Sunday, October 10, 2004

Judge, Jury, and Executioner 

We are in full agreement with our distinguished colleague Prometheus 6: if there is a serious moral distinction between this and murder, it would take an instrument more finely-tuned than ours to detect it.

In 1985, a Tennessee man was convicted of rape and murder and sentenced to death row. Years later, DNA analysis proved that the semen found on the victim's body did not match the defendant's; it was actually that of the victim's husband. With this new evidence in hand, the convicted man, who has spent 19 years behind bars, petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals to have his case reopened -- and was denied:
Yet the judges recently voted, 8 to 7, that Mr. House should neither be freed nor given a new trial. They were not swayed by six witnesses implicating Mr. Muncey. Two said Mr. Muncey had told them he had killed his wife while he was drunk.

That eight judges would condemn a man to be executed under these circumstances is shocking. What's worse is that the judges divided along partisan lines. The eight judges appointed by a Republican president voted to keep Mr. House on the road to the death penalty. Six judges appointed by a Democrat wanted to free him, and the seventh called for a new trial. It's hard to dismiss the thought that the Republicans voted as a show of support for capital punishment, not on the merits of the case.

For Mr. House, the next stop is the Supreme Court. For the rest of us, his case should serve as a reminder that when we elect a president, we are also deciding the makeup of our courts.

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