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Lethal expediency.

The U.S. Supreme Court has plunged to a depth of barbarity surprising even to its harshest critics. It has ruled that solid evidence of innocence can be considered irrelevant to the case of a prisoner condemned to death. It ruled that the courts don't have to listen to the evidence. It ruled that the state may kill the probably innocent prisoner anyway, because he missed a filing deadline.

Leaving aside the question of the fundamental inhumanity of capital punishment, we note that no argument we've ever heard or read by even the most rabid advocates of state-sanctioned death supports the notion that it's okay to execute innocent people.

This ruling in the Texas case of Herrera v. Collins, decided by a vote of six-to-three (Justices Harry Blackmun, John Paul Stevens, and David Souter dissented), is the latest in a series designed to "unclog" the Federal courts and make it harder for death-row prisoners to delay their executions with strings of appeals. The earlier rulings were bad enough, sending many with perfectly legitimate grounds for appeal to premature deaths. But this one is absurd; it is housekeeping gone berserk.

Leonel Herrera was convicted in 1982 of the murder of two police officers. Ten years later, new evidence surfaced: several affidavits stating that Herrera's brother Raul had confessed to the killings before his death in 1984 and a statement by Raul's son that he had witnessed the killings as a nine-year-old boy. The Texas courts refused to reopen the case, though, saying Herrera was just too late.

The majority opinion did offer other condemned men and women a sliver of hope: If they have "truly persuasive" evidence of innocence, the courts must hear it. We wonder, though, what meaning that sliver has if Leonel Herrera's evidence is not persuasive enough.

And so it goes in this Supreme Court defined by twelve years of Reagan and Bush appointees. Their injury to the rule of right and reason was clear: They gave the state of Texas the green light to lead Herrera to the death chamber and inject a lethal dose of poison into his body.

But the Reagan-Bush Court also took the occasion to insult the memory of Thurgood Marshall, in recent years the Court's most vehement opponent of state murder, a Justice who time and again wrote that the death penalty under any circumstances is cruel and unusual punishment forbidden by the Eighth Amendment.

On the Monday morning in January when the Justices condemned Herrera, the flag above the Supreme Court building flew at half-mast for Marshall, who was not yet resting in his grave. We expect it'll be awhile before he rests easy.
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Title Annotation:US Supreme Court refuses to reopen capital punishment cases
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Words:443
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