Monday, January 14, 2008

Pennsylvania should follow in New Jersey's footsteps

Anyone still seeking a definitive blow-by-blow list of reasons to understand why Pennsylvania's death penalty must be overturned, read yesterday's editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The piece urges Pennsylvania to follow the lead of our enlightened brethren in New Jersey, who abolished the death penalty last year.

The editorial is about Nick Yarris, who spent 22 years 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.

The editorial outlines the flaws with the death penalty and the judicial system that carries it out. But it saves its most important point for the end.
...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 exists.

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 misidentification.

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 execution.

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.

Lauri in York

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