The following brief Yahoo News story is worthy of extended comment, it seems to me:
NEW YORK (AP) — A New York City man whose murder conviction was overturned after 23 years in prison has suffered a heart attack on his second day of freedom.
David Ranta’s lawyer tells The New York Times (http://nyti.ms/102uUVo ) the former inmate had a serious heart attack Friday night and is being treated at a New York hospital.
Ranta walked out of jail Thursday after a judge threw out his conviction in the 1990 killing of a Brooklyn rabbi.
Brooklyn prosecutors had recently concluded Ranta’s prosecution in the death of Rabbi Chaskel Werzberger was fatally flawed.
Werzberger was killed by a bandit fleeing a botched robbery. One witness said a police lineup that helped convict Ranta had been rigged.
Ranta is 58. He told reporters Thursday that his new freedom was emotionally overwhelming.
It is terribly sad that Ranta had a serious heart attack after his release from prison. But, of course, he never should have been there in the first place. The possibility of human error in murder trials seems to me to make the case against capital punishment. If this man had faced execution for committing the murder he was accused of, his story never would have been told. But the fact that people do make mistakes and that such certainties as “witness” accounts in cases where emotions run high and people are confused cannot be said to be all that certain renders every “guilty” verdict questionable. The only plausible arguments in favor of capital punishment are the costs of long-term incarceration and, of course, the revenge factor. But these arguments simply do not hold up to scrutiny in the face of events like the mistake that was made in the case of David Ranta.
I have a friend who many years ago was working as a bank teller when the bank was held up. She told me about one of the other tellers who had to deal with the thief directly, actually handing him the money at gun point. The woman swore she would never forget the man’s face. Sure enough, a few weeks later she was called in to identify a man the police thought might have held up the bank. He was in a line-up and with little delay the woman identified the man she was certain had held up the bank. Only she didn’t: the man she identified was a policeman who was just filling out the lineup. It was not the bank robber whose face “she would never forget.” People do forget. Our memories play tricks on us, especially when we are under stress. And we know that racial bias often enters into judgments of this sort as well. This has always seemed to me to be an unassailable argument against capital punishment. If humans were infallible there might be strong reasons to take another life, but as long as we are subject to mistakes the case seems to me to fall apart. Just ask David Ranta’s family.