I am unapologetic about my support of the death penalty because I do not believe that a majority opinion or the law of the land in 33 states and the federal government requires an apology. Unfortunately, in recent years abolitionists and other death penalty apologists have been incredibly successful in subverting the law and undermining public confidence in the administration of ultimate justice.
Abolitionists have found many friends in the mainstream media. Together they have concocted a public relations campaign that has convinced many that our death rows are filled with innocent men and women who are denied due process as they are being led to the slaughter. Ever since the days of Perry Mason, television has fed the public a diet of citizens accused and convicted of capital murders that they did not commit. Currently, the plethora of CSI series would have us believe that forensic evidence miraculously and regularly exonerates innocents as they rot in prison cells.
The wrongful accusation, conviction, imprisonment, and execution of innocents is a staple of The Good Wife on CBS, which recently featured Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck and the case of Cameron Todd Willingham. The elegance of that particular case is that it is impossible to prove whether Willingham truly was innocent or was the remorseless arsonist executed in 2003 for torching his three young daughters. The point is that on these television programs, forensics are always definitive, defense lawyers are never wrong, and innocent people are convicted, imprisoned, and executed.
Of course, print media is complicit as well. Convicted killer Roger Coleman made the cover of Time magazine on May 18, 1992, with the caption, “This Man Might Be Innocent: This Man Is Due To Die.” Fourteen years after his execution, DNA evidence proved that Coleman had been guilty of murdering his sister-in-law all along.
Then again, the June 12, 2000 cover of Newsweek magazine featured death row inmate Ricky McGinn. Again, the suggestion was made that an innocent man was about to be executed. McGinn stated that DNA testing would prove that he didn’t rape and murder his 12-year-old stepdaughter. Under intense media pressure, Texas Governor George Bush ordered a 30-day reprieve. When DNA testing proved that McGinn was guilty beyond any doubt, he was finally executed.
The truth of the matter is that as of the end of 2009, 1,613,740 prisoners were under state and federal jurisdiction. However, the total number of DNA exonerations – for any type of felony – was less than 300. And, despite years of parading remorseless killers as innocent victims, it cannot be demonstrated that an innocent man has ever been executed in recent times.
The decision to end a man’s life is a serious one, and should be treated as such. Obviously, the penalty should only be enacted in cases where there is rock-solid evidence as to guilt. However, one gets the sense that some abolitionists are just waiting for the execution of an innocent man so that they may be properly indignant about it. Those of us who believe the death penalty is necessary, on the other hand, pray that an innocent is never executed, preserving our fragile system of ultimate justice to appropriately punish the ultimate crime.