Favorite

Fight to the death 

Should we kill on technicalities?

I oppose the death penalty. But I know that even people who support it want to believe that those we execute are actually guilty of the crime for which they're being killed.

Since 1973, 138 prisoners have been released from death rows in 26 states because new evidence—often based on DNA—proved they were innocent. So far, no Arkansas inmate has walked from Death Row to freedom. But a few cases may be moving in that direction.

By now, most Arkansans have heard of Damien Echols, the member of the trio known as the West Memphis Three who was sentenced to die for a triple murder in 1993. Last August, 17 years after their trials, the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered an evidentiary hearing to determine whether Echols and the two other men deserve new trials.

Their case and the case of Tim Howard bear uncomfortable similarities. In both, lawyers argue that new evidence related to DNA might have changed the jury's verdict, had it been known at the time. Howard's lawyers contend that state officials knew about flaws in the testing of DNA that was used to convict Howard but withheld that information.

In the West Memphis case, bloody paper towels recovered after an unidentified man cleaned up in a public restroom on the night the victims disappeared and near where their bodies were found were never sent for analysis. Police said they were "lost."

With regard to Echols, Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel recently said: "Our office knows that there are concerns about this case, but be assured that we take the utmost care in handling the appeals of death sentences handed down by Arkansas jurors."

The question that arises, however, in that case, Howard's, and others, is: How hard must the attorney general fight to resist a reexamination of cases where flaws are evident? Negotiation is an alternative.

Last August, when the Supreme Court's hearing in Echols' case was broadcast on the Internet, I received e-mails from around the country asking if I could translate into plain English what the assistant attorney general had said. His arguments against allowing a court review were that technical.

In Howard's case, that same assistant AG argued that Howard had taken too long to present evidence that even he did not dispute had been improperly "withheld."

Timeliness is, indeed, important to courts. But it is also important to men like Howard and Echols, who together have now spent decades in solitary cells on Death Row.

If we are going to execute, the reasons ought to be clear enough for citizens to understand. And, where there is reason to suspect that a verdict was not based on honest or complete evidence, decency should compel us to encourage—rather than resist—a second look.

Favorite

Comments (4)

Showing 1-4 of 4

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-4 of 4

Add a comment

More by Mara Leveritt

  • Illustrating the governor's message

    Our prisons burst with disparities. Eliminating them will take courage. Let's see if the Arkansas Parole Board can heed the governor's message with one matter currently before it.
    • Dec 3, 2015
  • Mara Leveritt offers governor a symbol for sentencing reform

    Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the state needs to get serious about sentencing reform if it is to cope with its exploding prison population.
    • Dec 1, 2015
  • Parole board hears arguments on parole for Tim Howard

    The hard-fought battle over the fate of former death-row inmate Tim Howard intensified on Thursday when John Felts, chairman of the Arkansas Parole Board, held a hearing at Cummins prison to consider Howard’s eligibility for parole.
    • Oct 9, 2015
  • More »

Readers also liked…

Most Shared

Latest in Cover Stories

Visit Arkansas

Forest bathing is the Next Big Thing

Forest bathing is the Next Big Thing

Arkansas is the perfect place to try out this new health trend. Read all about the what, why, where and how here.

Event Calendar

« »

March

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30 31  

Most Viewed

Most Recent Comments

 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation