We’ve known for quite some time that our justice system is capable of condemning innocent men to death. But some people — like Antonin Scalia, George W. Bush, and Rick Perry — continued to claim the system worked so well that it was always able to save them from execution. With the all of this information about Carlos DeLuna and Cameron Todd Willingham, it’s hard to believe that anyone will continue to make such a claim going forward. Except we know, of course, that they will.
Many years ago now, I bristled at the plot of The Life of David Gale precisely because it implied that, since innocent people really aren’t executed, opponents of the death penalty would need to go so far as to enter into an elaborate conspiracy to make it happen.
That, of course, is demonstrably false:
A Texas judge who reviewed the controversial 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham planned to posthumously exonerate the father who was put to death for killing his three daughters in a house fire.
Scientific experts who debunked the arson evidence used against Willingham at his 1992 trial and a jailhouse witness who recanted his shaky testimony convinced District Court Judge Charlie Baird in 2010 that “Texas wrongfully convicted” him. But Baird’s order clearing Willingham’s name never became official, because a higher court halted the posthumous inquiry while it considered whether the judge had authority to examine the capital case.
Baird’s intended order never came to light because the court of appeals criticized his handling of the case and prevented him from resuming work on it before he left the bench at the end of 2010 after choosing not to seek re-election. No one asked him for it after the court of appeals blocked him, he said.
Baird, now an attorney in private practice, said he was moved to share the document with HuffPost after reading about Carlos DeLuna, a Texan who a Columbia University team said this week may have been wrongly executed in 1989.
In 2006, Justice Scalia wrote that there hasn’t been “a single case — not one — in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit. If such an event had occurred in recent years, we would not have to hunt for it; the innocent’s name would be shouted from the rooftops.”
When do we suppose Scalia will be prepared to shout his error from the rooftops?