Editor, New York Times
Dear Sir or Madam,
In his thousand-word obfuscation attempting to paper over the increasingly naked scandal of the death penalty in America ("What Death Penalty Errors?"), James Q. Wilson finally resorts to the transparent lament enjoying currency among proponents of killing: 'but you haven't proved we've killed anyone who is innocent!'
It's an odd state of affairs when death's apologists, who once stood proudly beating their breasts over the bodies of those presumed guilty, now have to resort to such whimsy to justify continued killing. Wouldn't it be easier to look at the newly (finally!) emerging facts and simply say, "Oh, God, I was wrong"?
Wilson neglects to mention the lengths to which the state goes to keep evidence of innocence from falling into the hands of those interested in producing such proof. After all, the man is dead, says the State of Florida, so how can it benefit anyone that the crime for which Jesse Tafero was executed, his head aflame, was later shown to have not happened the way the prosecutor insisted it had? What of Gerveis Davis in Illinois, Barry Fairchild in Arkansas, Jesse DeWayne Jacobs or Leonel Herrera in Texas? Or what of Thomas Thompson in California, whose execution was formally opposed by seven prosecutors and the man who wrote the death penalty statute in the state?
Mr. Wilson criticizes the Death Penalty Information Center - while undercounting the number of exonerations they list by almost 20% (claiming 69 as opposed to the actual 87) - for failing to prove innocence, this without noting that their job is to provide statistics and information, not to reinvestigate wrongful executions.
Statistics and information such as theirs, added to that provided by Professor James Liebman's Columbia study, clearly exposes a killing machine rife with error. While Mr. Wilson and his allies seem content to live with the damage it is doing, its victims, past and future, will not have that pleasure.
Mike Farrell President Death Penalty Focus