Death Penalty

This Week in Innocence

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Thanks to the work of Northwestern University Law School's death penalty clinic, another man wrongly convicted of murder walked free this week. Ronald Kitchen spent 13 of his 21 years behind bars on death row. He's also another case of someone who falsely confessed to a murder after intense questioning from police interrogators.

Illinois has sentenced 224 people to death since reinstating capital punishment in 1977. Since then, 20 have been exonerated. I'm not sure what an acceptable rate of error in death penalty cases would be, but nine percent seems awfully high, doesn't it?

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  1. “He’s also another case of someone who falsely confessed to a murder after intense questioning from police interrogators.”

    How stupid do you have to be to confess to a crime that carries the death penalty? What was the worse alternative he was trying to avoid? Even more “intense questioning”?

    Sure, there have been plenty of times (long meetings, presidential debates, Toronto Maple Leaf games) I’ve felt like saying “Please, just kill me… I can’t take this anymore.”

    But I’ve never meant it literally.

  2. I’m not sure what an acceptable rate of error in death penalty cases would be, but nine percent seems awfully high, doesn’t it?

    Consider also that the rate of error in non-death penalty cases is presumably higher and the mistakes much less likely to be caught, since they don’t have dedicated teams like the ones at Northwestern investigating those trials. If you’re actually innocent, you may very well be better off being sentenced to death than to life.

    Occasionally this gets turned around into a kind of gruesome appeal to get rid of the death penalty, because then we wouldn’t be as exercised about justice being done if people were only in jail for life, so we wouldn’t spend so much money making sure that the convictions were correct.

  3. Ronald Kitchen spent 13 of his 21 years behind bars on death row.

    So he was sentenced to death when he was eight?

  4. If by “exonerated”, you mean that the people were actually innocent of the crime, I agree that 9% is far too high. If by “exonerated” you mean they committed the crime but would have gotten off by the exclusionary rule, then I don’t have a problem.

  5. So he was sentenced to death when he was eight?

    Of his 21 years in prison, 13 were spent on death row. (And apologies if my smartass-detector is broken.)

  6. Nine percent. So I guess the question is, would I be willing to kill an innocent person in order to have the ability to kill 10 other guilty persons that are already in a cage? I don’t think so.

    Bad enough the innocent is even in jail wrongly. But to die thought a murderer or something, I mean come on.

    I don’t think the numbers crunch at all.

  7. Illinois has sentenced 224 people to death since reinstating capital punishment in 1977. Since then, 20 have been exonerated. I’m not sure what an acceptable rate of error in death penalty cases would be, but nine percent seems awfully high, doesn’t it?

    …which is why we have such a robust system of review even after conviction in death penalty cases. It should only be considered an “error” of the entire death penalty system if someone is actually put to death despite all the post-conviction safeguards.

    And I wish death penalty opponents would quit acting like if it weren’t for being sentenced to death, these people would have been immediately freed. Twenty or thirty years in the slammer will completely ruin your life too, so the problem is with the criminal justice system in general, not the death penalty apparatus itself.

  8. So I guess the question is, would I be willing to kill an innocent person in order to have the ability to kill 10 other guilty persons that are already in a cage? I don’t think so.

    But that’s not really the question. We don’t know how many, if any, of the people who were killed were actually innocent. We just know about people whom we found innocent before executing them, and then didn’t.

    I think that people would have a different reaction to “would I be willing to have an innocent person sit in jail for 20 years before being freed in order to have the ability to kill 10 other guilty person” than to “would I be willing to kill an innocent person in order to have the ability to kill 10 other guilty person.” And consider that, even without the death penalty, innocent people will still be imprisoned for 20 years. As I said, arguably it would be worse for an innocent person to be convicted of life, because then they wouldn’t have Innocence Project-type people fighting quite so hard for them.

    Certainly all that goes out the window if the death penalty gets applied even wider. But rationally speaking, the practical alternative of no death penalty probably means more innocent people sitting in jail without eventually being freed.

  9. I’m with Russ R.: people who falsely confess to crimes because of “intense questioning” don’t rate highly on my sympathy scale.

  10. There are some real problems with this article.

    First, At least 308 have been sent to death row in Illinois since 1977.

    Secondly, let’s try to end the “exonerated” nonsense.
    Exonerated, as used in this article, has been used with a new, unique definition for nearly a decade by anti death penalty folks.

    It has nothing to do with actual innocence.

    Many reviews, inclusive of the New York Times, have found these “exonerated” claims, nationally, to be from 70-83% in error when we consider actual innocence.

    So, how many of the 20 were released because they were actually innocent, as opposed to some legal standard which doesn’t mean actual innocent?

    If 8, then that is 8 out of 308, or 2.6%. That would still be a very high number and percentage but, boy, have they had problems in Illinois.

    But, let’s get real numbers, OK?


  11. I’m with Russ R.: people who falsely confess to crimes because of “intense questioning” don’t rate highly on my sympathy scale.

    You’ve people never been in the situation.

    Many times, police say if u confess…you won’t get the death penalty…as in this case.

  12. Well then it’s stupid in two ways: 1) giving a false confession in the first place, and 2) doing it in exchange for avoiding the death penalty, but without a lawyer present to force the authorities to keep their side of the bargain. But the basic point still stands: to avoid injustice, don’t confess to crimes you didn’t commit. Duh.

  13. So evidence against you gathered while your 4th Amendment rights are violated should count in court?

  14. Sometimes a suspect confesses to a crime he didn’t commit because after 16-20 hours of disorienting questioning, the police convince him that he actually did it! After all, the police are the professionals, they must know what they’re talking about.

  15. People confess for all sorts of reasons… confusion, disorientation, subconscious drives to please authority figures, guilt over other actions…

    Human psychology is immensely screwed up. There was a story I read in one of R.A. Wilson’s books about an entire family who confessed to infanticide, and maintained they’d commited the horrible deed until it was shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that the daughter whose child they had supposedly killed couldn’t ever have been pregnant.

    Sleep deprivation, exhaustion, confusion, stupidity… lots of stuff going on in peoples heads. Doesn’t mean they should be executed.

  16. We know for a fact that police officers kill innocent people (Malice Green, Vicki Weaver, Pedro Navarro-Oregon) and yet we have not disarmed the police.

    We know for a fact that airplane crashes kill innocent people, and yet we do not ground all airplanes.

    and of course, tens of thousands of innocent people were killed in the firebombings of Tokyo and Dresden.

    Surely innocents being executed is no worse than innocents being shot to death by police, or dying in airplane crashes, or dying because of a war.

  17. As imperfect as our criminal justice system is, exactly what would we be replacing it with? I doubt vigilante lynch mobs are better.

    And also, with all these innocent people sentenced to death, should we not be worried that some of them might join Al Qaeda to seek retribution against America? If it happened to you, would you not want revenge against those who wronged you?

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