We’ve learned a lot about the death penalty in the last 40 years...
Now what are we going to do about it?
Just a tiny fraction of murders in the United States result in a death sentence. But are those individuals truly the “worst of the worst” — or simply those with the worst lawyers, the wrong geographic location, or the wrong skin color?
Justice demands the utmost integrity of our country’s only irreversible punishment. Yet the mounting evidence of waste, inaccuracy, and bias has shattered public confidence in the criminal justice system. Across the country, executions and death sentences are at an all-time low. Multiples states have repealed the death penalty in recent years, and others have halted executions. Overall support for the death penalty is dwindling to a trickle.
Innocent lives in the balance
Roy Krone was sentenced to die for the murder of a young woman in Arizona in 1992. His conviction was based on the testimony of a forensic dentist who claimed he was 100% certain that Krone’s teeth matched bite-marks found on the victim’s body. The prosecution had no other physical evidence linking Krone to the murder. Three years later, Krone received a new trial and, although there was DNA evidence was proving that blood found on the victim didn’t belong to Krone, he was again convicted on the basis of the bite-mark testimony.
Finally in 2002, new DNA testing of the blood found on the victim not only excluded Krone, but it pointed to another man – Kenneth Phillips, who had previously been convicted of child molestation and was the person actually responsible for the crime. Krone was finally exonerated. He spent over 10 years behind bars.
Wrongful convictions like Krone’s mean victims’ family members suffer while the people who actually committed the crime remain unaccountable and tax dollars are wasted. At least 154 people have walked off our nation’s death rows after evidence revealed that they were sentenced to die for crimes they did not commit.1 That’s more than one innocent person exonerated for every ten who’ve been executed.
These exonerations represent only the wrongful convictions that we know about. How many others were not so lucky?
The DNA era has given us a window into all of the things that can go wrong in a criminal case, including incompetent lawyers, mistaken witnesses, hidden evidence, and more. DNA by itself, however, cannot solve these problems – it can only tell us how bad they are. DNA evidence exists in only 5-10% of criminal cases – far fewer than one would think from watching TV crime shows like CSI.
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