Can the Death Penalty Be Saved from Its Supporters?

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Paradoxically, the people who stand to gain the most from these sorts of doubt-reducing steps are the proponents of capital punishment. A few shrewd death penalty opponents understand as much. The (London) Times editorializes: "If, as seems likely, public concern leads to wider DNA testing, better legal representation, and more certain convictions, then the popularity of the death penalty will rise, and that stony little part of the American soul that condones judicial killing will harden once again."

These opponents also understand that their best friends are governors and parole boards who proceed with executions despite well-founded doubts, as Texas Gov. George W. Bush and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles did in the case of Gary Graham on June 22. With friends like Texas, the death penalty needs no enemies.

In moral terms--which, in the long run, are the only terms that really matter--the most important event in America this year is the public's growing concern about the possibility of executing innocent people. In January, when Illinois Gov. George H. Ryan (a Republican) cited 13 death row exonerations and declared a moratorium on executions until the error rate could be reduced, hardly anyone carped. Suddenly, the climate seems hospitable to measures such as Leahy's. Meanwhile, Roy Clifton Swafford, who has either been in prison or alive too long, waits

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