The following news story from HuffPost warrants a comment or two:
Convicted double murderer Willie Jerome Manning, who has been on death row for nearly two decades, is set to be executed Tuesday, after being denied a DNA test that could save him from the execution chamber, the New York Times reports.
In a 5-to-4 decision in April, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that there was “conclusive, overwhelming evidence of guilt” and that DNA tests would not “preclude his participation in the crimes,” according to the Times.
But in a dissenting opinion Justice James W. Kitchens argued that “whatever potential harm the denial seeks to avert is surely outweighed by the benefits of ensuring justice by the scientific analysis of all the trace evidence.”
Dov Fox of the Georgetown University Law Center says that “no physical evidence has ever linked Manning to the crime,” in a Huffpost blog.
Readers of these blogs who have followed closely over the past months (!) know I am opposed to the death penalty. This story simply highlights the reasons. I do realize that there are cases in which the evidence is “overwhelming,” but there are too many cases like those of Willie Manning: people (especially black people) who have been misidentified and linked by a web of circumstantial evidence to a crime he may or may not have committed. It has always seemed to me that the possibility of human error — which is at its highest when people are excited or nervous — trumps whatever evidence has been brought forward. In a word, I have always thought that as a caring people we should err on the side of compassion and even possible error. I would prefer to see a guilty man go free than to see an innocent man die a gruesome death at the hands of an executioner. I cannot get around the notion that much of our desire to execute people is nothing more or less than a remnant of our primitive blood lust — the sort of thing that surfaces in the outcries of angry protesters at the funeral parlor where the remains of the Tamerian Tsarnaev were recently claimed by his uncle who wants to give him a decent burial.
But in Manning’s case the conclusion that the court is simply blind seems obvious even to those of us who may not know all the details. If Dov Fox is right and there is “no physical evidence” linking Manning to the crime of which he was convicted, and, further, if a DNA test could provide convincing evidence one way or the other, then it seems a no-brainer that the test be done and the man be given every opportunity to prove his innocence. The thought of executing a man after two decades on death row on the basis of the decision of a seemingly biased court must disturb the most tranquil of minds. Whether or not a person is opposed to the death penalty on principle, as I am, one must admit that Manning’s case deserves a stay of execution until the DNA test is done. This decision was simply wrong.