It’s becoming clearer by the day that Rick Perry killed an innocent man. Ten years ago, Texas executed Cameron Todd Willingham, who was convicted in 1992 on arson charges, for setting a 1991 fire in Corsicana, Texas that killed his three children. But now, newly uncovered evidence suggests that Willingham, who maintained his innocence until his death, was in fact an innocent man.
Willingham’s original conviction relied on two major pieces of evidence: an analysis of the fire by arson investigators, and the testimony of a jailhouse informant. In the years since Willingham was executed, the arson investigation that was a key pillar of his case has been discredited. Questions have been raised over the analysis done by the arson investigators, and the science that was used in the case. It looks now like it was just a tragic house fire.
And as for the jailhouse informant that allegedly heard Willingham confess to the crime, new evidence suggests that informant was offered a deal by the prosecution in return for his testimony. The judge had earlier denied cutting a deal, but now the deal's been found, in the judges own handwriting.
So, it’s looking increasingly more likely that Rick Perry executed an innocent man. And just an innocent man - a father who discovered his house on fire and was unable to save his three daughters, grieving and distraught, and then thrown in jail and accused of intentionally burning his own house down to kill his kids. Which he probably didn't do. He was just a grieving father. Who's now been killed by Rick Perry.
That's pretty grisly, but, even worse, there's more and more proof that the death penalty doesn’t even work to keep people from killing other people. Proponents of the death penalty argue that, while it may not be perfect, it still acts as a strong murder deterrent. They’re wrong.
In fact, it’s the other way around. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, between 1990 and 2010, the murder rate in states that don’t have the death penalty was consistently lower than the murder rate in states that have the death penalty. And, according to a 2009 survey of the world’s leading criminologists, 88% felt that the death penalty does not lower homicide rates. Meanwhile, according to Amnesty International, more than 130 Death Row inmates have been released because of wrongful convictions since 1973.
Seth Penalver is one of those 130. Penalver was arrested in 1994 for murdering three people. There was no physical evidence linking him to the murders, and only other evidence police had was a poor-quality video that they claimed showed Penalver. Penalver was ultimately released in 2012, after he was acquitted of all charges; it turns out the police were wrong and he was innocent. But the state of Florida nearly killed him, and would have if newly discovered evidence hadn’t led to a new trial.
But we shouldn’t need facts, statistics, and wrongful conviction stories to prove that the death penalty is wrong. As a society, when we kill people, we become killers ourselves. We coarsen our society. We become accustomed to murder, albeit murder-by-state.
Rick Perry is on the record saying that Cameron Todd Willingham was a “monster,” but it's increasingly looking like Perry is the real monster here. Not only has he put a likely-innocent man to death, he’s continuing the use of an immoral and inhumane process, that doesn’t even meet its own goals.
America has always sought to be that “shining city upon a hill,” but we can’t possibly hope to be seen that way by the world or even by ourselves if we continue perpetrating state-run murders. The eyes of the world are on us. It’s time to lead by example, and thus to get rid of the death penalty once and for all.