Ignore the Flaws – the Death Penalty Must Continue On

Despite possible errors here and elsewhere, Perry stands firm on capital punishment

On Dec. 15, the New Jersey state senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of suspending the state's capital punishment system for 18 months and to create a commission to review the mechanics of the state's capital punishment system – including whether it actually deters crime, whether its imposition is racially biased, and whether there are sufficient safeguards to ensure that an innocent person is not executed. The measure, which still needs support from the state assembly in order to become law (which is expected to happen in January), is an interesting move for lawmakers, especially considering that the state has not executed a single inmate in the modern era of the death penalty. Nonetheless, Republican Sen. Robert Martin, a co-sponsor of the measure, noted that 50 of the 60 death sentences the state has handed out since 1982 have been overturned, evidence that "something is fundamentally flawed with that statute," he told Newsday.

Meanwhile, although Mexico hasn't carried out an execution since 1961, on Dec. 9 the country formally abolished capital punishment, a practice that President Vicente Fox said "violates" basic human rights.

While contested convictions may be enough evidence to suggest a problem in New Jersey, and concerns about human rights enough to cause Mexico to ban the practice, such concerns certainly haven't been enough to cripple Texas' death machine. Texas executed 19 inmates in 2005 – down from 23 in 2004, 24 in 2003, and 33 in 2002 – even as new questions about the integrity of the state's system continue to make headlines. Bexar Co. officials have reopened the case of Ruben Cantu (executed in 1993) after an investigation by the Houston Chronicle suggested that Cantu was actually innocent of the 1984 robbery murder for which he was killed. Although the daily reported that the only eyewitness in the case says he was coerced into fingering Cantu for the crime, that an alleged accomplice says he never implicated Cantu – contrary to the impression prosecutors gave jurors – and that a third witness says Cantu was actually with him in Waco at the time of the murder he allegedly committed, the troubling allegations don't appear to bother Gov. Rick Perry – at least that's the impression left by Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt, who told the daily that the circumstances of the case were hardly "unique."

And on Dec. 13, the federal courts cleared the way for the execution of Texas inmate Marvin Lee Wilson – even though there's strong evidence that Wilson is mentally retarded – because his lawyer, Jim Delee, missed a filing deadline. Although the U.S. Supreme Court in 2002 ruled that executing the mentally retarded violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment, Wilson – who reportedly doesn't even understand basic concepts like how to make change for a dollar – will still face execution, unless the state steps in to stop it. Deadlines are deadlines, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week, "[h]owever harsh the result may be."

At press time, Texas had already scheduled 11 executions for the first four months of 2006.

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