Thursday, March 19, 2015

Troy, Cameron, Gary all innocent? And executed?

Another potentially innocent man is now scheduled to be executed tonight! This isn’t the exception to the rule this is the rule and there appear to be many other cases where many people who may have been innocent have been executed any way even in many cases when there was evidence presented prior to their execution to exonerate them. I haven’t kept track of most of them personally but three, Cameron Todd Willingham, Gary Graham, and Troy Davis, which I have looked at, seem to be examples where they may have been wrongfully executed and if this one goes through all three of them will be dead. This is at least the second one to take place while the governor of the state was in the process of running for president; and in both cases the governor used the execution to prove how tough on crime he was even though they were almost certainly both wrong.

The first one that I took notice of was about twelve years ago while GW Bush was running for president and Gary Graham was scheduled to be executed and the evidence seemed to indicate that he was almost certainly innocent and that the witness used to convict him may have been coerced and may not have been certain. She later claimed to be certain; however there is doubt about whether or not she was as certain initially before pressure may have been put on her. I haven’t reviewed it recently but it appeared quite compelling at the time that he was almost certainly innocent of the crime he was executed for. However, in this case it is worth noting that he was admittedly guilty of another crime that was almost as violent. In this case the victim wasn’t killed and he was therefore not eligible for the death penalty. But this isn’t the point; the point is that they’re supposed to punish the right man for the right crime, not just punish someone that the public doesn’t like when there is a crime. Furthermore they aren’t doing much to investigate the true causes of crime and preventing them; at least not in the traditional Mass Media and the political system. However, more is being done in the academic world; but this is mostly being ignored by more powerful institutions. For more about this see “In cold blood: the state murder of Gary Graham” By Kate Randall

There have been similar question about Cameron Todd Willingham, whom I’m less familiar with but there is plenty of information about this from a variety of sources including this web page, “Cameron Todd Willingham: Wrongfully Convicted and Executed in Texas” from the innocence project. We also have a regular blogger that covers the subject of executions more extensively here at OS including, Troy Davis denied - From Texas to Georgia: Stop Executions! by Hooman Heddayati’ who has been blogging mostly at other locations and isn’t active at OS except to upload his blogs; however in my opinion these are still worth a closer look for any of you who would like to add him to your favorites.

Death Penalty has noted at least seven people who have been executed since 1976 where there has been strong evidence to indicate that they may have been innocent on their page about people who were Executed but Possibly Innocent. 
In addition to the fact that many of these people may be innocent there is no evidence to back up the leading justification for the death penalty, that it deters crime; in fact if anything the evidence seems to indicate that it doesn’t do that at all. Peter Singer has cited statistical evidence to indicate that this isn’t the case. He wrote, “The problem with this defense of capital punishment is that most of the evidence is against it. Whether the death penalty is a deterrent is a factual question. Since it is not difficult to compare murder rates before and after the abolition or reinstitution of the death penalty, or in different jurisdictions that do and do not have the death penalty, there is relevant data.” He goes on to cite more evidence to back this up in Peter Singer “The President of Good and Evil” 2004 p.45-9. 
The evidence that he cites is limited to statistics which does support his claim; however it doesn’t explain the cause and effect of violent crime. There is plenty of other research from other sources that do research into the way that violence escalates from early childhood upbringing and child abuse and bullying routinely leads to other violence later in life. By putting the focus on punishment as a deterrent the establishment ignores the route causes of violence and routinely ignores the fact that what they’ve been doing for decades clearly hasn’t been working at all. I have gone into this in more detail in other blogs including Does child abuse and bullying lead to more violence and Richard Ramirez, who surprisingly still hasn’t been executed after twenty five years even though his crimes are much more certain and there may be evidence to indicate that he killed even more people. There is doubt about whether they will even pursue charges in the additional cases that he has been suspected of. My personal opinion on Ramirez is that they should still attempt to find out what happened even if there is no since in charging him any further since they can only kill him once or leave him in jail until he dies of natural causes.

Finding out what happened and how to prevent it from happening again in the future should be far more important that executing the perpetrator even with someone as vicious as Ramirez. This is what they did with Gary Ridgeway and there is no reason to believe that he will be any threat to society and the investigation into his past also indicated that abuse that he suffered earlier in life made him much more violent and contributed to his serial killing. This is why it should be far more important to have a public relation campaign to reduce child abuse than to execute people after the fact even when we have the resources to keep them safely in jail for life and it actually costs more to execute people than to keep them in jail. This is based on the assumption that they get access to appeals and that court costs are greater than prison costs. This has been accurate in the past but with the rush to execute this may change at the cost of executing many more innocent people.

Furthermore the death penalty is also being used mainly against those with the least amount of political power, not those that are responsible for the greatest crimes. If they applied it more evenly they would also subject politicians like George W Bush to the death penalty for killing thousands of people that have been referred to as “collateral damage” when he started a war based on false premises. And those in power could have done much more to correct the social problems that lead to much more violence then we should have been having; instead when research that could reduce violence comes up that contradicts their ideology they suppress it or attempt to discredit it using manipulation tactics. It would not be unfair to say that many people are executed due to their lack of political power as well as the crimes that they have been convicted of; and if not for the lack of resources and abuse many of these people wouldn’t have become killers in the first place, assuming they actually are guilty, which most people convicted are.

Update 9/22/11: Troy Davis executed after media circus. 
Troy Davis was executed after a delay of about four hours while some portions of the Mass Media turned it into somewhat of a circus that enabled them to increase their ratings. (Davis Is Executed in Georgia NYT 9/21/11) this doesn’t mean that this was done this way for that purpose though; it is more likely that they have a system that does this as a part of a semi-routine. This is worth serious consideration since the main aspect of our Mass Media isn’t how they can do the best job covering any one issue and educating the public about it but how they can make a profit for their advertisers without interfering with the ideology of the corporations that control the Mass Media; however more on that is best saved for another post.
The reason for the delay was supposedly because the State of Georgia was waiting to see if the Supreme Court would act on it.

The Mass Media was playing it up as if the Supreme Court understood what the stakes were and that they were trying to make sure that they acted properly on it. This is the same Supreme Court that used the Citizens United case and the Arizona Campaign Finance Law to strengthen the decision made in the Buckley v. Valeo case that enabled people with much more money to obtain much more rights to speak where ever they wanted and this is also the same Supreme Court that allows “free speech zones” to be used to allow protesters to be relegated to limited areas where they can’t be heard. This is the same Supreme Court that declines to require that those that are relegated to certain areas where few if any people are listening have an opportunity to be heard through the Mass Media; instead the Supreme Court allows the corporations to have a virtual monopoly of the Mass Media. And more important to the subject at hand this is the same Supreme Court that has a history of allowing a lot of other death penalty cases to proceed under questionable circumstances. The activity of the Supreme Court last night doesn’t seem to have improved their track record.

There has been an enormous amount of doubt about the evidence presented in this case and there appears to be a lot of evidence that they had a rush to judgment early on in the case even though it took twenty-two years before they finally executed Troy Davis. The fact that it took so long to execute him doesn’t change the rush to judgment that appears to have happened early on since most of that may have been spent digging in their heels and trying to defend mistaken conclusions and to “save face.” Seven of the nine witnesses apparently recanted and the initial witness that reported Troy Davis during the initial rush to justice appears to have been involved in the conflict and may have been the one that initiated it. There doesn’t appear to be any forensic evidence; the sole evidence for the convictions appears to have been the witness testimony most of which has been recanted except for two one of whom may have been the one involved according to some sources and another who may have been too far away.

At least a couple of those that recanted claimed that they were coerced and that they feared that they might be arrested if they didn’t testify for the police. There has also been some reports that these witnesses were looking out a window from inside and it presumably should have been too dark for them to see too well outside according to one of the commentators last night; and according to Barry Scheck they used only one photo when seeking witnesses instead of a line up to choose from which is inappropriate procedure. The defenders of the execution claim that they don’t trust the recantations; however they don’t seem to have any doubt about the original testimony which supported the conviction. There is no explanation, which I’m aware of, about why testimony for conviction from the same witnesses is more credible than testimony against it. The mother of the slain police officer also made a somewhat ironic statement last night; although she has reason to seek justice that doesn’t mean that her conclusions aren’t based at least partly on emotions.

She dismissed Davis' claims of innocence. "He's been telling himself that for 22 years. You know how it is; he can talk himself into anything." (Carter: Execution exposes flaws in death penalty AP 9/22/11)

She doesn’t seem to be willing to consider the possibility that the same thing could be said about her; although this probably wouldn’t be quite true it might be close. She didn’t talk herself into anything solely on her own but she may have had help from the authorities which she may have been inclined to trust. She may have been inclined to put her trust in the experts that provided an answer that would put her at ease. It is of course always unfortunate, to put it mildly, when an innocent gets killed and I mean no disrespect to her; however it will solve no problems by jumping to conclusions based on faulty investigation and prosecution.

Jimmy Carter has also raised doubts about the way our death penalty is being implemented; however the president who currently has the power to do something about it has chosen to remain silent. Barack Obama could have used his pardon powers to overturn his conviction or to commute it to a life sentence pending review of the case but he chose not to. The reason that the president was given the power to grant pardons was because of the possibility that all else might fail and the creators of the Constitution wanted there to be one last chance for injustice to be prevented. This seems like the ideal example for the pardon to be used, unlike many other cases where it is used for political purposes; yet Obama chose not to act. He is supposed to be representing his democratic base which he claims stands up for the lower and middle classes as well as minorities. The fact that he has chosen not to act should raise some serious doubts about whether or not he truly does represent the majority or not.

Another peculiarity about this circus was the way they had dozens of riot cops ready in riot gear while they waited for the Supreme Court to act. They were prepared to defend their decision with force if necessary even though the evidence clearly doesn’t support it. This seems to indicate that they’re more concerned about maintaining control than they are about any sincere claim to justice. Rather than admit they could be mistaken they were willing to spend and enormous amount of money on security and risk more violence to avoid scrutiny.

Regardless of why they chose to act in this manner this has provided an enormous amount of material for sociologist, psychiatrists and international human rights organization to study about the way we handle justice in this country. The evidence is mounting around the world that it isn’t being handled very well at all; the only people unwilling or unable to see this seem to be those in power here in the USA and the most conservative and authoritarian members of the electorate that enable them to maintain power, for now. These authoritarian members of the electorate have proven to be very susceptible to an enormous amount of propaganda in the past that has been controlled by the people with the most political power; however it is becoming increasingly obvious that they’re becoming more extreme and they may not be able to maintain this for long without a larger number of people realizing it. If that happens then perhaps we can have some real reform in this country.

Update 9/24/11: Dick Gregory protests all executions while the media focuses on Troy Davis.
While the Mass Media was focused on this protest another one was being virtually ignored. Dick Gregory was protesting the execution of Lawrence Russell Brewer for the infamous dragging death of James Byrd Jr., a black man from East Texas; Lawrence O’Donnell reported on this the night after on his show as far I as I can remember they didn’t mention it much if at all when they covered Davis’ execution while Lawrence was off that night. (Huffington Post: Lawrence Brewer Executed: White Supremacist Executed For Texas Dragging Murder) This was clearly not something that he did because he supported the activities of Brewer; Gregory has been a civil rights activist for decades and did this because he realizes that in order to succeed in ending the injustices he would have to end all death penalty convictions even those for people who he is opposed to. He is clearly aware of the fact that it is routinely those with the least amount of political power that suffer the most injustice; he is also aware of the fact that if someone like me uses the term “nigger” it just means that I’m advertising his book. This is something that people like Rick Perry and George W Bush should consider carefully. The reason for this is that sometime, perhaps in the not too distant future, the majority may rise up one way or another and overthrow the current corrupt government. It would be preferable to do this peacefully but if it isn’t then the chances are greater that people will want the same kind of justice that Perry and Bush are advocating.
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The following are the original replies when this was first posted on Open Salon.

I'm not a huge fan of the death penalty, because of the error function, although, it has resonance in some parts of the country, and with a not small portion of the victims families, if not all. As to the Davis case, that's not a great poster child for pro-death penalty cases, because there was only eyewitness testimony, but of not so great witnesses, although, he was there it would seem like, if maybe what actually happened might, or might not, have made him more of an accessory, as the Cleves character came in to the police maybe to throw someone else under the bus. It was a fight among very poor and or homeless people over a beer, and the officer came over to protect someone, and got killed. Weapon never found, no residue test it seems like was done, although too much time may have passed too. He had a pair of shorts that was found that would seem to be important as to what happened, excluded as to evidence. Officer involved shootings as per the Davis case need to be handled very carefully, so the police' understandable desire to find the criminal doesn't turn into a mistake.

Don Rich September 21, 2011 11:19 AM

You may know more about this case than me; what I have heard is that some of the witnesses claimed that they fingered him only under pressure because that is what the police wanted and that some of the jury members have decided that if they had additional information they wouldn't have executed. And there was some talk about this being a rush to convict someone, anyone, due to political pressure and that there was no additional evidence.

What I heard from the opposition didn't involve refuting this; instead they made appeals to emotion. If they couldn't adress these claims then it seems to me that there is probably something to them.

zacherydtaylor September 21, 2011 11:39 AM

You are absolutely correct. For the first time in human existence, we have both the statistical, empirical data gathering capability to examine the factors which may lead to this behavior, and the scientific capability to examine other things which may be different in sociopaths. Recent brain scan research indicates that sociopaths seem to have a 17% smaller amygdala ( and scans reveal that they do not react to situations which other people would regard as horrible, evil, sadistic etc., in the same way.

The point is that all of this information and technology applied could identify, modify, and in the case of those whom can't be helped, segregate them, at what would most likely be a far lower cost than just the legal process which deals with them after the fact. The much more important result would be that their potential victims would be spared the horrors of their crimes.

But in a society with limited capacity for change, exacerbated by, intractable attitudes stemming from beliefs based on religion and politicians who cater to the lowest denominator of intelligence, all of that goes unheeded. Add to that the incredible political clout of the public and private prison system. The Prison Guards have the powerful lobby in California. The money which flows through the established prison system (and the legal system) due to such a high incidence of criminal activity and incarceration rates, is mind boggling.

The next time someone is victimized by a criminal, that guilt has to be shared by a lot of people. If you work in an system and know that a dangerous event has a high probability of happening because all the available information indicates that form of "failure" and it's found you knew and did nothing, because you'd make more money letting it fail and "fixing" it later (although the system we have seems to do more damage than fix anyone) are you not culpable?

We've got a long, long way to go to make any sort of claim to "intelligent species".


Samasiam September 21, 2011 05:41 PM

The most frequently used alternative to execution is life in prison without the possibility of parole. It is my opinion that “life in prison without the possibility of parole” is inhumane. I personally think it to be more deserving of the term “cruel and unusual punishment”—and I am convinced that execution is preferable.

I disagree that the “leading justification” for the death penalty is to deter crime. I suspect the leading justification is the concept of “an eye for an eye.” But the question of whether or not it tends to deter crime can be looked at in several ways. No person executed for murder has ever murdered again—making it a fairly effective deterrent from that perspective.

Under any circumstances, we have to acknowledge that there are individuals from whom society must be protected—wonton killers too dangerous to allow to roam free. Whether any of the men you mentioned are such killers is something none of us can know. Best we can do is to trust the system of law and judgment we have in place. Innocent people will unfairly die…but innocent people die every day. The off-duty policeman in the Davis case was such a person.

Frank Apisa September 21, 2011 05:49 PM

Sam, I don’t doubt the brain scan information that you cited and assume that if it is reviewed properly it can be helpful; however this isn’t how I came to my conclusions for at least two reasons. The first is very simple; I don’t understand it and therefore I can’t confirm or refute how they came to their conclusions. They say that there are problems with the brains of sociopaths; however they don’t seem to be certain what causes those problems. One possibility that they consider is that it is genetic; however I suspect it is more likely that these sociopaths have suffered long term damage that resulted partially from trauma that may have occurred, one way or another, during early childhood. This assumption has been supported by an enormous amount of statistical and psychological evidence that indicates that most serial killers have been abused early in life. This isn’t the same conclusions that some so-called experts come to though. One example is Robert Hare, author of Without Conscious, who somehow concludes that it is almost all genetic and that psychopathy (his preferred term) is hereditary. His explanation how he came to his conclusions is, in my opinion, highly incompetent though. It clearly refutes the research by many other academics who do a better job showing the work. I may review that more at a later post.

The influence of the prison industrial complex and other prejudicial ideologies that are based on false science are all the more reason that we need election reform and a better peer review system that enables the most credible academics to get their views across to the majority of the public; which is what I have refereed to in the past as an educational revolution.

Frank, if “cruel and unusual punishment” is your concern then you might want to consider the preferences of the people being executed. The claim that “Innocent people will unfairly die…but innocent people die every day,” is a defeatist attitude and with the availability of evidence to enable us to make improvements I see no purpose for it.

Also I will be providing an update to this post, if not within the next hour or two then tomorrow.

zacherydtaylor September 22, 2011 10:10 AM

Zachary: I think that we both agree here, even if we eliminate emerging data on sociopaths (who while their crimes may be more prolific per capita, are a small minority) the social data on what circumstances create many of the criminals we suffer is undeniable. That we don't apply that knowledge in order to alter those circumstances and reap the benefits while persisting in bizarre systems of legalized vengeance that cost a fortune and don't effectively alter behavior, is nuts.

Samasiam September 22, 2011 02:50 PM

Zack…you wrote:

Frank, if “cruel and unusual punishment” is your concern then you might want to consider the preferences of the people being executed.

No problem…and thank you for the suggestion. If capital punishment were abolished today and “life in prison without the possibility of parole” were the alternative for capital cases, I would champion abolition IF…the preference of the convicted were considered and honored. If a person sentences to life in prison without the possibility of parole opted for execution…and if the state were obliged to honor that request.

No problem with me at all.

Think you could get something like that past Americans?

The claim that “Innocent people will unfairly die…but innocent people die every day,” is a defeatist attitude…

No it isn’t! It is reality in black and white. You just want to characterize it as defeatest for your own purposes. The characterization is self-serving.

… and with the availability of evidence to enable us to make improvements I see no purpose for it.

That is your right. Making improvements of the type just mentioned above are fine. But to suggest that capital punishment is wrong or barbaric on its face is incorrect.

Also I will be providing an update to this post, if not within the next hour or two then tomorrow.

Still waiting!

Frank Apisa September 23, 2011 09:18 AM

Sam, agreed thanks for your input.

Frank, thanks for your input as well; however on some things we’ll just have to agree to disagree. As for your wait for the update there was one added on Thursday to the post if you looked; however if that wasn’t enough I added a second briefer update today that included a few comments on dick Gregory.

zacherydtaylor September 24, 2011 11:06 AM

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