Monday, September 07, 2009

Death by fire

David Grann's article "Trial by Fire" in The New Yorker bears the subtitle "Did Texas execute an innocent man?" It's a chilling story. After you read it, consider these numbers:
  • 1,173 = people executed in the United States since 1976.
  • 439 =  people executed in Texas since 1976.
  • 242 = people freed from death row after being exonerated by DNA evidence proving they were wrongly convicted.
  • 3,297 = people currently on death row.

In other words, in the United States:
  • five people executed = one person exonerated.
  • five people executed = two people executed in Texas.
Given that, the odds that Texas hasn't executed an innocent person seem pretty low.

Even all of that aside, if you're a get-tough, don't-let-the-facts-get-in-the-way, fiscal conservative there's one statistic in Grann's article that should turn you against the death penalty: it costs as much to execute someone as to keep them in prison for 120 years.**

Want to learn more? Check out the Innocence Project and the Death Penalty Information Center.

** UPDATE: Most of the increased cost is legal and trial costs. Check out this article on costs of the death penalty from the Death Penalty Information Center.

And one damning statistic from that article: defendants in federal capital cases with less than $320,000 in terms of representation costs had more than double the chance of receiving a death sentence at trial compared to those whose representation costs were higher than $320,000.

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