DNA Convicts Virginia Murderer

The good news is that Virginia did not execute an innocent man. Roger Keith Coleman was executed in 1992 for killing his sister-in-law in 1981.

As CBS News observes, "A finding of innocence would have been explosive news and could have had a powerful effect on the public's attitude toward capital punishment. Death penalty opponents have been warning for years that the risk of a grave and irreversible mistake by the criminal justice system is too great to allow capital punishment."

The new DNA tests showed that "the probability that a randomly selected individual unrelated to Roger Coleman would coincidentally share the observed DNA profile is estimated to be 1 in 19 million."

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  • Yogi||

    is estimated to be 1 in 19 million.

    So you're telling me there's a chance? Yeah! I read ya.

  • ||

    They should still do these kinds of tests BEFORE the execution.

  • ||

    The bad news is that we found out decisively that he's innocent after we killed him.

    That is apart, of course, from the simple bad news that we kill people.

  • ||

    This just means that his supporters will now claim that there was contamination of the chain of evidence.

  • ||

    "...would coincidentally share the observed DNA profile is estimated to be 1 in 19 million."

    Wow that means about 200 other people could have done it -- 19 million/4 billion!

    And they convicted and executed him?!:-)

    Believe it or not that argument (other people on earth) was used in favor of OJ in his criminal trial.

  • ||

    Yea gads! That means there are about 150 more suspects out there to interview. (3 billion males in the world / 1:19 million ~ 150 people)

  • ||

    Deus ex Machina,

    All fair enough, but 1 in 19 million is a very small number.

    I have no reason to doubt that this was a fair conviction (I know nothing about it beyond this post). But in the interests of accuracy it is worth noting that the chance of contamination or a false positive due to say an optical or mechanical fault maybe considerably higher (10 or 100 or 1000 times?) than 1 in 19 million. So that figure is probably not a very accurate estimate of the hard to calculate - but very small - probability that the evidence is mistaken.

    The probability of deliberate tampering with evidence is greater than 1 in 19 million, too. But that problem isn't specific to DNA.

    Journalists (and maybe juries) like hard numbers. That doesn't make them meaningful.

  • ||

    Considering how many death-row inmates have been exonerated since DNA testing became available, isn't it reasonable to assume that before DNA testing was available, innocent people were executed? I mean did the criminal justice system only start getting sloppy and/or corrupt after DNA testing came into being?

  • ||

    I would like to remind everybody that the notion of individuals having a unique DNA sequence is just a theory, and that there are alternatives. Intelligent Genetics may be able to explain these results.

  • ||

    Yea gads! That means there are about 150 more suspects out there to interview. (3 billion males in the world / 1:19 million ~ 150 people)

    I am just guessing, but the motive and opportunity of males living in Mongolia just might discount them as viable suspects.

  • ||

    isn't it reasonable to assume that before DNA testing was available, innocent people were executed?

    No, of course not. Only a criminal-coddling pansy liberal would think a thought like that. The rest of us good ole red-blooded meat-eatin' Amurrikuns know damn well Uncle Sam never made a mistake.

    Least, not till all that goddamn "DNA" bullshit came along.

  • ||

    the risk of a grave and irreversible mistake by the criminal justice system is too great to allow capital punishment

    Like any kind of punishment for a crime one doesn't commit is reversible. I'm not a big death penalty fan but I always found the "you can't unring that bell, but you can free a man wrongfully imprisoned" argument to be pretty flimsy. I mean, the key here is that one is innocent. And you have to guess that if innocent people have been executed in the past, innocent people have been jailed, and probably in much greater numbers, given the appeals process for death row inmates.

    I think it's far better focusing the debate on the "let thousands of guilty men go free rather than one innocent man punished", rather than "we're all for punishing people, just not THAT far".

  • ||

    We are going to execute some innocent people. Deal with it. If I am on the jury and I am 99.9% sure he did it, he dies. That means that on average, 1 in 1000 people we execute will be innocent. Any death penalty supporters out there planning on changing their minds once we prove we executed an innocent person?

  • DNAs for better People testing||

    "the probability that a randomly selected individual unrelated to Roger Coleman would coincidentally share the observed DNA profile is estimated to be 1 in 19 million."

    Of course, since he was accused of killing his sister-in-law, and 90% of murders are from relatives or acquaintances, they'd really need to have a way to exclude, say, his father, his brother (who just happens to be her husband), and any cousins/uncles/sons/nephews which might have a similar DNA profile.

  • ||

    I am just guessing, but the motive and opportunity of males living in Mongolia just might discount them as viable suspects.

    Gasp! You're suggesting racial profiling?!?

  • ||

    "Like any kind of punishment for a crime one doesn't commit is reversible. I'm not a big death penalty fan but I always found the "you can't unring that bell, but you can free a man wrongfully imprisoned" argument to be pretty flimsy. I mean, the key here is that one is innocent. And you have to guess that if innocent people have been executed in the past, innocent people have been jailed, and probably in much greater numbers, given the appeals process for death row inmates."

    You can let an innocent man out of jail, but you can't ressurt one who's be executed.

  • ||

    Yea gads! That means there are about 150 more suspects out there to interview. (3 billion males in the world / 1:19 million ~ 150 people)

    Yeah, but those other 150 people have an alibi.

    Remember, it's not JUST numbers we're talking about. What we're talking about now is, of 150 other possible matches, how many of THEM had motive and opportunity, oh and the murder weapon?

    Let me give it to you another way, re Ted Bundy:
    Seattle Ted (suspect) vs. Utah Ted (suspect).

    How many men named Ted, who have type O blood, drive a yellow volkswagon and have handcuffs in the back seat could have possibly committed this crime?

    But on the other hand... yes, we 'get' it. There is no excuse for putting someone innocent to death- beyond the excuse of an incompetent justice system.

    I'm personally a proponent that if a person is put to death to later be found innocent, and the prosecuting team/police/investigators are found to have maliciously and with malice aforethought manufactured a case against the accused, they too are subject to a murder conviction.

  • ||

    Oops,

    Dead men don't write well.

    You can let an innocent man out of jail, but you can't resurrect one who's been executed.

  • ||

    I always found the "you can't unring that bell, but you can free a man wrongfully imprisoned" argument to be pretty flimsy

    Really? If a person has been wrongly convicted of a crime, is it preferabe, morally, to (a) kill them, or (b) set them free to enjoy whatever life and liberty they have left?

    You really find that distinguishing between (a) and (b) is a "flimsy" proposition? That there is only a "flimsy" distinction between being DEAD vs being FREE?

  • Timothy||

    I would like to remind everybody that the notion of individuals having a unique DNA sequence is just a theory, and that there are alternatives. Intelligent Genetics may be able to explain these results.

    Wouldn't that have all come out during discovery?

  • ||

    Actually, there are at least a few cases in Texas where a person who was "innocent" was later found to be either most likely innocent (Cameron Todd Willingham, for example) or almost assuredly so (Ruben Cantu).

    The problem is that in all of these cases, the person excuted is not really "innocent" - they were generally awful people with bad track records. Hence they fail to serve as poster boys for the abolition of the death penalty.

    This reminds me of the debate over the Patriot Act. Without evidence that a completely innocent person was unfairly harmed (rather than an extremist or a thug), this line of reasoning is not going to capture the minds of the average Joe.

  • ||

    This just means that his supporters will now claim that there was contamination of the chain of evidence

    From the RTFA Dep't.:

    James McCloskey, executive director of Centurion Ministries, had been fighting to prove Coleman's innocence since 1988. The two shared Coleman's final meal together � cold slices of pizza � just a few hours before Coleman was executed.



    "I now know that I was wrong. Indeed, this is a bitter pill to swallow," McCloskey said, describing Thursday's findings as "a kick in the stomach" and adding that he felt betrayed by Coleman.



    That means that on average, 1 in 1000 people we execute will be innocent. Any death penalty supporters out there planning on changing their minds once we prove we executed an innocent person?

    Any innocent people out there lining up to be the 1? How about if it's you?

  • ||

    ...his brother (who just happens to be her husband)

    She did not marry Coleman's brother, given that her last name is McCoy (as is her husband's). She was his wife's sister.

  • ||

    He kills someone in 1981, we execute him in 1992, and we prove him guilty in 2006. Is this a great country, or what?

  • ||

    We are going to execute some innocent people. Deal with it.

    And if a family member of yours is one of those people? You just shrug your shoulders?

  • ||

    Goes both ways, of course. I would hate to be wrongly executed for murder, but no more than I would hate to be murdered by a killer released/escaped/motivated in the absence of a death penalty -- which is much more likely.

  • ||

    I would hate to be wrongly executed for murder, but no more than I would hate to be murdered by a killer released/escaped/motivated in the absence of a death penalty -- which is much more likely.

    Life w/out possibility of parole eliminates release. There's zero evidence that the death penalty affects the murder-rate (or maybe there is and you could provide a link). How many cases of capital murderers escaping and killing again have their been? Besides, unless you believe a person should be killed immediately following a guilty verdict, their escaping can only be the fault of the authorities.

  • ||

    I remember this case and I remember at the time reading a lot from both sides about the evidence. I always figured he was innocent because there were a bunch of things that didn't add up.

    Don't hassle me for specifics 'cause I don't remember them. I do know the murder was a pretty grisly affair.

    Anyway, I'm not much of one for the death penalty. It's a pretty immature and un-enlightened way to go about things.

  • ||

    Interesting article at http://www.charlotte.com/mld/charlotte/news/nation/13612617.htm.

    It's based on an interview with Edward Blake, who runs Forensic Science Associates in Richmond, Ca. He did the original DNA tests on Coleman several years ago.

    The Money quote:

    Blake said the DNA results do not prove that Coleman killed McCoy, and the initial investigation left open critical questions. Normally DNA samples taken from rape victims come on a swab, but Blake said he was given just the wooden stick from which he had to scrape DNA. No one ever explained what happened to the rest of the swab, he said.

    Then, he learned that Coleman had blood spattered on his coveralls, but no one sent him that DNA for testing to see if it matched the victim. He was never told why, he said.

    Blake asked for DNA testing of the blood samples along with a retesting of the semen but said the governor's office first told him they'd try to find them, then reported the samples were destroyed, he said. All the evidence, he said, was destroyed except for that tiny stick he kept frozen all these years.

    This latest DNA testing shows Coleman had sex with the victim, said Blake, but not that he killed her. "They could have been having an affair," he said. "I haven't heard anyone ask that question and answer it."

  • ||

    I oppose the death penalty, but I most assuredly would not let thousands of guilty men go free in order to ensure that one innocent man was not punished. Anyone who says otherwise is either a lunatic, or has absolutely zero familiarity with cost/benefit analysis.

  • Rich Ard||

    Individual rights - they're not negotiable unless it's for a social cause you support!

  • Sandy||

    Any death penalty supporters out there planning on changing their minds once we prove we executed an innocent person?

    Actually, based on the people on Death Row who were found innocent based on DNA testing, I already changed my mind from supporting to opposing the death penalty.

  • ||

    I oppose the death penalty, but I most assuredly would not let thousands of guilty men go free in order to ensure that one innocent man was not punished. Anyone who says otherwise is either a lunatic, or has absolutely zero familiarity with cost/benefit analysis.

    Eliminating the death penalty in no way means that guilty people will "go free." It's a false choice.

  • ||

    Eliminating the death penalty in no way means that guilty people will "go free."

    It certainly does, just as allowing the death penalty means innocent people will die. Just as there is a nonzero chance of a person being wrongly executed, there is a nonzero chance of a prisoner successfully escaping.

    Plus, inasmuch as a guilty-but-jailed man has more freedom than a corpse, by definition imprisonment allows the guilty to go, if not free, free-er. Jailing a murderer is an inferior option to killing him simply because it grants him more freedom than he should be allowed.

  • ||

    Jailing a murderer is an inferior option to killing him simply because it grants him more freedom than he should be allowed.

    Is this a circular argument?

  • ||

    If I am on the jury and I am 99.9% sure he did it, he dies. That means that on average, 1 in 1000 people we execute will be innocent.
    Comment by: TomHynes at January 12, 2006 05:37 PM


    A product of the public school math curriculum, are ya? Would anybody in the class care to correct Mr. Hynes?

  • Dave W.||

    Actually, based on the people on Death Row who were found innocent based on DNA testing, I already changed my mind from supporting to opposing the death penalty.

    Me too, Sandy. My mind changed around the time Justice O'Connor wrote that thing she wrote about it. I think it may be the only time Justice O'Connor has ever influenced my thinking on anything.

  • Dave W.||

    A product of the public school math curriculum, are ya? Would anybody in the class care to correct Mr. Hynes?

    1. Hynes is assuming that his subjective impression of a 99.9% probability is an objectively accurate probability. It is probably not.

    2. Hynes says that the defendant in his case is 99.9% chance guilty, but he then assumes without support that if there were 999 additional cases, then these would all be 99.9% guilty defendants. Another bad assumption.

    3. Getting to the math stuff, I went to public schools and state colleges, so I am probably as clueless as Hynes on this part. I think the probability that all 1000 hypothetical defendants are gill-ty is 0.999 to the 1000th power. The chances that one or more is innocent would then be 1 - (0.999)^1000.

    Let's give Hynes a chance to redeem himself, tho:

    Hynes: what is the maximum rate of faulty death penalty convictions that you would accept before you switched sides like me, Sandra and Sandy?

  • slightlybad||

    Madpad,

    You are correct of course -- the DNA did only prove that he had sex with her. However, Coleman never asserted that there was consensual sex. That's one of the first things investigators do when there is semen evidence: try to find out if there is any possible reason that semen should be there.

    I suppose that there is the possibility that Coleman had been having an affair with her and lied about it, even to the point of allowing himself to be executed. That would seem to be better suited to a movie.

    In real life:

    a) Coleman had previously been convicted for attempted rape.
    b) His sister-in-law is found with his semen in her and nearly decapitated.
    c) There is no evidence of forced entry into the home.
    d) Coleman is found with blood on his pants (which was never positively identified).
    e) His pants are wet -- the killer had to wade a creek to approach the house on foot.
    f) Coleman presented evidence at trial, including a witness who said he was with him at the time of the killing. The witness is an old friend of Coleman's and the jury does not believe his testimony.
    g) The morning of his execution, Governor Doug Wilder ordered that Coleman be given a secret polygraph test. Coleman failed.

    None of these things proves Coleman conclusively guilty. All of them together, however, taken along with the DNA, are pretty damning. I'm against the death penalty, but I'm positive that Coleman was guilty, any Perry Mason theories notwithstanding.

  • ||

    3. Getting to the math stuff, I went to public schools and state colleges, so I am probably as clueless as Hynes on this part. I think the probability that all 1000 hypothetical defendants are gill-ty is 0.999 to the 1000th power. The chances that one or more is innocent would then be 1 - (0.999)^1000.

    Cudos on the rest but you're making the last part too complicated. Scientific Notation would be something more like .999 X 10^1000 power...but even that is wrong in this application.

    You mention 'rates' in your last paragraph but your set up is a straight probability problem. Probability is typically expressed in either percentages (99.9 percent probability) or odds (999 : 1 or 999 to 1).

    Of course someone will probably pop up and say I'm wrong too. Everybody's gotta slice and dice it their way, I guess.

  • R C Dean||

    Re: unringing the bell. Yeah, you can't resurrect a dead man, but you also can't give a wrongfully imprisoned man back the years he spent in prison.

    Re: acceptable probabilities. This is something of a red herring.

    People who oppose the death penalty mostly do so out of principle, and would oppose it even if there was a zero probability of the wrong person being executed. People who support are willing to accept some level of risk. The data so far shows that the risk of executing an innocent person is very low, and (with the advent of DNA testing) getting lower all the time.

    Bottom line: nobody is going to change their mind due to arguments based on the real, current-day risk of executing an innocent man.

  • ||

    You are correct of course...

    slightlybad,

    That bit was not mine so I can't claim it. I messed up the italics but the whole quote was from the story about Blake. I merely found his quotes - due to his proximity to the case - somewhat compelling. Even he said nothing cleared Coleman, just that there were some unanswered questions that he would have liked tied up.

    Like I said, I don't remember all of the details of the case. And I don't care enough about this particular case (especially now the guy is dead) to spend a whole lot of time looking up the details. I'm sure there's a weight of evidence against the man. I'm anti-death penalty so I don't have a problem with his conviction...just the sentence.

  • ||

    Too bad the probability of incompetence and/or deception is a lot higher than 1 in 19M.

    http://www.nacdl.org/TESTIFY/test0017.htm
    "While the IG stresses that he only looked at three out of the [FBI] lab's 30-plus lab units, the types of problems he found suggest a rampant "culture" of substandard work and deliberate deception, where poorly-trained FBI agents routinely testify wrapped in a cloak of presumed infallibility. Among the IG's most troubling findings are the following types of arrogance and outright wrongdoing:(14) [list]"

  • ||

    Jailing a murderer is an inferior option to killing him simply because it grants him more freedom than he should be allowed.

    Why isn't the same true for serial rapists? Child rapists? What about a fella who just goes around beating people up until their brains are damaged?

    People who oppose the death penalty mostly do so out of principle...Bottom line: nobody is going to change their mind due to arguments based on the real, current-day risk of executing an innocent man.

    I reflexively started to disagree with you, but then I realized I was doing so based on principle. So, I think you're probably right.

  • Dave W.||

    ,i>People who oppose the death penalty mostly do so out of principle, and would oppose it even if there was a zero probability of the wrong person being executed. People who support are willing to accept some level of risk.

    Sandy, Sandra and I are telling you otherwise. So, you are wrong about nobody changing their mind. Furthermore, I was well aware that innocent people die back when I supported the death penalty (1977-circa 2000). It was the numbers, the size of the numbers, that Justice O'Connor set forth that changed my mind.

    I actually have some complex thoughts on what I consider to be the maximum acceptable death penalty error rate (no, I don't think zero is the max I would accept -- some error rate is acceptable to me as long as it is low enuf). However: (i) the thoughts are too complex for most of you guys here; and (ii)the stats I need to do my calculations are hard to access.

  • ||

    In this specific case, this guy was already a convicted rapist among his other crimes. To me, it's just another one of the things that we as Americans paid alot of money for...proving his guilt, housing him for years in the prison and then proving (finally) that he really did, without a doubt do it.
    I'm not saying that there's no chance that once in a while we convict an innocent man. But show me one (in recent history), that wasn't a scumbag to begin with and probably got away with numerous other crimes before he got busted. I would think that someday we'd wise up and stop paying so much money to keep them alive for years and years before they receive their death penalty.
    Obviously, I'm not a bleeding heart liberal. I know there are sentences out there that are way too harsh for the crime. For instance, this guy who sold a pound and a half of marijuana gets 55 years who was basically a pretty good guy. That's ridiculous! But these guys who rape and kill without remorse and have prior records are getting off pretty easy most of the time.
    I live in a fairly small town (5,000), but we have 15 registered sex offenders. I don't want them near my children (most of them pedophiles). I think the laws need to be tougher...personally, I'd castrate every one of them before they were put back on the street.

  • R C Dean||

    Sandy, Sandra and I are telling you otherwise.

    I'm not saying there aren't a few exceptions.

    I think that a lot of death penalty supporters do so only because they believe the risk of error is low. But I haven't seen anything in recent years or decades that would indicate that this risk is anything but very low, and if anything getting lower.

    I tend to believe that people who cite the "risk or error" issue as the reason for changing their mind to oppose the death penalty have really experienced a more fundamental change, and won't support the death penalty no matter how low the risk of error.

    I don't know anyone who claims to be opposed to the death penalty who is really willing to say that if the risk is low enough, they would support it. Because, in fact, as far as the data shows, the risk of error is pretty damn low now. If you think that the risk has to be zero, then you pretty much are opposed in principle, because the risk of error can never be zero.

  • R C Dean||

    I actually have some complex thoughts on what I consider to be the maximum acceptable death penalty error rate

    So tell us - what is the current error rate, and by how much does it exceed your maximum acceptable rate? No need to give us the gory details behind how you calculate your acceptable error rate, just give us the results.

  • Dave W.||

    I can't calculate my max acceptable risk because I don't have the numbers.

    The algorithm is this:

    split the US up into 2 groups: (a) those sentenced to the death penalty; and (b) those not sentenced to the death penalty.

    For the group (b) calculate the proportion of group (b) people murdered by those in group (a). This proportion would be my maximum acceptable error rate. As you can tell, the proportion would be greater than zero, but very small.

    Got some numbers for me to plug in?

  • ||

    "They should still do these kinds of tests BEFORE the execution."

    Comment by: xxx at January 12, 2006 04:29 PM

    they did. these tests are better, but had the same result.

    "The bad news is that we found out decisively that he's innocent after we killed him.

    That is apart, of course, from the simple bad news that we kill people."

    Comment by: realish at January 12, 2006 04:51 PM

    no, they found out the semen in his murdered sister-in-law had a 1 in 19 million chance of belonging to someone else, so based on other facts surrounding the case in conjunction with this DNA test evidence, he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

    "Of course, since he was accused of killing his sister-in-law, and 90% of murders are from relatives or acquaintances, they'd really need to have a way to exclude, say, his father, his brother (who just happens to be her husband), and any cousins/uncles/sons/nephews which might have a similar DNA profile."

    Comment by: DNAs for better People testing at January 12, 2006 05:39 PM

    his children, parents, and sibling will have a similar DNA profile: they will share about half of his unique markers. his nephews will share about one-quarter of his markers, and his first cousins will share about one-eighth of his markers.

    "People who oppose the death penalty mostly do so out of principle, and would oppose it even if there was a zero probability of the wrong person being executed."

    Comment by: R C Dean at January 13, 2006 10:20 AM

    thanks for the unsupported assertion. since the probability isn't zero, your statement is meaningless and unhelpful.

    "I don't know anyone who claims to be opposed to the death penalty who is really willing to say that if the risk is low enough, they would support it. Because, in fact, as far as the data shows, the risk of error is pretty damn low now. If you think that the risk has to be zero, then you pretty much are opposed in principle, because the risk of error can never be zero."

    Comment by: R C Dean at January 13, 2006 02:45 PM

    right. the principle isn't that we're opposed to the death penalty, the principle is that we're opposed to EVER executing innocent people. that doesn't seem so difficult to understand or agree with.

    our justice system is founded substantially on the notion that it is better for a guilty man to go free than an innocent man to go to jail, otherwise, we wouldn't need a jury to be in complete agreement to convict, we could just have juries of a larger number of randomly selected individuals, and designate a supermajority required to convict. Juries of 100, and if 90 vote to convict, you're guilty.

    "Eliminating the death penalty in no way means that guilty people will "go free."

    It certainly does, just as allowing the death penalty means innocent people will die. Just as there is a nonzero chance of a person being wrongly executed, there is a nonzero chance of a prisoner successfully escaping."

    Comment by: DB at January 13, 2006 02:54 AM

    people who escape from prison aren't "going free". this is an intentional misrepresentation. they may be out, but once they're caught, they're going back.

    Gracie:

    then let's change from mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession and distribution to mandatory minimum sentences for violent crimes and sex crimes (child molestation, rape. NOT prostitution)

  • ||

    "You can let an innocent man out of jail, but you can't ressurt one who's be executed."

    How many times do I have to through this? Such an argument excludes ANY use of lethal force by the government. From self defense (be it personal or national) to executions, when an actor chooses to use lethal force there is always the possibility of a mitskae that such force would later have proven to be misguided. Does that mean we take away everyone's right to defend themselves? No.

    So therefore, the possibility of a mistake is an irrelevancy because it is a given as the cost of doing business. We try and minimize them, sure, but you can't eliminate them regardless of your reason for using lethal force.

    The real question is then: is this a legitimate use of lethal force by the government? I don't happen to think so, but that mistakes are made ain't one of the reasons. That's for anarchists only.

    Unfortunately, innocent people get killed all the time, usually for a lot worse reasons than trying to prevent future murders (I'm not saying it succeeds, but that's one of the reasons).

  • ||

    In other words:

    You can't bring back the 5 year old who lived next door to Zawahiri either. That doesn't necessarily make rocket attacks against Zawahiri off limits does it? I mean, any potential targets would be able to exploit such a policy rather easily, no?

  • ||

    "Life w/out possibility of parole eliminates release."

    The hell it does. I mean it does a pretty good job, but guys escape, sentences get commuted, family members of his victims die or go away and his lawyer successfully gets his sentence reduced due to a lack of opposition.

    Of course death sentences have many of the same problems, but there's less time for those things to happen.

    The single most effective way to keep a murderer from repeating his crime is to kill him. All other options are relatively less effective. I don't think that represents sufficient reason to do it, anymore than it would be sufficient reason to kill an armed robber, or a shoplifter. But I think denying it isn't really being truthful.

  • ||

    "Life w/out possibility of parole eliminates release."

    The hell it does. I mean it does a pretty good job, but guys escape,..."

    again, Again, escape is NOT release. like killing an innocent person, it's a mistake by the justice system, to be weighed in the cost-benefit analysis.

    "...sentences get commuted, ..."

    hopefully, not without good reason, like evidence of innocence

    family members of his victims die or go away and his lawyer successfully gets his sentence reduced due to a lack of opposition.

    "Such an argument excludes ANY use of lethal force by the government."

    no, it doesn't. in the heat of the moment if a private individual or cop kills someone to protect another or themselves, sometimes mistakes will be made, and an innocent will die because of a misinterpretation of the events. however, when a convicted criminal is in prison, snap judgements are no longer necessary. leave him there for us to reflect and review his case as appropriate, and at our leisure. your straw man arguments are unconvincing.

  • ||

    "leave him there for us to reflect and review his case as appropriate, and at our leisure. your straw man arguments are unconvincing."

    a) look up the definition of a "straw man"
    b) The ability to review a case over a long period of time should result in less mistakes than self-defense. So I fail to see how that changes anything at all with my argument. If the simple fact that mistakes can be made invalidates the use of death penalty, it also invalidates the use of any other type of government force, since at least as many mistakes can be made (and usually far moreso) in the other ways government applies force.

    If the death penalty is an appropriate use of lethal force (like self defense), the fact that infrequently someone innocent might get executed does not invalidate the use, any more than people reaching for their cellphones getting shot by police invalidates self-defense. Once you allow the government to use lethal force for any reason, you thereby pretty much guarantee that at some point an innocent person will die at the hands of said force.

    So whether an instance lethal force is appropriate is dependent not on whether innocents might die; eventually some will. The appropriateness is determined by the goals sought, the costs of not doing so and whether such actions lie within the scope of reasonable democratic government.

    The death penalty succeeds or fails on its own merits. That mistakes are made ought to be a given regardless of what side of the argument your on.

  • ||

    "a) look up the definition of a "straw man""

    The Straw Man is a type of Red Herring because the arguer is attempting to refute his opponent's position, and in the context is required to do so, but instead attacks a position - the "straw man" - not held by his opponent.

    I think your straw man is here:

    ""You can let an innocent man out of jail, but you can't ressurt (sic) one who's be (sic) executed."

    How many times do I have to [go] through this? Such an argument excludes ANY use of lethal force by the government.From self defense (be it personal or national) to executions, when an actor chooses to use lethal force there is always the possibility of a mitskae (sic) that such force would later have proven to be misguided. Does that mean we take away everyone's right to defend themselves? No."

    Posted by Again at January 14, 2006 02:31 AM

    I don't agree that that argument excludes any lethal use of force by the government, and I don't think anyone here is trying to argue that the government should never use lethal force.


    "b) The ability to review a case over a long period of time should result in less mistakes than self-defense. So I fail to see how that changes anything at all with my argument."

    Then read the first sentence in b) again, Again. Life in prison without parole should result in fewer mistakes of killing the innocent. In a self-defense situation, one may not have time to reflect on "is this guy trying to kill me, or not?". Life in prison is more likely to result in fewer avoidable state-approved executions of the wrongly convicted.

  • ||

    "Life in prison without parole should result in fewer mistakes of killing the innocent."

    And unconditional pacifism and taking away the police's right to lethal self defense accomplishes much the same.

    So again, _that's_ not the issue. The issue is whether taking those sorts of actions are a reasonable use of government force, and lie within the scope of government's powers and achieve a better end than not taking those sorts of actions.

    Debate capital punishment, not the mistakes that occur in its implementation.

  • ||

    "So again, _that's_ not the issue. The issue is whether taking those sorts of actions are a reasonable use of government force, and lie within the scope of government's powers and achieve a better end than not taking those sorts of actions."

    In one case (self-defense) the possible mistaken taking of an innocent life also has the potential to save an innocent life. In the other (the death penalty) the taking of an innocent life has no potential to save an innocent life. How are these things the same concept?

    I'm unsure how I feel about the death penalty on principle, but in my mind the fact that an innocent man can potentially be put to death automatically eliminates the justice of such a policy. There is virtually no gain to society with it and what I would consider a nearly infinite loss to society without it (the premeditated death of an innocent).

  • ||

    "I oppose the death penalty, but I most assuredly would not let thousands of guilty men go free in order to ensure that one innocent man was not punished. Anyone who says otherwise is either a lunatic, or has absolutely zero familiarity with cost/benefit analysis."

    I guess I must be a lunatic. I'd definitely let thousands of guilty men go free in order to ensure that one innocent man was not punished. I think you and I just assign different values to the costs and benefits related to the situation. I think imprisoning an innocent man has a near-infinite cost...letting a guilty man go free has a considerably lower cost. Certainly, I'd rather not have a guilty man go free (assuming he has actually committed a crime for which he should be imprisoned), but I think the numbers you give are much too low. It'd probably be somewhere in the millions for me.

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