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The Hypocritical Gene

I like to write about things that I know about and try to avoid writing about things that I don’t know about, unless (as is sometimes the case) I’m using the writing to boost my knowledge. Writing is one of the ways I use to learn.

As a law student, I assisted – was considered “second chair” – on what are called in California “special circumstances” trials. These are trials where the death penalty is one possible outcome. Subsequently, as an attorney, I have handled one – and only one – special circumstances case. Death was off the table, though, within two or three weeks of my coming onto the case. (We ultimately settled the case, which involved confessions and the prior assistance of my client, leading the police to potential evidence, for either a 26, or 28-year determinate sentence. (I forget which, now; it’s been some years.) While my client’s family wasn’t happy and stiffed me on the remainder of the bill, my client was more than happy to trade death, or even life without possibility of parole, for the offer.)

In short, I don’t know much about death penalty cases. I don’t, for example, know why we, the People, kill people to demonstrate that killing people is wrong. I understand even less why we, the People, think killing an innocent person would demonstrate that killing people is wrong.

And thus I normally don’t write about such things.

Over the last few days, however, a death penalty case has been repeatedly brought to my attention. Not that I have tried very hard to do this, but I can no longer ignore it. I must write about it. I’m trying to learn something. Perhaps some proponent of the death penalty will read this and respond to it in the comments.

The case I’m talking about here is that of Hank Skinner who, as I write this, has almost certainly finished digesting his “Last Meal.”

Wednesday, it was almost certain that Skinner would carry that Last Meal to his grave, undigested. The United States Supreme Court has, however, at least temporarily, stayed Skinner’s killing, apparently to decide whether he can pursue a civil rights action aimed at proving his innocence.

You see, his Last Meal is not the only thing that would have remained undigested at the time of Skinner’s death; there is also the DNA from the crime scene, which would quite possibly conclusively prove either Skinner’s guilt or innocence. But the State of Texas, which is big on killing people regardless of whether or not they get fair trials and independent of actual guilt, does not want this done and has actively resisted DNA testing for eight years.

There is no excuse for this, except to prevent the possibility of learning that an innocent man has been convicted. DNA has long been considered by most people to provide conclusive evidence of guilt or innocence in criminal cases where such evidence is available.

Today’s Fresno Bee coincidentally carried two stories – one on page A10 and another on B6 – regarding DNA testing. The headline for the first reads “DNA leads to charges in 30-year-old murder.” Prosecutors are real big on using DNA for cold cases such as the one in the story. There’s no indication in the story that there is any other evidence to connect the alleged murderer to the murder, but prosecutors believe so strongly in the validity of DNA testing in these cases that they’ve filed charges. The second headline states, “Life sentence tossed after DNA exoneration.” Twenty-six years after conviction, Anthony Caravella had his charges thrown out and the court apologized to him after prosecutors and defense counsel both made requests for it.

None of this is surprising. DNA tests have resulted in numerous cold cases being resolved and has exonerated at least 17 death row inmates.

So why does Texas want to execute Hank Skinner without allowing anyone to test the DNA? Why does Texas apparently believe that justice will be done by killing a man who may be innocent and whose innocence could possibly be proven by simply testing the evidence?

It can only be one thing: Inbreeding within the Texas power structure has somehow managed to keep alive the Hypocritical Gene.