Today's Houston Chronicle publishes the OpEd, "Legislature should seriously reconsider the death penalty." It's by Grant Jones and Sam Millsap. Jones served as district attorney for Nueces, Kleberg and Kenedy counties; Millsap, served as district attorney for Bexar County from 1982 to 1987. It's a must-read.
As district attorneys in the 1980s, we believed that the death penalty was the best punishment for certain crimes. We no longer believe that today. We haven't gone soft. We have come face to face with some hard truths. Both of us have been involved in the execution of men who may well have been innocent.
This year, an investigation by a law school revealed that eyewitnesses might have mistaken Carlos DeLuna, who was executed for murder in 1989, for another man, also named Carlos. The two men bore such a strong resemblance that even family members mistook photographs of one man for the other. No one will ever know for sure whether a mistake was made, but cases like DeLuna's raise serious doubts about the wisdom of continuing the death penalty.
Long after Ruben Cantu was put to death in 1993, an investigation by this newspaper persuasively argued that he was wrongfully convicted and executed. Two decades after the trial, the only eyewitness recanted his testimony and explained that he felt pressured by the police to identify Cantu as the shooter. This witness had nothing to gain by changing his position.
As long as human beings are in charge, there will be mistakes. Even people who are hardworking, and acting in good faith, make mistakes. In most criminal cases, the appeals process is there to identify and remedy errors. But the problem with the death penalty is that once it is carried out, there is no way to go back and fix a mistake.
Family members of Cameron Willingham know this fact all too well.
Next month, when the legislators convene for a new session, they should seriously reconsider the death penalty. A sentence of life without parole - that is, without any possibility of release under any circumstances - keeps society safe while eliminating the chance of an irreversible mistake.