Sunday, 13 January 2008

Pa.'s Death Penalty----DNA to the rescue


Pa.'s Death Penalty----DNA to the rescue

For 22 years, Nick Yarris sat on death row in Pennsylvania for the rape
and murder of a Delaware County woman.

Yarris would have died in prison if not for a DNA test that showed he
wasn't the rapist or killer.

His conviction was overturned in 2003, and last week he received the final
installment of a $4 million settlement stemming from a
malicious-prosecution lawsuit he brought against prosecutors in Delaware

Yarris' case is just the latest example of why Pennsylvania should follow
New Jersey's lead and give the death penalty a dose of sodium thiopental.

Beyond the fact that there is scant evidence that the death penalty acts
as a deterrent, the overriding reason to eliminate capital punishment is
that innocent people may be executed for crimes they didn't commit.

DNA testing has helped exonerate 210 people wrongly convicted of various
crimes in 30 states. Texas has set free 15 inmates wrongly convicted in
Dallas alone since 2001, including a man released this month who had spent
27 years in prison for a rape he didn't commit.

What's going on in cowboy country?

At first blush, it appears that Texas is locking up innocent folks left
and right. But a closer look shows that an innocent man was freed because
a Dallas crime lab preserved evidence going back three decades.

Conversely, there are countless people rotting in prisons across the
country who are innocent but can't mount a credible claim because the
evidence no longer exists.

DNA testing has been around only since 1988. The test helps in only a tiny
fraction of crimes - mainly those involving rape - where DNA evidence

Those wrongly convicted of a robbery or a shooting where there isn't DNA
have a slim-to-none chance of overturning the verdict.

A review of scores of cases where a person was found to be wrongly
convicted shows that the leading cause by far is eyewitness

False confessions, government misconduct, lying snitches, and poor legal
representation can all lead to a wrongful conviction.

All of those factors appear to have played a role in Yarris' case. Getting
his verdict overturned was an uphill battle akin to winning the Powerball.

At one point, after contracting hepatitis C in prison and wanting to avoid
dying from the painful disease, Yarris asked a judge to expedite his

But after spending more than 8,000 days behind bars, Yarris narrowly
escaped having the governor of Pennsylvania sign a death warrant for a
crime it now appears he didn't commit.

That alone is enough to end the death penalty.

(source: Editorial, Philadelphia Imquirer)

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