Monday, April 30, 2007

We got letters

Earlier this month we noted that the Dallas Morning News, reversing 100 years of support for capital punishment, came out strongly and solidly in favor of abolition.

At the same time that the newspaper published its courageous editorial, which you can read here, one member of the newspaper's editorial staff published a column urging that the death penalty be retained.

We expected a backlash against the newspaper's position. Strangely, a backlash does seem to have occurred -- but against the pro-death penalty columnist. Here's a representative sampling of letters to the editor the newspaper has received since printing the anti-death penalty editorial and the pro-death penalty column. Note that only one letter supports retention:

Call adds to hopeful signs
Re: "Death no more We cannot support a system that is both imperfect and irreversible," April 15 Editorials.

I applaud The Dallas Morning News. As the editorial points out, the death penalty is "both imperfect and irreversible," which has led to wrenching cases of innocent people being released from death row and the strong possibility that innocent men have been put to death.

Years of study have shown that the death penalty does little to deter crime and that defendants' likelihood of being sentenced to death depends heavily on whether they are rich or poor and the race of their victims.

Fortunately, there also have been signs of progress. Governors who oppose capital punishment have been elected in several states, including Virginia and Maryland. Executions in 2006 were at a 10-year low. And legislators have mounted serious efforts to abolish the death penalty in Maryland, Montana, Nebraska and New Mexico.

Those actions and your call to abolish the death penalty are signs that we are getting closer to a time when we can end capital punishment and restore some measure of fairness and integrity to our criminal justice system.
Sen. Russ Feingold,

One mistake is too many
Re: "Opposing a repeal Mike Hashimoto explains three reasons that Texas should continue capital punishment," April 15 Points.

I commend your editorial calling for the abolition of the death penalty.

It's a courageous stand.

I also commend Mike Hashimoto's column opposing your board's position. He makes a reasonable and articulate case for the death penalty, one that ultimately I am not persuaded by.

My primary reason for opposing the death penalty is expressed by the mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal: "Justice and truth are two such subtle points that our tools are too blunt to touch them accurately."

We know that we've executed innocent people. How many is too many? For me, the number is one.
Bill Holston,

2 reasons to keep death
2 important arguments against a death penalty moratorium have not been stated.

As we have seen in recent years, prison escapes do happen. Several escaped prisoners killed an Irving police officer.

Had they been executed, this courageous officer might still be alive.

Silly as it sounds, no one who has been executed has escaped and hurt an innocent person. Second, without the possibility of a death penalty, those who are serving life without parole would have no incentive to follow prison rules. Even if they kill a guard or fellow inmate, no further punishment could be applied.
Jim Brierton,

Death can't be taken back
Congratulations on the reversal of your death penalty position. I came to the same conclusion when the governor of Illinois placed a moratorium on executions, after more than a dozen people on death row were exonerated byDNA evidence.

We are now finding many people in Dallas County convicted of crimes but later proven innocent. The death penalty cannot be undone. As a citizen, I could not live with an innocent person being put to death in error.
Bill Armstrong,
(Blogger's note: As is demonstrated in the groundbreaking NCADP report, Innocent and Executed: Four Chapters in the Life of America's Death Penalty, we believe at least four innocent people have been executed since 1976: Larry Griffin of Missouri, and Ruben Cantu, Carlos De Luna and Cameron Todd Willingham, all of Texas.)

Leaving out some injustice
I applaud and join your call for a moratorium on the death penalty in Texas. If our system is about justice, let justice be done.

Murdering a murderer is illogical and immoral. Additionally, I must take issue with Mike Hashimoto's editorial.

He writes (in bold letters), "It's applied fairly, accurately and sparingly." He then spends the next nine paragraphs debunking the "death penalty opposition's myths."

Not once does he mention the most glaring and pervasive injustices, that poor people are much more likely to be executed. They are more likely tobe prosecuted, less likely to be offered a plea deal and more likely to lose their case because of inadequate representation.

He also leaves the reader with the impression that he believes no innocents have been executed. Can he be so naive?

Thank you for the courage of your editorial.
Randy Richardson,

Tired arguments in support
Mike Hashimoto thinks his excuses for supporting state killing are unique, but like the death penalty itself, they are old and tired.

The death penalty is not punishment, since the offender learns nothing from being murdered. Ignoring vast amounts of evidence, like Texas being one of the most dangerous states in the country to be a police officer, only sends the message he is not interested in the truth.

It comes as no surprise that he looks at only half the facts when it comes to racism and the death penalty. It is not just the race of the offender that matters but the race of the victim. The overwhelming majority of people on death row are there for killing white victims.

His conscience is clear, because he has drawn the line and stopped asking how the state murdering people for political gain is superior to any other excuse for killing someone.
Michael Lax,

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