Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man?

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Maybe! And if he was innocent, he was innocent of deliberately setting the fire that killed his three daughters.

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  1. Heard a TX lady on the news last night, being interviewed on the streets, say, “he had a criminal history so its not like he is a fully innocent man to begin with.”

    Now if only I could get my jaw to drop at the dentist office like it did last night.

  2. This is just another example of leftists using so-called “science” to further their agenda. Any true skeptic could tear apart those arson “experts” and their materialistic, “rational” explanations. It’s time to protect victims and stop worrying so much abt the rights of child-killers.

  3. Oh well. If he was innocent, he’s with Jesus now.

  4. Remember, just because the government occasionally executes an innocent man, that doesn’t mean that they’d ever torture an innocment man or mistakenly detain an innocent man without trial on the grounds that he’s a terrorist.

  5. I read through the evidence of the case and the testimony of the multiple witnesses is compelling that this guy did nothing to try to save his children and worried more about his car getting burned. I’m the father of an infant daughter and people would need to hold me back from running into a burning house to save her. It seems clear to me that he’s guilty.

    I do have concerns about executing innocent men but when people try to raise questions about cases with very strong evidence for guilt it makes me not want to bother listening to them again. Why don’t these people worried about execution of innocents find cases where the evidence is weak. Or perhaps there aren’t any?

  6. Lewis:

    Court testimony has it that the guy kicked a pregnant woman so she would miscarry.

    His behavior during and immediately after the fire was baffling, to say the least. It seems that everyone around him found it extremely suspicious.

    There is a lot of room for debate over the death penalty.. but the fact is, this guy would’ve spent so many years in jail (costing many tax dollars), and then be out again beating women and children. I’m not losing any sleep over this. The left needs a better poster boy.

  7. As a kid (20?s), I was a pretty enthusiastic supporter of the death penalty. Now, with the kinds of prosecutorial abuses we see all the time, I am very much against it. Seeking ?wins? instead of the truth is a bad way to prosecute and leads to these kinds of mistakes.

    I am, however, still very much in favor of violent criminal dieing in the act of their crimes

  8. Given that miscarriages of justice are inevitable, the answer to the question: “Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man?” is probably yes, whether or not this particular executed man was innocent.

  9. I’m with you Joel, I would’ve been back in that house immediately. But suppose the fire was accidental (and I’m not convinced that it was) then being stupid or cowardly does not make it a capital offense. And, I never understood what his motive was supposed to have been.

  10. Yeah lefties, the guy was an asshole and he deserved it whether or not he committed the crime he was executed for. Go find a completely innocent (christ-like) martyr before you start whimpering abt the DP. You leftists have no comprehension of justice.

  11. It’s not that I’m against the death penalty so much as I’m against they wayt it’s instituted. How often are pedophlic murderers given life in prison, while questionable criminals get the chair?

  12. I’m very concerned about prosecutorial abuses, too, but that means people need to focus on cases where that is really a problem and let the obviously guilty convicts be executed. The guy in this case is a lousy poster boy for problems in the legal system.

  13. “Yeah lefties, the guy was an asshole and he deserved it whether or not he committed the crime he was executed for. Go find a completely innocent (christ-like) martyr before you start whimpering abt the DP. You leftists have no comprehension of justice.”

    Huh? Call me old fashioned, but I would have thought that justice involves a punishment that fits the crime. If he were deemed to have committed a crime worthy of the death penalty, then he should get death. But I see no justice in someone being *executed* for being a bad person, or for having committed *lesser* crimes which do not call for the death penalty.

    Somebody does not need to be “christ-like” to avoid deserving the death penalty. If so, lets just start rounding people up and off to the slaughterhouse with the lot!

  14. notfromytexas,

    Yes, it could be the case that the fire was accidental and the guy was a coward, but deciding a case comes down to not whether there is doubt at all, but whether the doubt is reasonable. From what I’ve read of the case I am comfortable with the jury’s decision.

  15. I’m not talking about this case in particular, but how is it that some prosecutors would rather execute an innocent before admitting they made a mistake? Remember The Thin Blue Line? I could be wrong, but that’s the impression I get when I here about some of these cases.

  16. They used to have speedy trials and then hung the guilty. Wham. Bam. Thankee Sir.

    Then everyone bitched that the guy getting hung just might not have pulled the trigger.

    A century later they spend twenty-plus years on death row and the justice system still can’t guarantee that they didn’t execute an innocent man. An absurdity to say the least.

    But if you lock ’em up for life there is a fair chance that that ‘life in prison’ doesn’t really mean life in prison at all.

  17. sshhh little children….sshhhh….don’t get excited…the good republicans will protect you…shhhh…go back to sleep now….

  18. I understand the sentiment that he’s not a good poster child. If he was alive, then the existence of reasonable doubt would be enough reason to push for a retrial or commutation to a life sentence or whatever.

    But if your goal is to identify a poster child and use him as an example to persuade the public of general problems with capital punishment (be it a problem of principle or a problem of practice), then it’s best to only pick unambiguously innocent cases. There may very well have been reasonable doubt in his case, but that’s (sadly) not enough to persuade the public. A better poster child is needed.

    Of course, if he was still alive I’d have a different take on it. I’d say that the existence of reasonble doubt is reason enough to champion his cause. But taking up his cause at this point won’t save his life, so opponents of the death penalty (or at least of the way it’s currently done) should avoid his case in favor of people who are either (a) still alive or (b) dead but more obviously innocent.

  19. I’m not talking about this case in particular, but how is it that some prosecutors would rather execute an innocent before admitting they made a mistake? Remember The Thin Blue Line? I could be wrong, but that’s the impression I get when I here about some of these cases

    I’ve had those worries, too, but when people suggest that an innocent man may have been executed and then trot out a case like this I think things may not be so bad after all.

  20. Remember, just because the government occasionally executes an innocent man, that doesn’t mean that they’d ever torture an innocment man or mistakenly detain an innocent man without trial on the grounds that he’s a terrorist.

    Thoreau, if you accept that the government has the right to kill, jail, or punish people — which, unless you believe that *no* war or criminal law is legitimate, you do — then you are agreeing to the killing, jailing, or punishing of innocent people too. There is no way of determining a person’s innocence with perfect accuracy — trials reduce the number of innocents harmed, but not to zero. Would you point to a person wrongly sentenced to prison for murder as proof that we should not imprison murderers? Of course not.

    Societies, when deciding what forms of coercive force are acceptable, balance the perceived benefits of the use of that force versus the costs of using it. X number of foreign Arabs get locked away, of which Y are terrorists. Is X-Y greater than zero? Yes, it probably is. But the important question is whether the harm that “Y” would have done is greater than the harm done by punishing those innocents. Different people can have different opinions about that.

  21. “Why don’t these people worried about execution of innocents find cases where the evidence is weak. Or perhaps there aren’t any?”

    The Innocence Project has sprung a number of demonstrably innocent people from death row. So many, in fact, that execution supporters point to them as a reason why the system works. “See, if a guilty person is convicted, he’ll get out on appeal.”

    OT, where did the term “the death penalty” come from? We don’t say “the prison penalty,” we say “imprisonment.” We don’t say “the forfeiture of money penalty,” but “fines.” There is a perfectly good term for “the death penalty,” – execution. He’s been sentenced to execution. Was it an anti-execution term, meant to drive the word “death” home? A pro- term, meant to draw attention to the fact that it’s a “penalty” for wrongdoing? When did it come into use?

  22. I think it’s reasonable to extrapolate from the approximately hundred people who have been released from death row in the last 15-20 years thanks to DNA evidence that in the 200 years preceeding DNA technology, innocent people were executed by the state.

    If that’s not reasonable, tell me why.

    Also, why is it automatically assumed that believing the state (the demonstrably incompetent, unethical state) shouldn’t have the power to condemn people to death is a “leftist” position? Cuba and China certainly have no problem with executing citizens.

  23. Some interesting data about Willingham here. Also, according to this, his last words were not a proclamation of innocence; his last words were to tell his ex-wife “I hope you rot in hell, bitch”.

    So far as I can tell from the readily available sources, the new arson-related revelations in question aren’t that the fire definitely wasn’t arson, but that there is no forensic proof that it definitely *was* arson. Also, eyewitness testimony regarding Willingham’s behavior during the fire also seems to have played a major part in his conviction.

    Was the guy innocent? I don’t know, and given his record I don’t really care either. But either way he makes a lousy poster child for death-penalty opponents; personally, I’d pick a guy who hadn’t beaten a woman into a miscarriage.

  24. Dan-

    Innocent people will inevitably be convicted. That’s why I oppose the death penalty: You can spring a guy loose from prison and give him money and whatnot to try to make amends for a wrongful conviction. But you can’t bring a dead guy back to life.

    That’s why I also oppose holding people without trial: It’s inevitable that the government will get the wrong guy now and then. Let’s make sure there’s a process to sort out at least some of the errors. And even that process will be imperfect, hence there is a need for appeals and retrials if new evidence comes forward.

    My system isn’t perfect either, but it includes more mechanisms for fixing mistakes.

  25. A correction. It seems that most people exonerated by DNA evidence were not on death row. Fourteen people have been cleared, the latest in Louisiana. Still, I think one can reasonably extrapolate.

  26. And this from the Washington Post:

    In the case of Joseph Roger O’Dell III, executed in Virginia in 1997 for a rape and murder, a prosecuting attorney bluntly argued in court in 1998 that if posthumous DNA results exonerated O’Dell, “it would be shouted from the rooftops that . . . Virginia executed an innocent man.” The state prevailed, and the evidence was destroyed.

  27. The Innocence Project

    The argument about the IP is that it just proves that the system works! 🙂

    I’m not sure that an idealposter child can be found to argue against the death penalty. I’d have to look up some stats, but I’m curious as to how many people on death row don’t have previous records.

    If a murder occurs, how often do the police round up “the usual suspects?”

  28. Just looked and the Justice Dept. claims that 67% of death row denizens have prior felony records.

  29. Hey Les,

    I googled Joseph O’Dell and found court documents stating DNA testing had already been done by a laboratory requested by his defense and clearly implicated O’Dell — thus there was no reason to repeat it again or save evidence.

    When such poor poster boys for are chosen by anti-DP people, it makes me think there really isn’t much of a problem.

    Joel

  30. “…his last words were to tell his ex-wife “I hope you rot in hell, bitch”

    Well, that’s pretty much what *I’d* say if my ex-wife showed up at my deathbed…

  31. Are there any useful conclusions to draw from the fact that “he didn’t commit the murder, but he was a bad guy anyway” sounds a lot like “there aren’t any wmds or terror links, but now Iraq’s a democracy?”

  32. My system isn’t perfect either, but it includes more mechanisms for fixing mistakes

    “Your” system punishes fewer innocents and spares more guilty people. All I’m saying is that how you balance one versus the other isn’t an absolute thing — if it was, then we should abolish either the entire government (if innocence rules) or all rights and protections (if punishment rules). For example, suppose we one day fought a defensive war against a real army — China, for example. Would we be obligated to place each Chinese person captured on the battlefield on trial, with full presumption of innocence, before placing them in a prisoner-of-war camp?

    If “no”, then you accept that imprisoning large numbers of people indefinitely without trial can be justified. If “yes”, then we owe a mind-boggling amount of money (and apologies) to the hundreds of thousands of Japanese, Italian, and Germany soliers we held during WW2. So which is it?

  33. Joel,

    I’d appreciate a link. I couldn’t find one, myself. I wasn’t actually trying to say that O’Dell was innocent or that he was a “poster boy” of some kind. I was actually holding up the prosecutor to show the kind of government employee who is more interested in reputation than in solving problems, even in matters of life and death.

    Again, since it’s reasonable to extrapolate that innocent people have been executed and it’s reasonable to suggest that our government’s incompetence and corruption isn’t limited to any particular department, why should we trust the government to execute only the right people? And how is society made less safe by life sentences without the possibility of parole?

  34. Innocent people will inevitably be convicted. That’s why I oppose the death penalty: You can spring a guy loose from prison and give him money and whatnot to try to make amends for a wrongful conviction.

    I don’t think it’s true that simply because of false imprisonment one will get compensated. I’ve heard many lawyers talk about this, and think the only way for an innocent person in prison to get compensated after release is if he/she can prove the were put there falsely (police abuse, witness tampering, etc).

    Otherwise, simply because new evidence (DNA) exists, doesn’t necessarily mean anything was wrong with the first trial. So basically the belief is, if you give money to someone wrongfully imprisoned, but no “legal wrong doing” was found during the initial trial, you’re admiting the system itself is screwed up, and not the one particular case.

    Hell in some cases were the innocent was freed, the one eye witness left still stands by their identification.

    BTW – If true, I think it’s crap. People wrongfully imprisoned regardless of the specific reason are due compensation for life’s work lost and suffering. I just don’t believe they get it currently, except for some charitable organizations.

  35. I guess I should add this probably differs from state to state.

  36. Hell in some cases were the innocent was freed, the one eye witness left still stands by their identification

    FWIW, i have a friend who, years ago, was walking home late one night to his off campus apt. after visiting his girlfriend on campus. As he walked, a cop car stopped and he was arrested. He was taken to a Burger King that had just been held up by a man with a gun.

    Every person in there said “yep, that’s the guy!” Six of ’em. Six EYE witnesses.

    And wouldn’t ya know it… no video cam!

    Even though he had no gun and no money on him, it didn’t matter. He was indicted and a trial date was set.

    Just before his Armed Robbery trial, where he was facing a good many years in prison, by some miracle, a seemingly unrelated gun was recovered in a dumpster somewhere. There were prints on it (not his, obviously). The cops went and picked up the guy whose prints were on the gun (luckily he was no stranger to the system) and during questioning they got the Burger King caper out of him. Oh, and the guy was 6 inches taller than my friend, who is not quite all of 5’7″.

    OOPS!

    Six eye-fucking-witnesses. And even after the fact, they still swore it was him (doubtless telling themselves he must have been crouching down the whole time). Why? Because they were too damn embarrassed to admit they were wrong. They’d have rather he go to prison than consider they might possibly have been mistaken.

    Fuck that. Every single day, people go to jail under the same circumstances. You just don’t hear about it; you only hear about the guilty assholes who get sprung, which causes the impression we have a system that’s only broken in one direction (letting them walk) but, strangely, is flawless when going in the other.

    For some reason, folks generally see a system that fails in only one of these two ways; not often you hear people complaining that it often fails in both of them.

  37. independent –

    Man, that’s tough. I’m not sure I continue my socially accepted behavior after living through something like that. To have the illusion of truth, justice, etc, shattered in such an evident and direct would cause the average person to be involuntarily commited.

    Speaking of which, I knew a guy, weightlifter that was scheduled to compete in the 1988 Olympic trials developed debilitating back pain. Doctors couldn’t find a reason so surmised he must be insane. They locked him up and drug him for almost two years before they found a cause. Even then they released him to a half-way house for a short time before fully integrating him in society due to emotional damage.

  38. Wow, is there a preview button?

    3rd sentence- evident and direct way

    6th sentence – They locked him up and drugged

  39. Les,

    Here’s the link I found, for what it’s worth.

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/case/cases/vatoodell98.html

    Like you, I am troubled by the idea that the government views that it is more important that the government not look bad than that justice is done. But regarding the death penalty, my slogan is “mend it, don’t end it”.

    Joel

  40. indy worm: It’s been proven countless time that eyewitness testimony is pretty much worthless when it comes to identifying random suspects. It’s hard for someone to remember how an individual looked when you have only a couple of seconds to form a mental image coupled with the emotional stress of the moment. When it comes to police lineups, witnesses are compelled, sometimes unconsciously, to identify a suspect, any suspect.

    Why was your friend taken directly to the scene of the crime and not a lineup? That’s a violation of basic police procedure for even the most hillbilly of departments. And were the witnesses seperated from one another before they identified him? Any psychologist would tell you that the cops could have brought in anyone, and the eyewitnesses would have identified him as the suspect because they assume that the cops are competent and no one witness would want to contradict anyone else.

  41. Dan,

    ‘”Your” system punishes fewer innocents and spares more guilty people.’

    Well, no. The guilty people spend the rest of their lives in prison.

    independent worm, was your friend of a different race than the BK employees? Eyewitness id is especially unreliable in those cases – and that’s true regardless of the races of the witnesses and suspects.

  42. Deus — in my cognitive science studyin’ days i beceame familiar with those eyewitness studies (and then moreso during law school). However, the cops aren’t concerned with that; they put the burden on the defense to bring all that stuff up. As far as they’re concerned, the witnesses are money in the bank, and the more the better.

    As for taking him to Burger King, its clear WHY the cops did it — to get a quick ID on the perp while he still had all the witnesses there. My criminal procedure is terribly rusty but i’ll take your word that it’s wrong — it certainly seems prejudicial, and I can’t imagine a police procedure that involves taking a suspected violent criminal anywhere but right to the jail. Too much risk to the civilians to drag an armed robber around in public. Yet this is exactly what happened.

    Hillbilly department? You bet — town of Blacksburg Virginia.

  43. independent worm, was your friend of a different race than the BK employees? Eyewitness id is especially unreliable in those cases – and that’s true regardless of the races of the witnesses and suspects.

    The BK employees were not all one race — some were black, some were white. My friend is white.

  44. Well, no. The guilty people spend the rest of their lives in prison.

    Not so joe. More would walk, because he wouldn’t hold anyone without trial.

  45. Well, no. The guilty people spend the rest of their lives in prison

    You’re equating “guilty” with “found guilty by a jury”. That’s pretty silly. If you rape a woman, but a different man gets convicted of your crime, does that mean that he is guilty of rape and you are innocent of rape?

    I’m confident you can come up with some bullshit excuse for answering “yes” to that question, but it is good enough for me that pretty much nobody else would. We would say that the rapist escaped justice, and an innocent man was wrongly convicted.

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