Wrong

While I’m a firebreathing libertarian-conservative with a few touches of paleocon mixed in for good measure, I break with conservatives on a couple of issues.

The big one is capital punishment.

Don’t get me wrong – I support capital punishment for every reason there is…

…except one; the simple fact that people, science, procedure and law are all imperfect, and that until they are it is inevitable that we will execute an innocent person.  And executing the innocent is a double crime; it kills an innocent person for a crime he didn’t commit, and it virtually ensures the guilty will go forever free.

Now, Laura Ingraham is almost right; modern science has, theoretically, made it much more difficult to execute an innocent person.  But in some cases, modern, exculpatory science has gotten hindered by police and prosecutorial misconduct. 

And in others – including, it seems, at least one execution that looks increasingly likely to have killed an innocent man – science looks to have evolved enough to have made a verdict look very sketchy:

[Cameron Todd] Willingham was executed for the 1991 arson murders of his three children. The Chicago Tribune investigated the case in December 2004 and found that the fire investigation was flawed, with the local investigators relying on indicators of arson that had been disproved by advances in fire science.That does not mean Willingham was innocent. But in the absence of other evidence, it shows that he was executed for a fire that might well have been accidental.

A very, very long article in New Yorker, however, makes a pretty compelling case that Willingham was innocent, and that the Texas state government, including governor Rick Perry, would rather not examine the possibility.

There are people out there who deserve to die for their crimes.  But that must never trump the right of the innocent to live.

Never.

Even if the absolutely guilty pay for their crimes with the dubiously-better option of life in a Supermax with no possibility of parole – barring, of course, reversal of their convictions.

The Willingham case adds to a growing body of evidence that the only morally acceptable means of capital punishment is legally-justified self-defense.

65 thoughts on “Wrong

  1. 23 hours a day in an 8 x 5 cage. You call that living?

    Depends. Are you innocent or guilty?

  2. Indeed. Justice isn’t so easy. If you’re guilty it’s not justice. If you’re innocent it’s not justice.

  3. “Supermax ..that doesn`t have doors? That open?” Well, the death penalty as practiced here in effect has “doors”, too; otherwise those 244 would be dead, right? I see it the other way. Those that were saved shows that the system, however imperfect, does work. Otherwise, as said above, they`ld be dead. If those 244 were gone, then you`ld have a good argument. And the cost issue- strawman argument, as you say to libs. What`s it worth to have that guy not kill again? Some things, like we say to Libs about the military, are worth whatever the cost.

  4. Well, the death penalty as practiced here in effect has “doors”, too

    Not for Mr. Willingham!

    If those 244 were gone, then you`ld have a good argument.

    So how many innocent people is it acceptable for the state to kill?

    What`s it worth to have that guy not kill again?

    He’ll never kill anyone in supermax – and if he’s actually innocent, we won’t have that whole “we killed an innocent guy” thing to deal with.

    Some things, like we say to Libs about the military, are worth whatever the cost.

    With the military, there’s no logical alternative. Nations need to be defended – and as a last resort, that’s what the military is for, and second-best isn’t good enough.

    There is a logical alternative that obviates the whole “executing the innocent” bit.

    And lest we forget, killing the innocent is always wrong, no exceptions.

  5. “‘OK, 1 in 10,000 is a fair risk’, or do you think that 1 innocent man put to death, no matter the number of guilty put to death, is too much? ”

    Yes. And you would too, Dave, if that 1 innocent man was your son.

    But that hypothetical is moot because we will never meet that threshold. No matter how good the technology, we will still have human self interests at work.

    Some prosecutors will still withhold exculpatory evidence, some cops will still manufacture it, all juries will still bring their bias along with them into the deliberation room.

    Look, this is a poor analogy, but it works for me. The brokeback mountain crowd loves to say that recognizing buggery with a marriage certificate doesn’t harm normal human relations, but they’re wrong.

    When society normalizes perversion, it inherently harms itself in ways that do not necessarily affect us immediately. No, I won’t get divorced if John marries Jim, and no, their gorge purging consummation does nothing to demean the sanctity of my marriage; but it removes a big chip out of the foundation of what keeps us from each others throats: our sense of human decency.

    Legalized, state sponsored murder does the same thing, and the fact that some folks are so willing to “fry the asses” a few innocent “outliers” proves it.

    What happened to “right is right and wrong is wrong”?

  6. Let me expand on what Swiftee said.

    Conservatism is about upholding time-honored truths.

    One of those truths is that the individual – one of the “Free Association of Equals” that our society is supposed to be in the conservative view of things – is of supreme importance, and should be protected from the excesses of government. It’s why we conservative natter on about things like the Tenth Amendment – because we uphold the worth of the individual.

    This directly contradicts the notion that individuals are “eggs” to be broken in the interest of the state’s convenience to make a social omelet. RickDFL’s remark yesterday actually sent me looking for a remark about eggs and omelets that I coulda sworn Lenin or Stalin or Mao or Hitler made. No dice – the closest I got was Stalin’s “one death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic” – but Rick (I puke in my mouth a little bit) is right; it’s something one of them would say.

    Conservatives do believe that the pursuit of good requires sacrifice; the Americans who died at Omaha Beach and Gettysburg and Chosin Reservoir were also of incalculable value, and their loss was a tragedy for all of us. But they died (most of us believe) for a greater good, in a time and a place and for a cause for which there was no alternative, and which helped bring immense good as a result.

    Killing an innocent person to “deter” the guilty? It brings no good (the guilty party goes free forever!) (I mean, what DA is going to say “oops – killed the wrong guy the first time! Let’s try this again!”).
    And it echoes Andrea Dworkin (or Catherine McKinnon?) who said it’d be “good” if men got falsely imprisoned for rape, to make all the real rapists a little more afraid. It’s an idea straight out of the worst of the French Revolution (which had no problem executing the innocent “pour l’encourager les autres“), carried on via Stalin and Hitler and Mao and Pol Pot. (

    Hypothetically, if the system could be “perfected”, would I support it? Sure. But that’s another tenet of conservatism; mankind can never be perfected. And to a conservative, protecting people from the problems that human imperfection brings to government drives what government is supposed to do – including backing out of big parts of our society.

    So since mankind can never be perfected, and these imperfections kill the innocent, and killing the innocent is immeasurably evil, and since a foolproof alternative exists that surely and swiftly punishes the guilty (remember – life in supermax without parole begins at sentencing; death takes an average of 12 years) while protecting the innocent, then abolishing the death penalty is supremely conservative.

  7. Swiftee wrote:”The brokeback mountain crowd loves to say that recognizing buggery with a marriage certificate doesn’t harm normal human relations, but they’re wrong.

    When society normalizes perversion, it inherently harms itself in ways that do not necessarily affect us immediately.”

    By buggery, presumably you are referring to oral and anal sex. Get a clue Swiftee, heterosexuals engage in it too; it is the news flash from researchers on the subject going back to Kinsey all the way through to the present. Humans have done so for all of history; sex has never been something people do purely for reproduction. Trying to define this as unique to the ‘brokeback mountain crowd” is simply ignorance of reality.

    Government belongs OUT of people’s bedrooms, and is not appropriate to regulating the conduct of consenting adults.

    This is not a valid analogy to the use of the Death Penalty.

    KRod says:”We probably have the ability to limit it to one wrongly sentenced per 0.5 billion citizens.”

    Do we? And you base this on what, exactly, other than your wishful thinking?

  8. Taking in to account our current population and vistitors both legal and illegal and extra safe guards and new technology and expanding video coverage…
    …the odds of an innocent person being put to death are about 1 in a billion.

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