Sunday, June 18, 2017

Government Work

Hey, maybe he didn't do it.  But close enough for government work.

It's the story of too many folks on death row.  Too many folks in prison.  Too many charged and convicted where . . . .

OK, let me be both careful and honest about this.  I don't know how many factually innocent folks - ones who just flat out didn't do it (whatever the it may be) are charged with and convicted of crimes.  I don't know how many pay the traffic tickets they shouldn't have gotten or how many are doing a few years in stir or how many are awaiting a trip to the gurney.  Or how many have been executed.

I don't know.  Neither do you.  Neither does anyone else despite studies and analysis and careful estimates and wishful thinking and blind guesswork.  Nobody knows.  

What we know is that whatever the number, it's too many.  Every one is a failure of one or more parts of the system.  Every one is a mistake.  Some of those mistakes are more tragic than others.  Some have deadly serious consequences:

  • Innocent people locked up forever.
  • Innocent people killed.
  • Lives ruined.
  • Families destroyed.
  • Guilty people left free.
  • Some to pillage, rape, murder again.

But every one a mistake.  Every one a failure of our system of so-called justice.

Nicholas Kristof in today's Times tells the story of one likely candidate.  (Kristof's written about him before; so have I.)  This guy.
Kevin Cooper's on death row in California for four brutal murders in 1983.  There's a better than even chance he was framed for the killings that put him there.   Despite a lot of concern - and some outright vituperation - expressed by a number of judges, by some media, and by plenty of do-gooders, nobody with the power actually to do something has seemed to show much interest.

I mean, hell.  The guy was convicted by jury of 12.  And we haven't gotten around to killing him yet, despite his having spent more than three decades on death row.  What more can you ask for?

Oh, yeah.  You can ask for new and more definitive DNA testing.  

You know, the stuff that can maybe answer the question of whether he's the wrong guy.  Or, of course, maybe not.  If they'd do the testing, there are three possibilities.

  • It'll pretty conclusively show he didn't do it - and just maybe who did.
  • It'll pretty conclusively show that he did just what he was convicted of, showing that this is a case where things actually worked right.
  • It'll be inconclusive and leave things about where they are now, but with another stone turned.

Is any of those a bad thing?  Is there something to fear?  Is there any good reason why they won't just


Yeah.  I couldn't think of a reason, either.

Close enough for government work?

Looks like it is.


  1. At this point I think the civil right against cruel and unusual punishment has been violated so badly that half the DOJ should be strung up by their thumbs and horsewhipped at high noon. 30 years on death row is a prime example of cruel and unusual punishment.

    Then there's the whole DNA question. Why don't they just perform the test? I'm begging the question here, and I suspect you and your readers know it.

  2. Was the mitochondrial DNA testing never done? Were the fingernails of any of the victims preserved?

    1. The details are a quibble. His lawyers think there's stuff to test that will be revealing. What's the harm in finding out?

    2. I support testing whenever there is evidence to test. Fingernails have the potential to be probative on the basis that there have been a number of studies done.