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.


  1. Right on. But nobody has really explained those execution v. cost to keep someone incarcerated figures to me. I'm guessing the cost comes in when you try to add the "humane" to execution. Rather beside the point, isn't it? What could be less humane than killing someone needlessly?

    Also, I like the Looking Glass quote under the blog title.

  2. What nonsense.

    From Dudley Sharp, contact info below

    1) "Cameron Todd Willingham: Media Meltdown & the Death Penalty:
    "Trial by Fire: Did Texas execute an innocent man?", by David Grann

    This was written and released prior to the Corsicana Fire Marshall's report, below:

    2) EXCLUSIVE: City report on arson probe:
    State panel asks for city response in Willingham case

    3) No Doubts

    For a collection of articles, go to:

    Corsicana Daily Sun, The Willingham Files

    OTHER REPORTS: There is the potential for, at least, 3 more, official, reports on this case: the Texas Fire Marshall's office, which will give an official and requested reply, the Corsicana Police Dept. and Navarro County District Attorney's office, both of which, I speculate, may only contribute to the TFM report, but could issue their own reports.

    There is an official "report" which, it appears, few have paid attention to - the trial transcript.

    I find that rather important because, at least five persons, who were involved with the trial, the prosecutor, defense attorney, two surviving fire investigators and a juror have all voiced support for the verdict, still, in the light of the criticism of the arson forensics.

    One of those original fire investigators is, now, an active certified arson expert.

    Dudley Sharp
    e-mail, 713-622-5491,
    Houston, Texas

    Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS , VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.

    A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.

  3. btw, 8 or 9 have been removed from death row because of DNA exclusion.

  4. @dudleysharp: The fact that some credible people remain convinced of Willingham's guilt is irrelevant. Some people will never admit they made a mistake. The fact that some credible people are convinced that the verdict was faulty is far more interesting.

    You also conveniently ignore the rest of my post. It's not about this one case.

    P.S. Why don't you allow comments on your own blog?

  5. You missed the important part of my post, which was that you need to be aware of all of the evidence, first, before reaching a conclusion.

    A lot of folks just accepted Grann's article on face value. Big mistake.

    False innocence claims, by anti death penalty activists, as well as the media, are legendary.

    You would think they would be much more careful and thorough, but, no, they seem to get more reckless and irresponsible.

    to cost

    "Cost Savings: The Death Penalty"

    More on innocents

    "The Death Penalty: More Protection for Innocents"

    "Death Penalty, Deterrence & Murder Rates: Let's be clear"

    The 130 (now 135) death row "innocents" scam

    "Deterrence and the Death Penalty: A Reply to Radelet and Lacock"

    That's Wayne Uber's blog. He, recently, added me as a contributor. I don't post anything there, either. I think the reason he doesn't allow comments is that he just uses it a website and he doesn't want any comments.

  6. @dudleysharp: I don't think we're going to agree. From reading your posts, clearly you've got strong opinions.

    You wrote on "The only issue in the death penalty innocence debate is how many actual innocents are sent to death row and what is the probability of executing an actual innocent."

    Interesting way of putting it. There are many people who are unwilling to accept a "probability" of executing an actual innocent. Maybe you are, but I'm not.


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