Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man? Who Cares!


A judge has blocked prosecutors from destroying a hair found at scene of the murder for which Claude Jones was convicted and executed in 2000. The state will now conduct DNA testing to determine if it matches Jones. It's not just any hair. It's the hair that prosecutors matched to the Jones at trial by way of a hair fiber analyst.

Hair fiber analysis is, to say the least, an imperfect science. It has led to wrongful convictions before, and professional prosecution hair fiber witnesses have a history of exaggerating the certitude of their findings.

I haven't read enough about this particular case to have an opinion on it. I note it mostly because of the following passage, which I find absolutely inexplicable:

The groups, represented by attorneys at Mayer Brown LLP, filed the court motions Friday after the San Jacinto District Attorney refused to agree to DNA testing – and also refused to agree not to destroy the evidence while courts consider whether DNA testing can be conducted.

Emphasis mine. Now, I can think of some reasons why a prosecutor would want to destroy a piece of physical evidence that could prove that the state executed an innocent man. But none of them are compatible with…um…being a human being.

Perhaps, for example, the prosecutor was one of the prosecutors who worked on the case, and doesn't want the stain on his career that might come with a wrongful execution. Perhaps he wants to avoid the inevitable stain on Texas' already execution-happy reputation that would come with proof that the state executed an innocent man. Perhaps he knows that proof of a wrongful execution will make it much more difficult for him to win death penalty cases in the future.

But here's the thing: While I can perhaps see a prosecutor harboring such sentiment deep down inside, I can't possibly conceive of anyone actually making these sorts of arguments publicly. Or with a straight face.

Because, you see, if Texas did execute an innocent man, all of those things should happen. Because…well…because Texas…would have executed an innocent man.

And if Texas did execute an innocent man, that Texans might find out about it—and subsequently raise understandable questions about the morality and efficacy of the death penalty—isn't something to be avoided, it's something that damned-well ought to happen. Because—at risk of repeating myself–Texas would have executed an innocent man.

What possible not-devoid-of-all-morality argument could a prosecutor possibly make for being permitted to destroy evidence that might prove an innocent man was executed?

I really can't think of one.