Controversy over the death penalty is once again raging as Texas, home of Rick Perry’s “Ultimate Justice™”, has declined to allow the testing of DNA evidence that might exonerate condemned prisoner Hank Skinner. Skinner was convicted of a triple homicide and has been on Death Row since 1995.
The prosecution successfully argued during past appeals that since Skinners’ attorney declined to have the DNA evidence tested during the trial, Skinner has no right to access it now. This sounds suspiciously like the DA is unwilling to have its guilty verdict reversed at this late date. The testing will come at no cost to the State and if it confirms the original verdict, there will some paperwork and little else. If, on the other hand, the DNA shows that Skinner is not guilty, then we, as a people, are obligated to ensure that justice is truly served and not meted out as a convenience no matter the cost or embarrassment.
Skinner himself gave a perfect summary:
“All the district attorney (has) got to do is turn over the evidence, test it and let the chips fall where they may,” Skinner said in an interview with CNN last year. “If I’m innocent I go home. If I’m guilty I die.”
Whether or not the execution of a guilty prisoner is moral is a debate worth having. But whether or not to execute an innocent prisoner is, under no circumstances, up for debate. Every measure must be taken to ensure the innocent are not murdered by the state. There is no such thing as “collateral damage” when it comes to capitol punishment. This is a significant flaw in our justice system which rewards not the accuracy of verdicts but the number of successful convictions. The fact that many criminal lawyers that enter politics campaign on their “win” record displays a perverse incentive to secure as many convictions as possible, especially in high profile cases. This is not conducive to justice.
To make matters worse, despite a new law passed that makes it easier for convicted criminals to have access to the DNA evidence as part of their appeal, the judge simply denied the request without explanation.
The Texas system has shown a marked lack of interest in getting to the truth but rather appears more concerned with racking up a body count for its Governor to boast about to an audience of cheering, bloodthirsty savages. Having the most executions should be a badge of ultimate shame for a politician. It means you have failed to make safe the populace of your state and rely instead on extravagant displays of retribution to create a false sense of security.
Hank Skinner will, in all likelihood, be just another spectacle to distract the mob from the real problems facing Texas. Bread and Circuses, indeed.