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Our Broken Death Penalty System

From an article in the New York Times:

Judge Laura Denvir Stith seemed not to believe what she was hearing.

A prosecutor was trying to block a death row inmate from having his conviction reopened on the basis of new evidence, and Judge Stith, of the Missouri Supreme Court, was getting exasperated. "Are you suggesting," she asked the prosecutor, that "even if we find Mr. Amrine is actually innocent, he should be executed?"

Frank A. Jung, an assistant state attorney general, replied, "That's correct, your honor."

That exchange was, legal experts say, unusual only for its frankness.

It's hard to find the words to properly respond to this. It's hard to express how I feel about the idea that a prosecutor would argue in court for the execution of an innocent man. The article concludes:

Joseph Amrine, whose appeal gave rise to the contentious questioning in the Missouri Supreme Court, is accused of killing another prison inmate while serving time for robbery, burglary and forgery. His conviction was based on the testimony of three other inmates; a guard identified someone else as the likely killer. All three have since recanted their accusations, and Mr. Amrine says this means he should have a new trial.

Mr. Jung, the Missouri prosecutor, told the court that Mr. Amrine's request was simply too late.

"To make sure we are clear on this," Judge Michael A. Wolff of the Supreme Court replied, "if we find in a particular case that DNA evidence absolutely excludes somebody as the murderer, then we must execute them anyway if we can't find an underlying constitutional violation at their trial?"

Again, Mr. Jung said yes.

It took me years of soul-searching to come to the conclusion that, though I respect the death penalty as the current law of the land, I believe it should be abolished. The thought that even one prosecutor exists -- and one presumes Jung spoke for many -- who would knowingly execute an innocent man indicates to me that I reached the proper conclusion.

How anyone could read the exchanges between the judges and Jung and not conclude that the current death penalty system is, at the very least, broken, is beyond me.


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