Re: [“Point Austin: It's Not About Sharon Keller
,” News, Sept. 4]: The Cameron Todd Willingham case shows that out-of-date, mistaken forensics and a callous Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles contributed to the execution of an innocent man in 2004. For some reason, here in Texas we have a high tolerance for inequity and injustice. Texas leads the nation in executions but also leads the nation in wrongful convictions. Of course Texas is part of the South, where 80% of executions have taken place since 1977.
We elect officials and judges and, in the past, a district attorney that sought convictions at all costs. We also elect a governor who appoints the Board of Pardons and Paroles. The people of Texas deserved better than a board that turned a deaf ear to state-of-the-art forensics that showed the Willingham case was not an arson-murder case and, as such, not a death penalty case. In Houston we also deserved better than a taxpayer-funded crime lab that fudged findings on a frightening number of cases and in some cases tailored the results to meet the will of assistant district attorneys or police.
In addition to these flaws in the system, mistaken eyewitness identification has played a role in 84% of all wrongful convictions reversed on DNA grounds, according to the Innocence Project. Defendants are up against highly funded and often overzealous prosecution. Add that to flawed forensics, and the situation is that a defendant is at a disadvantage when up against the justice system.
Our criminal justice system is so flawed in Texas that the death penalty needs to be taken off the table until it is determined by unbiased review to be virtually flawless in dispensing justice.