26 December 2007

Will Alabama execute an innocent man?

I have written before about how we've seen more than 200 wrongfully convicted people released from U.S. prisons in recent years after proving their innocence via DNA or other evidence.

It is good that we can do this post-conviction testing, to ensure that we're punishing the right person. And, in the case of death row inmates, we certainly don't want to execute the wrong guy. Right?

Well, while most people of conscience would probably agree, Alabama Governor Bob Riley seems to have a problem with the concept.

Here is the story:

For more than 20 years, Tommy Arthur has been sitting on Alabama's death row for a crime he says he did not commit. Of course, many people in prison claim that they're innocent, and we can't just take their word for it. But those 200+ aforementioned exonerees prove that sometimes they really are telling the truth.

In Arthur's case, DNA is available that could either prove his innocence or confirm his guilt. Since last August, the Innocence Project, an organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people, has repeatedly requested that Gov. Riley order the crucial DNA testing in this case. But, so far, the governor has refused.

Now why would a governor not want to order DNA testing that would either confirm that you have the right guy in custody, or else prove that you've been holding an innocent man and that the real killer might still be at large?

I couldn't imagine an answer. And so I decided to call Gov. Riley's office and get a firsthand perspective on the case.

I called several times from December 19 through December 21, and all I got was the runaround, and no returned phone calls.

On two occasions, I was transferred to a "Lisa", who is apparently the person in charge of the Tommy Arthur Case. On the third call, I was transferred instead to the Media Department.

Each time, I left a very polite voicemail message. I did want to come across as confrontational. In my messages, I said that I was a writer in Philadelphia, and that I was interested in the Tommy Arthur case, and was wondering what the next steps will be, and when, to do the DNA testing that will either prove Arthur's innocence or confirm his guilt. I left my cell phone number. And I never heard back.

Recognizing that I was calling during the holiday season, when many people take extra time off from work, I decided to call again to see if Lisa or the Media folks might be on vacation. The receptionist checked and said no, they were all at lunch. This was two days after my initial call. I left another message for each.

It has now been more than a week since my initial phone call. Either they take very long lunches in Alabama, or they don't want to talk about the Arthur case.

So:

Why in the world would Gov. Riley not want to grant the DNA testing?

And why in the world does his staff refuse to talk about it?

For those of you who want to keep up the good fight, please call Gov. Riley's office at 334-242-7100, ask for the comment line, and urge the governor to order the DNA testing for Tommy Arthur. While they might not want to hear from you, and they probably won't respond, I know from my 30 years of activism that this kind of pressure eventually wears down the bad guys in a whole lot of cases.

You've got nothing to lose, and a human life hangs in the balance.

1 Comments:

Blogger Nigel UK said...

Dear Miss Shaw,

For many years after the demise of capital punishment in my country (the UK), I disagreed with Parliament's decision to pension off the hangman. With the onset of various miscarriages of justice, my support for the death penalty eroded away.

I have a hint for you, Miss Shaw. Go to Wikipedia and look up this name: STEFAN KISZKO. Read the story of how an innocent man was locked up for 16 years for the murder of a child that someone else (jailed only a month ago) did. Read about his indomitable mother's refusal to give up hope that her son would be free one day. And read about how the police sat on evidence that would have eliminated Stefan from their inquiries at the outset.

At Stefan's pro forma appeal hearing which formally cleared him in 1992, I can remember his Barrister stating: "...Thank God we don't have the death penalty in this country any more..."

Those words are still ringing in my ears to this day.

3:21 AM  

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