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Executing the Innocent

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September 21, 2009

On Friday, the Houston Chronicle ran an op-ed by John Holdridge and Chris Hill of the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project. John and Chris wrote how the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was almost certainly innocent, has “shocked the conscience of many Americans.” But those of us who oppose the death penalty know that the risk of executing an innocent person is all too real: since 1973, 135 people have been exonerated from death row. Those exonerees lived to see freedom, but for some, exoneration came too late. Willingham’s case should not be viewed as an anomaly. John and Chris write:

[The] publicity should not mislead Americans into thinking Willingham has been the only innocent victim of our error-prone system of capital punishment. There have almost certainly been at least nine others, and possibly many more given the flaws in our criminal justice system revealed by the recent explosion in DNA exoneration. These include Carlos DeLuna, Ruben Cantu, Gary Graham, Larry Griffin and, perhaps, Sedley Alley — names no doubt unfamiliar to most Americans.

The execution of an innocent person is tantamount to state-sanctioned murder. The only way to guarantee that this doesn’t happen again is to abolish capital punishment.

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