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October 13, 2009

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"And the formal recognition that Texas executed an innocent man would trigger a massive political earthquake.."

You're kidding, right?

"But it doesn't change the fact that he is acting in a profoundly immoral way."

Agree.

Specifically, I hope that social conservatives (particularly in Texas) take some time to reflect on the implications of the fact that Texas executed an innocent person...

There you go again with that kidding stuff.

it's an area where a political coalition of social conservatives and secular progressives could do a lot of good, if the political will existed

Surely the number of areas in which a coalition of social conservatives and secular progressives could do a lot of good, if only social conservatives cared about the things that secular progressives care about, is pretty much infinite.

to conservatives, the arbitrary and shady way people are executed is a feature, not a bug. It avoids absolute trust in human institutions and beuracracy, and lets god intervene to punish the wicked. besides, if you are too lazy to get rich and hired a good lawyer, you deserve it.

honestly, i think a lot of pro-death penalty folks do at some level think that people innocent of the specific crime that they're convicted of do get executed from time to time. however, many of these folks (if they don't just happen to think that cost is worth it anyway) manage to justify it to themselves with the thought that one generally has to be a pretty unsavory fella to get a death penalty charge to stick. with that in mind, even if the wrong guy is executed, they still can "safely" consider the result a net good for society. the principle of the whole concept is not necessarily that important to many as long as the pool of victims consistently remains in the group of people they consider to be the "no-goods".

Just speculating, but is it possible that members are being "suddenly" replaced, "against their wishes", at least in part because their terms are expiring? At any rate, this is facially as plausible as Democratic defenses of Clinton's attorney firings.

Anyway, if you're going to do any raging about this, shouldn't you be directing some of this rage at the Texas Parole Board?

He could have reappointed them, Brett. He'd already agreed to extend the chairman's term before he changed his mind.

Democratic defenses of Clinton's attorney firings.

I think you mean "Republican defenses of Bush's attorney firings".

if you're going to do any raging about this, shouldn't you be directing some of this rage at the Texas Parole Board?

As far as I know, the parole board is not trying to cover up its role in Willingham's death; Perry is. That's what this story is about.

The difference, Ajay, is that the parole board's role in that death looms somewhat larger: Perry can't pardon anybody the parole board doesn't recommend a pardon for. It was the parole board's decision which was decisive. If the parole board isn't trying to cover up it's role, it's primarily because Perry is taking almost all of the flack they deserve.

I agree Perry is engaging in damage control here, trying to prevent an executed man from being posthumously vindicated. But the complaints might be more accurately targeted if taking down Perry weren't a political goal.

And Clinton could have reappointed the Attorneys who were investigating him when he got elected. Didn't, though; Just the ones who weren't.

I think when an innocent man is convicted, incarcerated for 14 years, and finally murdered by the state even though it is clear the evidence on which he was primarily convicted had been shown to be complete garbage, there is sufficient rage to go around without complaining that some of it is being directed at the Republican governor who is finally responsible for the execution of an innocent man.

The people who were fired on 30th September, had their terms expire on 1st September. Had Perry simply intended to replace them with his own appointees, presumably he would have done so earlier - and presumably, too, they would have been notified that Perry had appointees waiting in the wings to replace them. Instead, they are fired before they plan to hold a hearing about a case in which Governor Perry refused a stay of execution to allow time to examine the evidence which proved Cameron innocent.

Now to you, Brett, it may be appalling and infuriating that people are enraged at a Republican governor ensuring an innocent man is executed. After all, you're a pro-lifer, and notoriously pro-lifers primarily care about fetal life, not about the lives of people after they've been born...

the other problem i have with your position here, brett, is that in almost all of your past postings, you have argued, many times quite convincingly, that the constitution is sacrosanct as written, and that all laws should be interpreted so that they best fit the guidelines of the founding fathers. here, the commission is seeking to do just that, and you are abandoning your own long stated beliefs. i dare say, you would be flipping out if the governer was a liberal democrat, and had done the exact same thing.

Jes, given the recently stated goal of fostering more comity in the comments, you may want to dial it back a bit. Rather than speculate why Brett is saying this, I think asking Brett if he is defending Perry's decision because he agrees with the death penalty or because he believes that an elected official can rescind an appointment with no explanation or reason a month after the term begins. I would think that this would be one of those questions of rule following, which I thought that you previously excorciated people who are in the country illegally for being scofflaws.

Sorry, mixing up my addressees here. The last sentence is directed at Brett.

It wasn't a month after the terms began. It was a month after the terms ended. My point was simply that their replacement wasn't totally out of the blue, there was the matter of terms expiring. It's not like he got rid of them in mid-term.

As for rule following, as a parole and pardons board, making compassionate exceptions to the rule is the board's function. Perry, by contrast, has no power to pardon those the board thinks unworthy.

Blame where blame is due.

Perry, by contrast, has no power to pardon those the board thinks unworthy.

Perry did have the power to grant a stay of execution to allow time for examination of evidence.

He declined to do so, and Cameron was executed.

Had Perry simply wanted to change officials, he could already have done so when their term changed. He didn't. How many of them were, just as in the firing of the US Attorneys, his own appointees?

In conservaworld the execution of an innocent man is simply so much collateral damage, and really not much to get excited about, especially if that person is poor and not white.

After all, if they are so innocent, why were they arrested in the first place?

I've read Brett over many years, and he's reflected a very slow and steady decline into mindless repetition of right-wing talking points. I do think he earlier started out as actually sounding a lot more like a libertarian. I've seen it happen with a lot of middle aged men: those with a few conservative inclinations here and there fall off the conservative deep-end as they start socializing with those who encourage and reward mindless right-wing repetitions, in the same way that certain high school students might suddenly decide to wear wide-legged pants or become a goth.

Anyway, from Perry's perspective, the most important thing is establishing trust in the system and trust in his governance. If the board made a mistake, it makes the whole death penalty system look bad, and if avoiding that means covering up the execution of an innocent man, it's considered an acceptable cost of doing business. It reminds me a bit of the Catholic Church's response to instances of child molestation by their priests: defending the system that placed them there was considered the most important priority.

Specifically, I hope that social conservatives (particularly in Texas) take some time to reflect on the implications of the fact that Texas executed an innocent person -- and that Rick Perry is trying to cover it up. It's hard to think of something that more directly contradicts the "culture of life."

For this reason, though, it's an area where a political coalition of social conservatives and secular progressives could do a lot of good, if the political will existed.

As a conservative, I agree completely. Although I am pro-life, I feel that there are certain crimes so heinous that those who commit them forfeit their right to life. So I support the death penalty in some abstract sense and in particular cases like Nuremberg. However, as a conservative, I'm inherently skeptical of government. I don't think the same people who can't deliver the mail on time should have the power to kill my fellow citizens. What Perry did is an outrage that all decent people should condemn.

After all, you're a pro-lifer, and notoriously pro-lifers primarily care about fetal life, not about the lives of people after they've been born...

Jesurgislac, please believe I mean nothing personal by this statement, but it's comments like that that make people think you're a troll.

There are anti-abortion poeple who are also ant-death penalty. It is a significant subset of the wider anti-abortion movemment. As I understand it, the root of their objection to both abortion and the death penalty is that the individual (they see the fertilzed egg as an individual) has a soul and must have a chane to find Jesus and be redeemed. If killede, that soul loses ist's chance.

I probably am explaining this clumsily since I'm not a Christian myself. I do know Christina who think this way and have had discussions with them. It is a point of view that I respect. I have a lot more trouble with the anti-abortion pro-death penalty folks since they can't come up with explanation about why it is awful to kill a fiertilized egg but acceptable to kill an innocewnt p-erson who is conscious and can feel all of the strees and agony that precedes execution.

My husband, who is a Buddhist, is also opposed both to abortion, the death penalty and war on grounds similar to the Christiann view I tried to explain: every living thing is striving for personal growth toward enlightenment; to kill a living thing interrupts that growth.

ANyway, point is Perry is trying to defend the indefensible, but there are anti-abortion people who are opposed to violennce toward people in general and show their values with some consistancy. Perry isn't one of them.

Perry is clearly over the line. Social conservatives in Texas would not, by and large, acquiesce in the execution of an innocent man. The rub lies in the phenomena that most Texans are in denial, out of a combination of ignorance and mindset, about the vagaries of the criminal justice system.

I am not convinced that Willingham is almost certainly innocent. Fire experts come to differing conclusions all the time, and what people say after the fact can be and often is as unreliable as what people say when under oath.

But that is a side issue: Perry's canning of four members is patently a delay tactic. He will stack the deck and get the result he wants--that's just the way he rolls. He is a disgrace.

I support the death penalty in theory and often times in practice, Timothy McVeigh being a good example of someone whose time of this earth had come to a well-needed end. That said, the procedure for resolving capital convictions is way outmoded. The concept of 'finality of judgment' badly needs a second look. The best I've been able to come up with, as an oversight mechanism, is something on the order of a post-conviction grand jury that takes a fresh look at the evidence. Citizens would be randomly drawn, evaluated for life experience, etc. and would review up to 6 cases before a new panel would be selected. The panel could commute or, for good cause shown, order a new trial.

Not every conservative in Texas buys into Perry's program, not by a long shot. We'll see how Kay Baily Hutchinson does in the primary--she has my money and my vote.

After all, if they are so innocent, why were they arrested in the first place?

bobbyp, you are thinking of the principle articulated by Edwin Meese during his tenure in the Reagan admin. It was stupid then, it is stupid now, but it indicates that the special cluelessness of Republicans on the way justice is administered goes back a ways.

I have a lot more trouble with the anti-abortion pro-death penalty folks since they can't come up with explanation about why it is awful to kill a fiertilized egg but acceptable to kill an innocewnt p-erson who is conscious and can feel all of the strees and agony that precedes execution.

This is the strawest of straw men. Pro-death penalty people do not feel it is "acceptable to kill an innocent person." The death penalty is a punishment for the crime of murder. Pro-death penalty people feel it is acceptable to kill people who are GUILTY of horrendous crimes.

This whole business about the "contradiction" between being anti-abortion and pro-death penalty is beyond absurd. We are from being unable to explain the difference, wonkie. The difference is obvious: It's OK to kill GUILTY people; it's NOT OK to kill INNOCENT people. Fetuses generally do not commit homicide and thus do not become deserving of the death penalty.

If one wanted to be as obtuse as most liberals about, you could phrase the contradiction the other way: how can you think it's OK to kill innocent babies when you're too much of a bleeding heart to kill even the most ville criminals. Why is a fetus more deserving of death than someone who murders his whole family?

mckinneytexas -

Frankly, I think that anyone who votes for Perry in next year's primary is a criminal co-conspirator in this murder. No, there is no real question about experts, certainly not here. The original investigation was not done by trained arson investigators.

Texas has managed to keep the executions running faster than any other state and made a big effort never to look back. There is no reason to think that Texas did a better job of justice in capital cases than Illinois uncovered in its research, so it is realistic to conclude that hundreds of Texans were killed by Texas for crimes they did not commit.

Too bad there is a majority of Texans who are willing to vote to kill people who don't want to know if they have been responsible for murdering innocent men.

I really don't see how a failsafe system can be devised to keep the innocent from being executed.

I, however, such a system was dievise I thnk that I would still be opposed to the death penalty sort of for Buddhist reasons: the person shuld stay alive in prison on the chance, howeveer slim, that he or shhe will be able to change into a better person.

People do make that change. It is pretty common, really. Inspite of how awful prison is most people who come out do on reoffened and many of the people inside do their best to get involved It seems more "pro-lefe" ( a term i do not like becasue it is so pretencious) to give people a chance to make something of their positive lives even if they ahve to do it in prison.

That was even more incoherent than usual. I might screw up letter order but usually i get word order right.

I hate pro-death penalty people who also oppose abortion. I'm pro-death, so to speak. Mostly because I'm anti-crime. The death penalty reduces crime. Abortion reduces crime. They tend to affect the same sort of people.

lj,

One of the observations made in the Illinois capital case review was that prosecutors and cops who were feeling the heat tended to go after losers whose protestations of innocence would fall on deaf ears because of their history. Their attitude could be summarized as "he may not have done this one, but he is slime, so no one cares if we execute him." That seems to have been the case in Cameron Todd Willingham's prosecution.

Noise,

States that execute people execute innocent people. If you don't want to execute innocent people, you need to spend a lot more money (say the state needs to budget $1,000,000 for the defense for each case) giving a real legal defense to those accused of capital crimes or stop executing people. Right now, if you support capital punishment in the United States, you support the execution of innocent people.

The difference is obvious: It's OK to kill GUILTY people; it's NOT OK to kill INNOCENT people. Fetuses generally do not commit homicide and thus do not become deserving of the death penalty.

I'll give you 10 guesses to figure out which steps you leaped past here, and the first 9 don't count.

"But that is a side issue: Perry's canning of four members is patently a delay tactic. He will stack the deck and get the result he wants--that's just the way he rolls. He is a disgrace."

I will, without reservation, stipulate that Texas has a policy on executions that ensures more innocent people will be executed than anywhere else and that is a bad thing.

Evil is not really a good word for it, I don't know a single person anywhere (including Texas)who says it is good to execute an innocent person. There are those who defend the reality of it in any justice system where capital punishment exists, and that the deterrent effect saves more innocent lives than it costs.

I find their argument wrong but not evil.

However, I vigorously defend Perry's right to seek the result he is looking for within the bounds of the law. Every Governor and the President, faced with an uncooperative agency, with the legal right to replace the members, would do the same thing to achieve their goals.

If you don't like his goal, then that criticism is valid. His methods seem legal and typical of how the system works for all.

Being right (or rather, not being wrong) is the most important thing. When you can't admit to a mistake, then this whole step-by-step descent happens. Perry is a foolish little man, but then so are so many governors, especially of Texas. Incidentally, I think Jesurgislac was quite correct, and just phrased it somewhat offensively (but no less accurately) - it is assumed that adults can take care of themselves where fetuses and children can't, so there's less concern in the 'pro-life' group for things like execution of possible (or in this case, almost certainly) innocent people. 'Pro-life' has been demonstrated to well beyond a shadow of a doubt to mean specifically 'pro-very-young-life', and almost certainly to mean 'pro-very-young-our-kind-of-people-life'.
It might well also be a factor that it would be embarrasing and guilt-inducing to think that an innocent man was killed, so we must make sure that he stays guilty. Rationalizing our failures is one of the strong human drives.

Uh, on the pro-death penalty, anti-abortion dichotomy, in the former, the person takes another life under defined circumstances, is given a trial, the jury is charged that guilt must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, and there is appellate review. In the latter, there is simply the termination of a pregnancy with the fetus/future human being innocent of any crime. In other words, there are distinctions that are more than valid.

I am no fan of current capital punishment practices, although the death penalty for truly capital crimes where guilt is well and truly established beyond a reasonable doubt is something I accept; neither am I ok with abortion as a means of birth control.

But the issue here is whitewashing a potential miscarriage of justice: whether Willingham was innocent of the specific charges against him is a matter that merits objective and neutral investigation.

Side note--I can't tell if Irrumator is being childishly provocative or is just a dumbass. I will gladly take the posting hit for this foray into vulgarity.

Right now, if you support capital punishment in the United States, you support the execution of innocent people.

Thousands of people die each year because of medical mistakes. So if you support the practice of medicine in the United States, you support people dying of medical negligence. This is what passes for liberal "logic." Pathetic.

"Perry contributed to the execution of an innocent person. And the formal recognition that Texas executed an innocent man would trigger a massive political earthquake -- one that would clarify to an inattentive public the utter barbarity and immorality of Texas's criminal justice system."

And, IMO, this "massive political earthquake" simply won't happen.

Side note--I can't tell if Irrumator is being childishly provocative or is just a dumbass.

Neither. Abortion reduces crime. It's a statistical fact. Read "The Impact of Legalized ABortion On Crime."

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=174508

Or just think about the kind of people who get abortions.

McKinney, I'm a fellow Texas and I have no problems with the death penalty in general. Also, most death penalty opponents offend me by their efforts to portray vile killers as nifty neato guys we'd all love to have a beer with. (Sr. Helen is the absolute worst here. I refuse to read or listen to that moron.)

Anyway, the standard of proof in any criminal case is "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." In this case, the alleged murder weapon was the fire, and if the fire experts can't agree that the fire was set intentionally, then there is a very big doubt that any crime committed at all, much less one justifying the death penalty. The arson investigators found evidence of accelerant -- charcoal lighter fluid -- on the porch, where the barbeque grill stood and therefore where lighter fluid could be expected, but failed to find similar evidence inside the house. This means they knew what to seek, where to seek it, and had the ability to perform accurate tests for accelerant. The only evidence supporting the conclusion that the fire was intentionally set was the testimony of the fire expert based on burn patters and 'puddling,' which has been demonstrated since then to be evidence of flashover and does not require accelerants. Consequently, I'm inclined to think Williams was actually innocent of this particular crime.

As for Perry, he failed to read or even have someone else read the clemency petition and failed to issue a stay of execution because insisting that the state kill undesirables only with good cause makes you a wimp in the contemporary Texas Republican party. Had he simply ordered a stay, he could have issued the following statement:

"Mr. Williams was convicted using the best evidence we had at the time. Now, thanks to the miracles of scientific advances since 1992, there is a reason to question that conviction. I know that our police and prosecutors did their absolute best with this case, but technology advances, and we are obligated to examine this new evidence. I still support the death penalty and our procedures in imposing it, but the severest penalty needs to be reserved for the worst criminals. If execute the wrong person, by definition we allow the guilty person to escape. Therefore, I am ordering a complete examination of the evidence in this case, and will proceed with the execution if the evidence supports it."

Instead, because he is a lazy dimwit, Perry is now stuck with firing everyone who might question the wisdom of refusing that stay five years ago, and with a much bigger mess on his hands.

" 'Pro-life' has been demonstrated to well beyond a shadow of a doubt to mean specifically 'pro-very-young-life', and almost certainly to mean 'pro-very-young-our-kind-of-people-life'."

Well, we could quit using the euphemisms at all and just say pro-abortion and anti-abortion and then no one would be confused. But with every Pro-Choice there has to be a Pro-Life so we are always "for" something.

The difference is obvious: It's OK to kill GUILTY people; it's NOT OK to kill INNOCENT people. Fetuses generally do not commit homicide and thus do not become deserving of the death penalty.

So if a woman has an abortion, in your view, has she committed homicide? And thus should be executed? After all, she just killed an "innocent person".

Thousands of people die each year because of medical mistakes. So if you support the practice of medicine in the United States, you support people dying of medical negligence. This is what passes for liberal "logic."
You might have a point if doctors were going around pulling healthy people off the street and committing surgery on them. Or maybe if you weren't also missing that medical procedures are committed with the consent of those who suffer from the mistake. In a reality where we only executed people who volunteered to be executed, you might make a lick of sense. But in this reality, this is just idiotic.

Biggie Smalls put it best:

"Crime after crime, from drugs to extortion / You know my mother wish she had a f*cking abortion."

Noise,

Your analogy is flawed. These are not mistakes. These executions of the innocent are part of deliberate decisions on the part of the state. The main causes of the conviction of innocent people of capital crimes in the United States is that they are poor, often have a long record of run-ins with the police, and the prosecuting state makes a mockery of Gideon when it offers nothing more than an overworked public defender with no resources for a proper investigation as counsel to the defendant and is allowed to get away with it. If Texas or other states that practiced capital prosecutions took Gideon seriously and offered counsel with adequate time and resources and a budget to match what the prosecutors and police spend, they would lose a lot more cases, including a few they should have won, but they would be far less likely to have the execution of innocent people as a feature of the system.

For most of these people, the medical equivalent to this justice system would have been surgery by barbers two centuries ago. You may notice that we don't allow such surgery any more.

"So if a woman has an abortion, in your view, has she committed homicide? And thus should be executed? After all, she just killed an "innocent person"."

No, actually homicide is a legal definition and abortion has two actors exempt from the definition, the mother and the doctor. If you murder a pregnant woman, in all places I am familiar with, you get charged for two homicides, the mother and the fetus. So abortion is not homicide by legal definition.

These are not mistakes. These executions of the innocent are part of deliberate decisions on the part of the state.

This is beyond ridiculous. And Gideon didn't establish the right to counsel in capital cases, so your con law skilz are fail.

So if a woman has an abortion, in your view, has she committed homicide? And thus should be executed? After all, she just killed an "innocent person".

If it can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, yes. And the abortionist as well.

My observation, a few weeks ago:

Having read through Marty's comments, at this point I'm convinced he just enjoys both being obtuse and annoying others. Everyone needs a hobby, I guess.

And Marty:

I am annoying regularly.
...
Since I am not an ideologue by nature, I often annoy people on both sides by not being outraged at the common reality of politics.

I am starting to somewhat enjoy Marty's attempts at ho-humming it all to show off how jaded he is as a sign of his supposed political maturity.

Evil is not really a good word for it, I don't know a single person anywhere (including Texas)who says it is good to execute an innocent person.
Because you find their attitudes almost to banal to allow yourself to consider it "evil"?

Yeah McK -- I didn't see why that last sentence was necessary to your argument

Ok, Irrumator answered my question.

Karen, I am open to Willingham being innocent of the crime of murder. If so, Perry, the the Parole Board, the DA and many others have a lot to answer for. The point is: we need to know. And to know, we need an objective, neutral panel to investigate and get reliable answers. I don't want a predetermined outcome either way. Both sides should insist on objectivity and neutrality and both sides should be prepared to give credence to whatever findings, assuming the threshold criteria of neutrality and objectivity are met, the panel makes. I should add 'competence' and 'access to the full record' as fundamental preconditions.

For example, I can easily envision a finding of 'possibly or even probably guilty, but not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.' That is, when the evidence conflicts, there is often a gray area. We don't convict, much less execute, if the evidence is merely indicative of guilt.

Publius--it wasn't part of the argument, that was me making a mild effort at humor as a follow up to the earlier thread on civility. As often happens when I think I am being amusing, I actually turn out to be obtuse.

McKinney,

Did you actually read the article? Do you have any actual statistical evidence to the contrary? Or are you one of those christianists who believe every sperm is sacred and care more about zygotes than preventing murders of actual people with brains and personalities not microscopic organisms?

Well said, both mckinneytexas and Karen.

"Because you find their attitudes almost to banal to allow yourself to consider it "evil"? "

I thought that this sentence (immediately following):

"There are those who defend the reality of it in any justice system where capital punishment exists, and that the deterrent effect saves more innocent lives than it costs."

Explained why I didn't think evil was applicable.

Not meaning to be annoying in that case.

Although , this:

Every Governor and the President, faced with an uncooperative agency, with the legal right to replace the members, would do the same thing to achieve their goals.

would be more in line with our previous exchange.

That's a pretty good summary of my opinion as well, McKinney. We do need to know.

Noise Machine,

No, Gideon didn't establish the right to appointed counsel in capital cases; the Scottsboro Boys case in the 1930' did that, some 30 years before Gideon.

@ wonkie:

I really don't see how a failsafe system can be devised to keep the innocent from being executed.

Uhhh - just a suggestion: maybe doing away with the death penalty might help???

Irrumator, normally Troll feeding is unwise and unproductive, but let me make this point: I don't run down every rabbit trail offered by people whose judgment and capacity for reason is so far removed from rational that I can only conclude a mild-to-moderate form of psychological imbalance is in play. Have a nice day!

McK,

I'm not trolling. The article was by professors at Yale and Chicago. It was published in the peer-reviewed Quarterly Journal of Economics. You can make ad hominem attacks against me if you want, but it doesn't change the facts. Anti-choicers are pro-crime.

Publius,

On the one hand you write,

It's a sad reflection on the state of politics in Texas that a governor could commit such blatant whitewashing two days before the hearing.

On the other,

the formal recognition that Texas executed an innocent man would trigger a massive political earthquake

This doesn't seem consistent to me. Either Texas voters really care about the execution of an innocent ("earthquake") or they don't ("sad reflection").

So far I don't see the evidence that that they do care. Two Texans, McKinney and Karen, have expressed their opinions on the matter. Maybe they'd be willing to comment on the general response in Texas.

Anti-choicers are not pro-crime. That's a rude thing to say about those folks reading this thread who are opposed to access to abortion. It is also a thread jack since it is off the subject of discussion.

Wonkie,

Publius brought up the link between capital punishment and abortion in his original post with his "culture of life" comment. I'm responding to that, and to all the other posts in this thread discussing the intersection of abortion and capital punishment politics.

As for the specific statement: Free Lunch said that if you support the death penalty you necessarily support the execution of innocent people because that's an inevitable consequence of the policy position. I was just applying the same logic and pointing out that an inevitable consequence of opposition to abortion is increased crime.

In the interests of comity: I am now officially sorry I brought up the link between the disrespect for human life entailed in opposing access to safe legal abortion, and that in supporting the state killings of people deemed unfit to live.

Irrumator is still a troll. DNFTT.

Jesurgislac, enough with the name calling. We're on the same side here. I'm as pro-abortion as you, if not more. I just support it as an extraordinarily effective means of crime control.


Irrumator

Proving a "statistical fact" that factor A (e.g. abortion) causes factor B (e.g. less crime) requires a randomized controlled experiment which would be both impractical and unethicasl in this case. The study you posted is a correlation based on non-controlled observation, and correlation does NOT imply causation. (If ice cream sales is correlated with drowning- and I believe it is- does that mean that ice cream causes drowning, or that both are correlated with warmer weather?)

There are other candidates for the crime reduction your article refers to one of which is lead paint abatement. (Lead ingestion by children not only reduces IQ, but also interferes with impulse control.) Like abortion, lead paint abatement happened first in liberal states.

@bernard -- i think it would trigger a national political earthquake. i also think one problem in TX is simply apathy and inattention. I do think a formal recognition would help even in TX, and even in the TX GOP

Anne, seriously: DNFTT.

The issue on this thread is not, in any case, the issue of disrespect for human life (we can discuss that on the thread about Perry's feeling that it wasn't worthwhile reading a report on the arson evidence before the execution). It's about how far Perry is prepared to go to ensure that the board which is to analyse the decision made to kill a man after his conviction had been shown to be unsound, is rigged in his favor.

Firing four Board members who might just take the position that the governor's obligation was to at least allow a stay of execution while the new report on the arson evidence was considered, seems pretty far in the direction of "We killed this guy, and you'd better not find me to blame for that!"

Proving a "statistical fact" that factor A (e.g. abortion) causes factor B (e.g. less crime) requires a randomized controlled experiment which would be both impractical and unethicasl in this case. The study you posted is a correlation based on non-controlled observation, and correlation does NOT imply causation. (If ice cream sales is correlated with drowning- and I believe it is- does that mean that ice cream causes drowning, or that both are correlated with warmer weather?)

Thanks for the middle school math lesson. (Can't teachers think of any new examples, the ice cream and drowning gets tedious the thousandth time you're heard it.) Yes, I am aware of the "correlation does not imply causation" mantra. Donohue and Levitt are aware as well.

As for this:

Proving a "statistical fact" that factor A (e.g. abortion) causes factor B (e.g. less crime) requires a randomized controlled experiment which would be both impractical and unethicasl in this case.

This vitiates the possibility of all social science. You can't create a model society in a lab and compare it against a control society. You are just expressing a natural scientist's prejudice against social sciences. (There are people who refuse to accept evidence of evolution because you can't reproduce the whole history of evolution in a laboratory.)

correlation does NOT imply causation

There needs to be an "always" in between the "NOT" and "imply".

Irrumator is implicitly claiming that easy access to abortion reduces crime, because you're killing more of those kinds of people, without saying explicitly who those kinds of people are.

I tend to do some askance-looking at such results, particularly if they do one of: a) reinforce the opinions I already have, b) are used as some sweeping claim of truth (and, of course, proof of someone else's utter lack of understanding) by a party to the discussion, or c) the kind of unverifiable claim that just tends to get people spun up.

In this case, I suspect that it's c). The "pro-death" comment is kind of a dead (excuse the pun) giveaway.

Slartibartfast,

"Pro-death" was a joke. I'm not actually in favor of death. I just oppose the policies of those who call themselves "pro-life."

There's an extensive literature about the issue, reasonable people may come to different conclusions, but I think Levitt is right.

Good heavens. Does every thread have to be an abortion debate? Really?

If you want to defend the death penalty, you can do it in a straight-forward way (which frankly has majority support in the US) or using deception and distraction.

Perry has chosen option 2, which ultimately undermines the rule of law. He may have chosen option 2 because chosing option 1 would involve admitting a deriliction of duty--something which most politicians won't admit.

The only good likely to come from this is the exposure of how bad some forensic 'science' is.

Good heavens. Does every thread have to be an abortion debate? Really?

My fault. I apologize.

Perry has chosen option 2, which ultimately undermines the rule of law. He may have chosen option 2 because chosing option 1 would involve admitting a deriliction of duty--something which most politicians won't admit.

Perry has chosen option 3, which entails "Fix this verdict in my favor regardless of the facts". It;'s not even "deception amd distraction" about the death penalty, though that does appear to be the favored route of defense.

I think irrumator has a brick oven in his back yard.

If he invites us all over for pizza, we'll know for sure.

This vitiates the possibility of all social science. You can't create a model society in a lab and compare it against a control society.

This is, very roughly, what multiple regression tries to do.

Willingham had Iron Maiden posters in his bedroom and an ugly skull tattoo on his upper arm.

Obviously he's not innocent. QED.

Can you believe some people think mere technical guilt or innocence on specific charges is important? Those guys will always oppose the death penalty. Thank God they are a minority.

Don't these people read the recent Supremem Court rulings? Specific guilt on specific charges IS NOT THE POINT. Good Christian church-going suburbanites don't get executed. Why would a fine man like Gov. Perry waste time on trash?

I think this whole despicable affair indicates the long-standing need for reform of how institutions are structured at state level. Perry does this because he can. The key issue should be: how do we make it impossible for governors to abuse their status in this way? I might add that this type of case is not the only one to highlight how easily governors can stack the deck. Sarah Palin and ethics complaints also come to mind, but I am sure there are many more, on both sides of the politic gameshow. Basically, the American people can have as much judicial murder and crony capitalism as they want at state level. Are they willing to tolerate it indefinitely?

Whenever I read stories like this, I always remind myself that Texas is the only state (that I'm aware of) whose State Supreme Court has actually ruled that actual innocence of a crime is insufficient grounds for an appeal!

@Noise Machine:
Thousands of people die each year because of medical mistakes. So if you support the practice of medicine in the United States, you support people dying of medical negligence. This is what passes for liberal "logic." Pathetic.

This analogy is not a good one.

Intent matters. In the case of medical mistakes, the doctors are not intending to kill the victims (to the contrary), and are not intending to be negligent. In the case of executing innocents, the criminal justice systems are intending to execute the victims, and intend them to be vetted for guilt.

In the former case, the intent is to competently treat them, just as in the latter case the intent is to competently judge their guilt. In both cases this is limited by the resources available, though as others pointed out, there is cause to suspect that lacks of resources arising in the latter case may arise from bad faith in addition to more mundane reasons.

However, while acknowledging that negligence may occur and may be unavoidable, the intent in carrying out medical treatment is still not to kill people; it is to improve or save their lives. If medical treatment is stopped wholesale, people will sick and/or die as a direct consequence. The intent of capital punishment is to kill people. If it is stopped wholesale, innocent people will not die as a direct consequence. I don't feel like getting into an inherently inconclusive argument about the deterrent effect, and I'm assuming life imprisonment as the alternative, so let's leave it at direct consequences.

In one case, the overall fallible process must necessarily include medical treatment (and thus possible unintended death), as it is the carrying out of the treatment that would cause the death. In the other case, the overall fallible process does not necessarily include death, as one can have a judgment of guilt and punishment thereof in "capital cases" without including an execution in the mix - the fallible portion of the process is not the portion that kills people. The killing in the judicial side of the analogy is intended and foreseen; the killing in the medical side is unintended and unforeseen.

The analogy does not hold, because there is no functionally equivalent alternative to dealing with medical problems outside of fallible medical treatment. There are functionally equivalent alternatives to capital punishment outside of fallible trials followed by execution. Unless you consider the point of capital punishment seeing someone judged guilty and die rather than simply removing dangerous elements from the public at large; in that case, there's no substitute. But then we're wandering off into the old justice-vs.-vengeance debate.

Rick Perry is the same governor who in 2003 signed a pardon for those wrongly convicted in the Tulia drug cases. At the time, he said:

"Questions surrounding testimony from the key witness in these cases, coupled with recommendations from the Board of Pardons and Paroles, weighed heavily on my final decision," Perry said. "Texans demand a justice system that is tough but fair. I believe my decision to grant pardons in these cases is both appropriate and just. "

However, it's easier for liberal bloggers to just assume that Perry is trying to execute innocent people. He's a Texan, he's a conservative, therefore he wants to execute innocent people. QED. That seems to be the extent of the reasoning here from the reality-based community. Can we ask for a little more skepticism, please?

Kevin P., a number of people have cited Perry's indifference to expert testimony, coupled with what is a patent attempt to ensure that the commission is packed with those favorable to him. Where in all of this do you find liberal assumptions about Perry? Aren't the facts sufficiently damning? Isn't it time for you to offer some evidence and argument, rather than repeating lazy talking-points about liberals?

However, while acknowledging that negligence may occur and may be unavoidable, the intent in carrying out medical treatment is still not to kill people.

Well, the intent of executioners is still not kill INNOCENT people--as was being alleged by Free Lunch--it's to kill guilty murderers. A doctor makes a mistake and kills a person instead of saving him; an executioner makes a mistake and kills an innocent person instead of a guilty one. There both innocent mistakes, no pun intended. And we shouldn't use either as a justification for abolishing the practice in question, be it medicine or capital punishment.

However, it's easier for liberal bloggers to just assume that Perry is trying to execute innocent people. He's a Texan, he's a conservative, therefore he wants to execute innocent people. QED.

Exactly. That's really the extent of the argument. Plus, the notion in the other thread that he should have halted the execution to read a last minute motion that wasn't properly filed in the first place.

First of all, in Texas, the governor has the power to grant only a one-time 30-day reprieve. All other pardons have to come from the board.

Secondly, buried deep in the Houston Chronicle report:

By execution day, Perry was Willingham's last chance. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals had rejected a reprieve, calling the arson expert's report “no more than an opinion.”

Note that Mr. Willingham had already had his report reviewed by the concerned appeals court. No doubt that court will also be attacked as favoring the execution of innocent people. Or we can just reserve that charge for Perry. He's a Texan and a conservative, so he wants to execute innocent people, isn't it obvious?

Noise Machine, you do realize that justification by intent could lead you to justify anything and everything? By your logic, the serial killer didn't intend to kill people - he wanted to remove the agents of Satan, etc etc. Indeed, alQaeda could argue that they weren't killing innocent people, but evil imperialist oppressors. How far do you want to push this line?
.
More important, "innocent mistake" is hardly the right term for someone who ignores expert testimony, does not take time to review it adequately, and then proceeds to try and rig the inquiry. That's more like (at best) negligence combined with a guilty conscience.

I am not convinced that Willingham is almost certainly innocent. Fire experts come to differing conclusions all the time, and what people say after the fact can be and often is as unreliable as what people say when under oath.

I've actually had the opportunity to talk with Gerald Hurst and read his work as a former member of the Innocence Project, and I can say safely that fire experts called upon by the prosecution routinely say things that are not even remotely true.

I've seen fire experts apply fire inspection theories that I know for a fact have been proven false. I've seen electrical inspectors say, under oath, that fuses "almost never" misfire or short, and therefore could not start a fire. And they get away with it and people are jailed or executed, because most people understandably don't know a lot about these things and don't believe that a prosecution's expert witness could be either stupid or dishonest.

Mockturtle, the expert testimony was already reviewed by an appeals court. You are demanding that the Governor should ignore all the actions of the other actors in the justice system because he just knows that the last minute report contains the truth.

By your logic, the serial killer didn't intend to kill people - he wanted to remove the agents of Satan, etc etc.

If that's the case then he's not guilty by reason of mental defect. So intent is determinative.

Kevin P, no, not really. I am demanding that he actually read the document in question, and take the work of a recognized expert seriously - as the court clearly did not. Taking time to do so, and allowing proper consideration of the available testimony is hardly a revolutionary idea - it simply speaks to justice and a willingness to admit that human error is possible. You may exaggerate as much as you wish - but your case at this point is simply rhetoric, rather than facing the facts: Texas executed an innocent man, and did so after ignoring expert testimony. Perry bears the final responsibility, and is desperately trying to hide that fact by rigging the commission. If you want to defend his actions, then explain his actions in replacing four members of the commission. Do you really think that this is the conduct of an honest or innocent man?

And they get away with it and people are jailed or executed, because most people understandably don't know a lot about these things and don't believe that a prosecution's expert witness could be either stupid or dishonest.

Like a defense expert is never stupid or dishonest. I know that's the position of the innocence project, but that doesn't make it true. What you had was a battle of the experts. The jury sided with the prosecution, and the Fifth Circuit just dismissed the new defense opinion. So who's more likely to have the junk science?

First

"I am not convinced that Willingham is almost certainly innocent. Fire experts come to differing conclusions all the time, and what people say after the fact can be and often is as unreliable as what people say when under oath."

Answer

"I've actually had the opportunity to talk with Gerald Hurst and read his work as a former member of the Innocence Project, and I can say safely that fire experts called upon by the prosecution routinely say things that are not even remotely true."

While I believe that all forensic science has progressed over the last 20 years, I am not sure that having a chat with Gerald proves the conclusions on the scene were incorrect.

That is really the issue, most arson investigation has been opinion. Someone 13 years removed from the crime scene is not always right, nor are the original investigators always right.

There isn't a rule or maxim we can use to say what should have happened so everyone gets to pick a side. Delaying the execution might have been good, there is little evidence it would have been overturned.

MockTurtle:


I am demanding that he actually read the document in question, and take the work of a recognized expert seriously - as the court clearly did not.

This is your opinion, not a fact as you claim. I like how you breezily ignore the role of the appeals court. Maybe we should just dispense with all courts, since they don't take your experts seriously.

...facts: Texas executed an innocent man, and did so after ignoring expert testimony.
Again, this is your opinion, although you seem to think it is an undisputed fact. In reality, the jury is very much out on this. I suspect that the end result of the Board's process will result in an update to the forensics standards, an update that appears to be badly needed across the whole nation, if you read Radley Balko regularly. Unfortunately, you probably won't be satisfied with that. It's more satisfying to accuse Rick Perry of wanting to execute innocent people. He's a Texan and a conservative, so he wants to execute innocent people, isn't it obvious?

He's a Texan, he's a conservative, therefore he wants to execute innocent people.

Haven't seen that claim made.

The strongest claim on the table is that he's taking inappropriate actions in order to suppress a discussion of whether an innocent man was killed on his watch.

That's actually a pretty strong accusation on its own terms.

Do you have an opinion on the claim that's actually been made?

"The strongest claim on the table is that he's taking inappropriate actions in order to suppress a discussion of whether an innocent man was killed on his watch."

Russell,

That is the claim in this post, many more have been made in the comments.

That is really the issue, most arson investigation has been opinion.

This is where I become a death penalty opponent.

If it isn't actually possible to demonstrate conclusively and without doubt that someone committed a capital crime, the death penalty should be excluded.

Killing someone based on which of two dueling experts you find more convincing, in a domain where the average person is not in a position to make a meaningful evaluation of the relative strengths and weaknesses of their arguments, means that sooner or later innocent people are executed.

It's unavoidable.

In December, 2004, questions about the scientific evidence in the Willingham case began to surface. Maurice Possley and Steve Mills, of the Chicago Tribune, had published an investigative series on flaws in forensic science; upon learning of Hurst’s report, Possley and Mills asked three fire experts, including John Lentini, to examine the original investigation. The experts concurred with Hurst’s report. Nearly two years later, the Innocence Project commissioned Lentini and three other top fire investigators to conduct an independent review of the arson evidence in the Willingham case. The panel concluded that “each and every one” of the indicators of arson had been “scientifically proven to be invalid.” In 2005, Texas established a government commission to investigate allegations of error and misconduct by forensic scientists. The first cases that are being reviewed by the commission are those of Willingham and Willis. In mid-August, the noted fire scientist Craig Beyler, who was hired by the commission, completed his investigation. In a scathing report, he concluded that investigators in the Willingham case had no scientific basis for claiming that the fire was arson, ignored evidence that contradicted their theory, had no comprehension of flashover and fire dynamics, relied on discredited folklore, and failed to eliminate potential accidental or alternative causes of the fire. He said that Vasquez’s approach seemed to deny “rational reasoning” and was more “characteristic of mystics or psychics.” What’s more, Beyler determined that the investigation violated, as he put it to me, “not only the standards of today but even of the time period.”

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/09/07/090907fa_fact_grann?currentPage=all

I realize that there are people arguing here that we are dealing with the view of one expert. They should know that this is not the case, and that their arguments rest on a falsehood. They should also understand that lazily equating "experts" is also factually inaccurate. The prosecution "expert" Vazquez simply does not have the necessary qualifications in science, or anything more than the dubious benefit of established (and mostly wrong) beliefs. These are not two "experts" duelling here- there is a real expert, who is a very distinguished scientist in this area, and a self-styled expert without any real knowledge.
.
Kevin P., I would suggest you start being a little more honest in the claims you make. I have not said that Perry wants to execute innocent people. This is your claim, and one that is demonstrably false. I have said, and repeat, that Perry has failed in his duty, and that his attempt to rig the commission is despicable. If you are going to argue a case, argue it honestly, please.
.
As for Radley Balko, yes, I have read his work, some of which is good. He seems to accurately represent his opponents and their positions. Perhaps you should reread him?

Kevin P., I would suggest you start being a little more honest in the claims you make. I have not said that Perry wants to execute innocent people.

Not you, turtle. Free Lunch said that.

Kevin P. accused me of saying it, Irrumator, as his comment at 2.21 pm addressed to me makes clear.

While I believe that all forensic science has progressed over the last 20 years, I am not sure that having a chat with Gerald proves the conclusions on the scene were incorrect.

It wasn't a "chat" - it was correspondence in tandem with a lengthy report he submitted to us regarding the fire evidence in one of our cases. In the report, Hurst not only cited numerous points where the prosecution's arson investigators contradicted the present methodologies considered to be proper and then offered up in court burn pattern theories which have been actively debunked and disproven, but also conducted careful simulations of the fires in question to see if an arson attempt would in fact generate the same burn patterns.

Hurst's expertise is about as ironclad as it comes when you're looking for arson experts and how fires burn. "Opinions vary" isn't enough to argue that he's wrong; he takes exceptional care in writing his reports to assess existing claims in both accepted arson theory and actual simulation.

Mightygodking,

The Innocence Project is hardly a neutral source. It's an anti-death penalty extremist group. And it provides legal representation to death row inmates. So the argument you're making just boils down to "a defense attorney said his client was innocent." Do you have any objective, trustworthy sources for your opinions about the forensic examination of fires?

Kevin P. accused me of saying it, Irrumator, as his comment at 2.21 pm addressed to me makes clear.

Indeed. He seems to be confused.

"I've actually had the opportunity to talk with Gerald Hurst and read his work as a former member of the Innocence Project"

It wasn't a "chat" - it was correspondence in tandem with a lengthy report he submitted to us regarding the fire evidence in one of our cases. In the report, Hurst not only cited numerous points where the prosecution's arson investigators contradicted the present methodologies considered to be proper and then offered up in court burn pattern theories which have been actively debunked and disproven, but also conducted careful simulations of the fires in question to see if an arson attempt would in fact generate the same burn patterns.

Sorry if i misinterpreted your initial comment. I would just point out that he did not have the opportunity to do similar due diligence in this case.

His, and many other peoples, work on the Innocence project is very important work, against a clock..

The Innocence Project is hardly a neutral source. It's an anti-death penalty extremist group.

Could you, Irrumator, explain why you consider them "extremist"? Also, what would constitute a "neutral" source in this context?

Irrumator @3:28

The Innocence Project is hardly a neutral source. It's an anti-death penalty extremist group.

Citation, please.

Their Mission Statement says

the Innocence Project’s mission is nothing less than to free the staggering numbers of innocent people who remain incarcerated and to bring substantive reform to the system responsible for their unjust imprisonment.

The precise substantive reforms they advocate are here. No mention there of banning the death penalty; it's all about quality of evidence, forensic oversight and exoneration.

So, cite?

Here's why it's an extreme organization. If someone opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest, that's an extreme position because it admits of no exceptions. The Innocence Project is similarly extreme because it seeks to ban the death penalty in all situations.

We're also talking about an organization whose founders--Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld--helped O.J. Simpson get away with murder.

MockTurtle, let me quote you directly:


Basically, the American people can have as much judicial murder and crony capitalism as they want at state level. Are they willing to tolerate it indefinitely?

I am not sure what crony capitalism has to do with this, but the key words that you used are judicial murder. You used this in the larger context of an attack on the governor. It is fairly reasonable to assume that you are accusing the governor of participating in judicial murder.

If you want to withdraw your incendiary words and accusations of Perry's malicious and murderous intent, I will be happy to withdraw my accusation of your bad faith.

Note that this would only let you off the hook, not our host Publius, who I can quote as saying:


Perry contributed to the execution of an innocent person. And the formal recognition that Texas executed an innocent man would trigger a massive political earthquake -- one that would clarify to an inattentive public the utter barbarity and immorality of Texas's criminal justice system.

So yes, I can understand Perry's motives. But it doesn't change the fact that he is acting in a profoundly immoral way. The whole thing reminds me of a banana republic dictator clumsily covering up his crimes.

Here is another naked accusation of murderous and malicious intent. I live in Austin, Texas, the liberal Mecca where this kind of accusation is commonplace. It is a mindset that everything is self-evident.

The Innocence Project is hardly a neutral source. It's an anti-death penalty extremist group. And it provides legal representation to death row inmates.

None of which is relevant to whether the reports issued by Hurst are accurate or not. What you're doing here is actually the very definition of ad hominem -- stating that we should ignore an argument because of who is making it rather than what it's content is. Try again, and show your work this time.

Do you have any objective, trustworthy sources for your opinions about the forensic examination of fires?

Since when are we limited to "objective, trustworthy sources?" Certainly the prosecution isn't limited to such sources. And who, besides you, is questioning Hurst's objectiveness or trustworthiness? (Questioning, I would add, that appears to be based on nothing whatsoever aside from your personal politcs.)

We're also talking about an organization whose founders--Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld--helped O.J. Simpson get away with murder.

That's all I need to know. Why don't you just cite Johnny Cochran?

The Innocence Project is similarly extreme because it seeks to ban the death penalty in all situations.

Cite, please.

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