November 10, 2011 in Opinion
A prisoner was not killed as scheduled in Texas yesterday. I’m relieved.
I don’t support punishment. Statistics show it is not an effective detriment to crime. In fact, it perpetuates crime. Therefore, I don’t support the death penalty either.
This case is a great example why. The details are pretty simple. Henry Skinner was convicted in the deaths of his girlfriend and her two sons in Pampa, Texas in 1993. There are numerous problems with this conviction. There were no witnesses to the killings. A physical therapist testified that Skinner had an injury that would have prevented him from committing the murders. Skinner claims, and toxicology tests agree, that he was too intoxicated with alcohol and codeine to kill anyone. In addition, he says there is DNA evidence that proves his innocence. This evidence has not been allowed into the record.
The prosecutors are so obsessed with taking Skinner’s life that they don’t care about investigating any evidence that gets in the way of their obsession. They twisted the evidence enough to convince a jury and they are elated with their accomplishment.
Can you blame them?
This is how they climb their version of the corporate ladder. They prosecute big cases. They get the maximum penalty. The media covers them. They get their names in the paper. They feel important.
This is not only true for prosecutors. It is true for law enforcement too.
Their personal agenda of being promoted takes precedent over discovering the truth and doing what is in the best interest of all involved. Michael Rupert, a former Los Angeles Police Officer, says it goes further than an arrest or prosecution. He claims that a “right killing” is one of the easiest ways to get promoted within the department.
This is evidence of a system gone wrong, of a system that divides, polarizes, and refuses to recognize that the responsibility for crime belongs to everyone within the society. Instead, we look to punish, even if that punishment includes death. We perpetuate crime by repeating it in the name of justice, rather than removing it by forgiving.
We are so obsessed with punishment that we punish even when the evidence does not substantiate it.
This was the message sent by the group Witness to Innocence in their letter to Texas Governor Rick Perry when they requested he halt Skinner’s execution and allow for submission of DNA evidence.
“We, the undersigned, are alive today because some individual or small group of individuals decided that our insistent and persistent proclamations of innocence warranted one more look before we were sent to our death by execution. We are among the 138 individuals who have been legally exonerated and released from death rows in the United States since 1973, and some of us were exonerated because of DNA evidence.”
Texas listened to the appeal and delayed killing a potentially innocent man.
I believe this is the correct decision. I am grateful we have an opportunity to help Henry Skinner rather than taking his life.
I am grateful because Henry Skinner was a schoolmate of mine in Virginia. He grew up less than half a mile from where I lived as child. Skinner was a goofball. He was crazy. He loved to pull pranks on others. I was a victim of those pranks more than a few times.
If he is put to death, it condemns me. It condemns our society. It demonstrates that we have refused to do the work necessary to correct a failed system that is barbaric, unjust, and absent of love and life.
What can we do within our society to correct this? Leave your answers below.