Thoughts On The Death Penalty

The community I live in is coping with the horrendous deaths of an 8-year and 12-year old girl, who went missing in July and were recently discovered. This has led to a renewed push for Iowa to reinstate the death penalty. Iowa Governor Terry Branstad recently met with the parents of these girls (along with other parents of kidnapped and murdered children in the state), who are advocating a reinstatement of the death penalty. A Republican lawmaker hopes to find bipartisan support, although the measure is not likely to go advance.

Until I’m convinced our justice system is infallible, I’ll never be able to support the death penalty. Consider the following:

Joseph Buffey is convicted of rape. DNA testing excludes Buffey. Prosecutors resist running Buffey’s profile through a federal DNA database. When the profile is finally run, the evidence points to another person. Prosecutors insist Buffey is still guilty. Buffey’s lawyer says a detective coerced a false “quasi-confession” out of Buffey, and the same detective provided false testimony before a grand jury.

DNA evidence exonerates young men that were convicted of murder, as the evidence points to an already-convicted rapist. The state’s attorney suggests the young men are still guilty, claiming the reason the convicted rapist’s DNA appeared in the victim was because of necrophilia.

Bennie Starks spent 20 years in jail for a rape he did not commit. DNA evidence excluded Starks as the perpetrator as far back as 2000, but prosecutors fought to keep Starks in jail. Prosecutors finally dismissed the rape charges this last May.

These aren’t just honest mistakes. Authorities sought to cover up the truth once mistakes were revealed, choosing excuses and obfuscation over true justice.

Since 1993, 17 people who spent time on death row were exonerated by DNA evidence. These facts make a reinstatement of the death penalty in Iowa unconscionable. The system makes too many mistakes, and resists correcting them. If someone is mistakenly executed, there is no going back. That serves nobody.

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