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The elephant in the room.

As the national debate over the abuses ingrained in our capital punishment system continues, more and more people are conceding that there is an elephant in the room. It is likely that someone has already been executed mistakenly and that other innocent persons are on death row right now.

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In a recent opinion upholding a death statute in Kansas, even Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia acknowledges that a minute risk of executing an innocent person does exist. While Justice Scalia does not concede that we have executed an innocent person, he does acknowledge the risk of that happening, albeit one that is so small that it's barely there.

Much of the rest of the public has a better gauge because the 123 death row exonerees have begun to tell their stories. And, journalists from some of the nation's leading newspapers are exposing the system's flaws. They have shown that in at least four cases almost certainly an innocent person has been executed.

In the most recent of these journalistic investigations, the Chicago Tribune published a three-part series which concluded that Carlos De Luna, executed in 1989, was probably innocent. In 2004, the Tribune carried a story reporting that Cameron Todd Willingham, executed earlier that year, had been convicted on the basis of discredited arson analysis. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has reported that Larry Griffin, executed in 1995, may well have been innocent. And less than a year ago, following a series of investigative articles, the Houston Chronicle editorialized that Ruben Cantu "was almost assuredly innocent when killed by the state of Texas."

These cases highlight some of the serious flaws that plague our nation's capital punishment process: prosecutor and police misconduct, racial bias, inept attorney representation and the arbitrary application of the death penalty. Some advocates of capital punishment say that the purported benefits of the death penalty override the fact that innocent people are put to death. And, Justice Scalia has argued that the possibility of an error in sentencing has been reduced to "an insignificant minimum."

We argue that one guiltless person deprived of life is one miscarriage of justice too many. And now there are four chilling reports that make a compelling case for the unthinkable: the state executed the wrong person, an innocent person.

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The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, our nation's oldest organization fighting capital punishment, believes the capital punishment system is fatally flawed and should be abolished in every state across the nation. At its 2006 national convention in June, the League of Women Voters adopted a new position to abolish the death penalty. It's time to stand up and face the elephant in the room.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Learn more about the death penalty and things you can do at these Web sites:

* www.ncadp.org

* www.deathpenaltyinfo.org

* www.equaljusticeusa.org

BY DIANN RUST-TIERNEY

Executive Director, National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
COPYRIGHT 2006 League of Women Voters
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:SOUNDING OFF
Author:Rust-Tierney, Diann
Publication:National Voter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2006
Words:488
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