Tuesday, April 09, 2002

Grandstanders, uh, I mean congress speak.

Leahy Reacts To Exoneration Of 100th Death Row Inmate
Tue Apr 9, 2:52 PM ET

WASHINGTON, April 9 /U.S. Newswire/ -- Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is chief sponsor of the Innocence Protection Act (S.486), a package of death penalty reforms. Chief Republican cosponsor of the bipartisan Senate bill -- which now has 25 cosponsors -- is Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.). Leahy chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee (news - web sites). The counterpart bipartisan House bill (H.R.912), introduced by Reps. William Delahunt (D-Mass.) and Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), now is cosponsored by about half of the membership of the U.S. House of Representatives. Leahy on Tuesday released the following comments on the milestone reached when Ray Krone, released from Arizona State Prison in Yuma on Monday, became the 100th death row exoneree. Krone was exonerated by DNA evidence.

"Our nation this week reached an infamous milestone: 100 known -- and goodness only knows how many unknown -- cases of people being sentenced to death, since the reinstatement of capital punishment, for crimes they did not commit. (Ed. Note: No such cases have been made public to date)

"There should be no shame in errors made by well-meaning jurors, because human error is inevitable. But what is deeply shameful is a political and legal establishment that lives in denial. What shocks me most about this case is not that yet another innocent man's life was ruined; it is that the prosecutor then called the system that did that 'the best in the world.' He is still back in the 1990s, the decade that saw Congress rushing to speed up the executions of people like Ray Krone; Supreme Court justices 'doubting' whether our Constitution even forbids executing innocent people; and a shadowy clique of bad prosecutors and pseudo-academics engaging in innocence-denial: pretending that innocent people were guilty, pretending that DNA evidence proves nothing, pretending that sleeping lawyers can ensure justice.

"The time for denial is over. We know that the system has identifiable flaws. The system did not work for Ray Krone in his first trial, or in his second. We know that it has innocent victims. Ray Krone lost 10 years of his life while Arizona's women were endangered because the wrong man was in jail. We know the principal cause of its failings at the trial stage -- incompetent and underfunded defense counsel -- and we have a cheap and reliable post-trial tool at hand, DNA testing.

"There is room for constructive dialogue about the pros and cons of the death penalty. There is no room for compromise in the debate between denial and truth. We must stop, now, living in denial. To expunge the national shame of denial, we need strong national safeguards for truth: a federal guarantee of competent counsel and of DNA testing wherever relevant. These are two of the straightforward reforms proposed by the bipartisan Innocence Protection Act, which has been pending before the Congress for nearly two years. It is past time to enact these reforms and to end this cruel game of Russian Roulette."