Saturday, September 08, 2007

Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man???

Opponents to the death penalty argue that executing another human being is inhumane; collectively, as a society, we lose our moral compass when we behave like lowly animals and kill.

Since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, "more than 100 people have been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death in the United States." Capital punishment leaves no room for mistakes; yet states like Texas and Virginia keep chugging along, although their gory appetite seems to waning a bit as of late

Yesterday, several nonprofits in Texas filed a motion to test one strand of hair from the crime scene in the death of a liquor store owner in San Jacinto County during a robbery in 1989. Evidence could prove the Lone Star State executed an innocent man.

Under the heedless eyes of then-Gov. George W. Bush, Claude Howard Jones was executed on Dec. 7, 2000. At the time, attorneys for Mr. Jones made desperate appeals to the courts and the governor's office to stay the execution and allow DNA testing, But Bush and his loyalists were busy making pleas of their own as they asked the courts to pull the plug on Al Gore's recount efforts after the 2000 presidential election.

And so Texas executed Mr. Jones for killing a man based on a sample of hair and testimony from an accomplice, Timothy Mark Jordan. The hair was never tested, although an expert witness testified for the prosecution that it was "consistent with Jones'" hair." Two years after the execution, Jordan recanted his testimony.

Documents later obtained by the Innocence Project through Open Records Act requests show that Governor Bush’s staff did not include the possibility of DNA testing in the material they prepared for him about the request for a stay of execution, which was denied.
In other words, Gonzo never told the president that a strand of hair might settle the issue of innocence.

Several months earlier, Governor Bush granted another death row inmate's clemency request so that DNA testing could be conducted; at the time, Bush said, "Any time DNA can be used in its context and can be relevant as to the guilt or innocence of a person on death row, we need to use it." Several weeks later, DNA results showed that the man, Ricky McGinn, was guilty and he was executed.

In the middle of a national constitutional meltdown, poor Jones had the additional bad break of following a death row inmate who'd proclaimed his innocence but was proven guilty.

To add to the disastrous sequence of events, a bit of outrage. County administrators recently found the crime scene hair but San Jacinto County District Attorney Bill Burnett refuses to allow it to be tested; he wants it destroyed.

"None of the reasons the District Attorney has given for denying our request are valid," said Innocence Project Staff Attorney Nina Morrison. "Mitochondrial DNA testing on this hair is definitely possible, and similar testing has exonerated several people who were wrongfully convicted in other cases.

Without merit, Burnett wants to silence death penalty critics. Let's hope the courts agree with our friends at Texas Observer, the Innocence Project, the Innocence Project of Texas and the Texas Innocence Network. No matter the outcome, test the evidence, Texas!

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