'll say that up-front for anyone who was unwilling to go back and read the previous posts. But like that previous post (and ALL the subsequent comments) the purpose of this post is not to defend that position. That is the subject for a later, hypothetical post. Rather, it is the purpose of this post to attempt to provide some perspective on what was reported on in the CNN article referenced above.

So, the CNN article reported on an execution in Virginia that may have been a mistake. A man there by the name of Robert Keith Coleman was executed in 1992 for brutally raping and murdering his sister-in-law. To the death, Coleman continued to insist that he was innocent, and indeed, there were some strange twists to this case. The DNA evidence collected (sperm samples) came from two men, not just one, and another man confessed to the killing. On the other hand, Coleman had a history of violent sexual assualt, the DNA tests revealed that Coleman's DNA was consistent with the DNA collected (in 1992, this meant that Coleman fit in with the 0.2 percent of the population that could have been a match with the sample), and Coleman failed several lie detector tests about this case. Now I am the first to admit that those pieces of evidence do no conclusively prove guilt (they are however, pretty strong circumstantial pieces of evidence). In fact, there are enough questions surrounding this case that negotiations are underway to have the DNA sample re-tested. In 2006, with more sophisticated tests and better equipment, tests can now be performed to determine exact DNA matches, rather than just narrowing down a population. Not privy to the other evidence in the case, I have no choice but to concede that it is possible in this case that an innocent man was executed. A final DNA test should answer that question.

The question is, if it turns out that an innocent man was executed, will my support of the death penalty waver? That is the question raised by the CNN article. Apparently some people are resisting having the DNA retested because they are concerned that if the tests do reveal that an innocent man died, public support for capital punishment will waver. Well of course public support will waver....but should it? My position wont change and I would argue that a development like this shouldn't change the support of anyone else either. The reason for that is, if you are a person who supports the death penalty today, you must acknowledge that mistakes can and will be made, and that along with the death penalty comes the possibility that an innocent victim will be executed. That baggage comes along with support of the death penalty. It's one of the many concerns that makes the death penalty such a sticky, complicated difficult issue.

For some, this one issue - the possibility that mistakes can happen - is enough to push them into the anti-death-penalty camp. They argue that even one innocent life is too great an expense. And I really respect that opinion. I can very much understand why a person would be against the death penalty on the basis of this issue. For me though, it isn't enough of a reason to change my support. But I can understand why it is enough for some people. As awful as this is going to sound to some people, I do honestly believe that the cost associated with the death penalty (as awful and terrible as it is - and it IS awful and terrible) is worth the service and protections that capital punishment affords society.

But the point is, I understand and acknowledge that there is a terrible cost associated with the death penalty. I've weighed that factor into my thinking on this subject, and still, I come out of my personal deliberations steadfast on the side of capital punishment. And that ought to be true of anyone else who supports the death penalty; otherwise their position is not well formulated. It is impossible to take the stand, "I support the death penalty unless it results in the execution of an innocent man." Because those two things are completely contradictory. We live in an imperfect world, and mistakes are going to be made, given the death penalty, innocent men will be executed. But as forensic science and criminal investigations grow more and more sophisticated we can continue to make efforts at reducing the number of mistakes made to a bare minimum.

So why would public opinion waver if it is discovered that Robert Keith Coleman is discovered to have been innocent? If you support the death penalty then you've already factored this possible scenario into your stand on the issue. Right? Wrong!Because too many people out there have NOT developed well formed positions on this issue (and many other issues). They haven't really considered all the ramifications and nuances and subtle twists that are wrapped up in this issue. But here's the real outcome of all of this: the people who waver in their support of the death penalty because of a case like this - guess what? They are the very same people who will waver right back again when the next young woman is brutally raped and murdered in their home state and a convicted sex-offender is arrested and tried for the crime. They'll be right back there saying, "we need to kill this monster!"

Hey, wavering is the national pastime of the "enlightened" American public.


At 5:20 PM, Anonymous bets said...

respectable post. . . i just love reading (or listening to) your talk. :)


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