In light of the pending execution of Ronnie Lee Gardner, set for June 18 by firing squad in the state of Utah, CNN posted an article this morning recounting an interview with a former member of a Utah firing squad. The individual, who spoke under condition of anonymity, discussed what it was like to be a member of the five-man team that carried out the state’s order to end a life. Overall, the individual displayed a nonchalance about taking another life that is all the more troubling when you read his rationale. The anonymous executioner said that he felt that the appeals process was too long, stating it should take a couple of years and that should be it. He further supported his pro-deaht penalty position with the assertion that he doubted there have been innocent people executed since the Supreme Court ruled the death penalty constitutional in 1976.
Clearly this individual is unaware of the case of Cameron Todd Willingham. Willingham was executed on Feb. 17, 2004 for capital murder of his three children via a purported arson at the family’s home in Corsicana, Texas. While the state forensic board investigating the case has yet to release a final report, the evidence of the case deconstructed in a number of articles, including one by the New Yorker’s David Grann, and the report submitted to the state forensic board by arson expert Dr. Craig Beyler demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that Texas has executed an innocent man.
Furthermore, how many more people would have been wrongfully executed if this anonymous individual had his way with the length of the appeals process. According to statistics provided by the Innocence Project, 17 of the 254 people exonerated by DNA alone (this statistic does not include other methods of exoneration) have served time on death row. Given that the average time served before exoneration is 13 years and these individuals on death row served anywhere from 5 to 21 years in prison, it is likely not a single one of these individuals would have survived long enough to see his name cleared. The executioner’s statements demonstrate the need for getting accurate information out to the public regarding the facts about wrongful convictions in the United States.
Spread the word folks.