Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Punishment and the death penalty

There is a thoughtful article in the latest New Yorker on the execution in Texas of a man charged with murdering his young family by arson-he was said to have deliberately burned down his house, with the children inside. In 2004 he was executed by lethal injection, despite a round of appeals. More recently, forensic scientific evidence appears to show that his (innocent) version of the events may have been correct. In New Zealand we do not have the death penalty any longer. The frenzy which surrounds every high profile sentencing will no doubt draw out the hanging posse from the darker parts of the Sensible Sentencing trust. The Texas case is a troubling story of a combination of small town justice, with added factors which have themes in New Zealand. The defendant could only afford their equivalent of a legal aid lawyer, who appears to have done his best with inadequate resources. But, the worst part is the scientific evidence, which appears to have been, in the words of the article, more “characteristic of mystics or psychics”. Prisoners on death row in Texas do not have access to much except mostly projects run pro bono, such as the Innocence Project.

We are reminded that even the most horrible offenders should have adequate resources to defend themselves, and that the system does get it wrong sometimes.

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