The main problem with being opposed to capital punishment, as I am, is that there are a lot of organizations also opposed to capital punishment who seem to be run by Michael Dukakis liberals — the sort of people who will fight tooth and nail for convicted murderers but lack empathy and understanding of the horrors that crime victims go through that is what really drives support for capital punishment in my opinion.
One of the most idiotic things that comes out of this excessive focus on convicts is that anti-capital punishment groups tend to latch onto this person or that person whom they believe to have been wrongly executed or about to be executed, only for evidence to emerge that confirms the guilt of the individual. Moreover, the individuals such groups tend to latch onto are the sort of career criminals who are obviously guilty that it raises a serious question about just how gullible/rational some in the anti-capital punishment movement are.
Back in 2000, it was Ricky McGinn who was the star of the show. McGinn claimed he had not raped and murdered his 12-year-old
niece step-daughter as a Texas jury had found, and opponents of capital punishment claimed DNA tests of pubic hairs and semen would prove this. Then Gov. George W. Bush granted a temporary 30 day reprieve for McGinn so such testing could be conducted. Rather than exonerate McGinn, of course, the testing showed that the killer was either McGinn or a very close maternal relative. McGinn was executed shortly afterward.
More recently, many anti-death penalty groups hopped on the Roger Coleman bandwagon. Coleman’s case is especially egregious. He was convicted of the 1981 rape and murder of his 19-year-old sister-in-law, and executed in 1992.
Coleman was an immediate suspect in the murder because there was no forceable entry at the murder scene, Coleman had left his job at a nearby mine at the end of his shift shortly before the murder giving him time to carry out the killing, and the fact that Coleman had a previous conviction for the attempted rape of a teacher. At trial, evidence against him included pubic hairs found at the scene that were consistent with Coleman’s and DNA tests that established he was part of the 2 percent of men in the country who could have contributed the semen found at the scene.
To put it bluntly, there was an overwhelming amount of evidence that Coleman was the killer, and yet numerous anti-death penalty groups and activists got on the “Coleman was innocent” bandwagon. Many bought Coleman’s claim that he simply did not have time to go from his job to the victim’s house and commit the murder. For example, according to the New York Times,
In 1988, James C. McCloskey, a divinity school graduate and founder of Centurion Ministries Inc., a group based in Princeton, N.J., that advocates for inmates it considers innocent, took up Mr. Coleman’s case and spent four years reinvestigating it.
Mr. McCloskey concluded that Mr. Coleman did not have the time or motivation to commit the murder, raising questions about the jailhouse confession and the forensic evidence. He asserted that Mr. Coleman had been wearing clothing covered with coal dust but that no dust was found at the scene, and he offered evidence pointing to an alternative suspect.
As in McGinn’s case, the DNA test confirmed the state’s verdict — Coleman was guilty as hell.
The upshot is that, as I’ve predicted before, DNA testing is going to ultimately reinforce support for the death penalty rather than lead to some new widespread anti-death penalty movement. Capital punishment supporters will point to these results as well as the extensive DNA testing that occurs in cases today to argue that whatever problems there may have been with determining guilt in the past, that DNA evidence makes many verdicts as close to incontrovertible as any system is ever going to get.
Warner Orders DNA Testing In Case of Man Executed in ’92. Maria Glod and Michael Shear, Washington Post, January 6, 2006.
DNA Ties Man Executed in ’92 to the Murder He Denied. James Dao, New York Times, January 13, 2006.