Thursday, September 21, 2006

Finally free for murder he didn't do.

I know a lot of conservatives, in particular, are obsessed with the death penalty. And they insist 1.) that no innocent person has been convicted of murder and executed and 2.) even if they were the collective good must come before individual rights. Ah, the “collective good” is responsible for more crimes against humanity than anything else in history.

Now here is another case of a young man sent to prison for life for a murder he did not commit. Jeffrey Deskovic was lucky in that the state where this happened, New York, doesn’t have the death penalty. But he sat in prison for 16 years. He was just a boy when arrested, a high school student. The victim was a classmate, Angela Correa.

Correa’s murder upset the young Deskovic. Killings like this often have that effect. But the police concluded he was “too distraught”. Apparently there is some mystical “distraught level” and anyone going over that level is a suspect. Deskovic had shared two classes at school with the victim. He went to the wake and over time became friends with the family. And being friendly and disturbed by the brutal killing of a young girl was considered abnormal by the police who started investigating Deskovic.

For two months they kept after him. As usual when the police think they are right (and they never think they are wrong) they ignore evidence to the contrary. Anything that disproved their theory is dismissed. After two months of regular police harassment the cops brought the boy in for an interrogation. The boy said he was coerced. But in the end the frightened boy confessed. He said, “being fearful for myself, I told them what they wanted to hear.” He was convinced when the trial came he would be exonerated. After all the police had DNA from the rape that had taken place and it wasn’t his.

But the prosecutors want convictions period. If that means innocent people go to jail, or get executed in some states, so what. The prosecutor had an “alibi” for the DNA. It was claimed that the victim must have had consensual sex with another person sometime shortly before Deskovic killed her. And don’t forget, the frightened boy confessed. Case close. The jury convicted the boy to life in prison since no other penalty was on the table -- like execution.

Deskovic says he lost his friends and everything else he held dear during his time in prison. He tried to get the case reopened. He tried to get the authorities to look at the DNA. One of those who refused to do so was Jeanine Pirro who had been the local district attorney. She refused to do so and is now running for state attorney general as a Republican. One of her planks is that she wants individuals convicted of murder (like Deskovic) to be executed. She even had the lack of sensitivity to try and hold a press conference in support of the death penalty to coincide with Deskovic’s release. She even planned to hold it at the site of 9/11 attacks -- apparently Republicans think 9/11 can be used to justify anything. But this is just gory, glory seeking. After all is she really calling for the execution of the suicide terrorists who died in the attack? The police union found it offensive and she cancelled at the last minute.

Deskovic wrote Pirro personally pleading her to test the DNA, begging her for help. He got back a terse reply telling him the judge and jury had spoken. Damn the evidence apparently.

Once again the Innocence Project came to the aid of another person convicted falsely for murder. Pirro’s successor in office, Janet DiFiore agreed to run the DNA through a data bank of known criminals. And they found a match. It matched a man currently in prison for murder. The murder for which he was convicted took place not far from where the Correa murder took place. Coincidence? Not likely. Faced with the DNA evidence the man admitted he, not Deskovic, had been the killer. He had raped and strangled the young girl. Deskovic’s only crime was to be “overly distraught” about the brutal slaying of a classmate. In fact, horrors, he even cried over it.

In prison Deskovic says he lived “from appeal to appeal”. He finished his high school degree and earned a college degree from behind bars.

The death penalty is barbaric and supported by barbarians. It relies upon an omniscient state but all you end up with is an omnipotent state and that is not the same thing. Governments make mistakes all the time. Bureaucracies fail. The incentives in government to get things right are all wrong. The likelihood of the state making errors, or ignoring the facts, is very, very high.

Consider what conservatives want. They want executions and they want them fast. They push to limit appeals and to speed up the process. If they got exactly what they want in New York Mr. Deskovic would be dead by now. That he wasn’t executed is due to the very things the conservatives hate: the removal of the death penalty and the appeal process.

Note: a follow up to this posting will be posted later. It deals with the case of a man executed in Texas for a crime he probably didn’t committ. He was murdered by the state of Texas in fact, not executed. You execute criminals, you murder innocent people.