The elephant in the room.

Author:Rust-Tierney, Diann

As the national debate over the abuses ingrained in our capital punishment system continues, more and more people are conceding that there is an elephant in the room. It is likely that someone has already been executed mistakenly and that other innocent persons are on death row right now.


In a recent opinion upholding a death statute in Kansas, even Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia acknowledges that a minute risk of executing an innocent person does exist. While Justice Scalia does not concede that we have executed an innocent person, he does acknowledge the risk of that happening, albeit one that is so small that it's barely there.

Much of the rest of the public has a better gauge because the 123 death row exonerees have begun to tell their stories. And, journalists from some of the nation's leading newspapers are exposing the system's flaws. They have shown that in at least four cases almost certainly an innocent person has been executed.

In the most recent of these journalistic investigations, the Chicago Tribune published a three-part series which concluded that Carlos De Luna, executed in 1989, was probably innocent. In 2004, the Tribune carried a story reporting that Cameron Todd Willingham, executed earlier that year, had been convicted on the basis of discredited arson analysis. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has reported that Larry Griffin, executed in 1995, may well have been innocent. And less than a year ago, following a series of investigative articles, the Houston Chronicle editorialized that Ruben Cantu "was almost assuredly innocent when killed by the state of Texas."

These cases highlight some of the serious flaws that plague our nation's capital punishment process: prosecutor and police...

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