The following opinion was published by the Gainesville (Florida) Sun on October 7, 2012.
Once again a death row inmate has been exonerated. This time it is Damon Thibodeaux of Louisiana, exonerated after 15 years on death row. He makes the 300th person proven innocent by DNA evidence. This is living proof that the death penalty risks lives.
Some are not so lucky as to have their innocence proven.After 20 years of fighting to prove his innocence, Troy Anthony Davis was executed, in Georgia, one year ago on Sept 21st, 2011. Troy Davis was convicted of murdering an off-duty police officer primarily on the testimony of 9 people. Over time, all but 2 recanted their testimony, some claiming police coercion. One of the 2 remaining was a potential suspect in the case. There was no physical evidence linking Troy to the murder.
These cases underscore the reasons why the death penalty should be abolished. 141 people have been exonerated from U.S. death rows since 1973; 27 in Florida; others may have been executed despite serious doubt about their guilt. There is no convincing evidence that the death penalty has a special deterrent effect and capital prosecutions come with huge financial costs, far higher than ordinary criminal justice cases. The cost of the death penalty diverts resources from more constructive solutions, such as support for law enforcement and crime prevention and services for murder victims’ families. We can have justice without the death penalty.
The reality is that good people make mistakes and therefore the justice system makes mistakes. Life in prison without the possibility of parole protects us and punishes killers, but leaves open the possibility of correcting a wrongful conviction.
Connecticut, in May, became the fifth state in five years to abandon the death penalty, and other states are lining up to follow suit. When will Florida?
It's time to end the death penalty once and for all. I am certainly frustrated and saddened every time I hear of an inmate being exonerated, whether they are on death row or in the general prison population. Their unnecessary years of incarceration are a tragedy. And with advances in DNA testing it is happening with far too much frequency. The impact on the innocent person and their family is horrific. And the real perpetrator goes unpunished.
I'm a member of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (www.fadp.org) and I invite everyone to reflect on this issue and to join this movement. Any killing of an innocent life is an outrage and when it is at the hands of our government it is barbaric. Wrongful convictions are the tragic consequence of our desire for revenge instead of our seeking real justice. Florida is long overdue to reform it's justice system and to eliminate a costly policy that threatens innocent lives.
Miriam Welly Elliott, Co-Coordinator
Gainesville Citizens for Alternatives to the Death Penalty