The Bloodthirsty Judson Phillips


Tea Party Nation leader Judson Phillips is angry at the execution of Troy Davis. Not because we may well have put an innocent man to death but because it took so long to do it:

Troy Davis was on death row for twenty years. He was given a trial by a jury of his peers and then had countless opportunities to relitigate his death penalty.

The justice system was not broken.

On second thought, may be it was. For twenty years, he sat on death row while Mark McPhail’s family had to endure all of the appeals. Perhaps the question we should be asking is why does it take twenty years and an untold amount of taxpayer money for justice to be delivered?


Once again I find it interesting that the Tea Party types think the government screws up everything — except putting people — especially dark-skinned people — in prison or killing them, whether here or abroad. It’s inconceivable to them that the justice system could ever convict an innocent man even though we know incontrovertibly that innocent people are convicted all the time.

Study after study shows that eyewitness testimony is the least reliable form of evidence, but this is what most convictions are based on. No, that doesn’t mean you rule out eyewitness evidence, but it does mean you put safeguards in place to minimize the subjective nature of such evidence. We know exactly how to do that, the recommendations have been out there for years and they are based on sound scientific research.

More than 250 people have been freed from prison based on DNA evidence, which is available in less than 2% of all violent crimes. Those men were convicted on the basis of the same kind of non-DNA evidence that convicts hundreds of thousands of others every year. That means there are untold numbers of innocent people in prison right now. And those anti-government conservatives can’t think of a single reason for reform in this area.

They’re only anti-government when it affects their pocketbooks; when it dooms innocent people to death, here and in other countries, they couldn’t care less. In those cases, the government is unquestionable.

Comments

  1. barbrykost says

    “While Mark McPhail’s family had to endure all the appeals” really bothers me. I am sorry that McPhail’s family lost a loved one–truly I am. I just fail to see how making Troy Davis’s family suffer a loss also balances the scales. This revenge for the benefit of the survivors argument does not impress me.

  2. says

    I think you can make the point that having a death penalty is costly. It’s costly to kill people and it’s costly for two sides to fight over whether someone gets life or the death penalty. If compassion doesn’t convince some people, maybe the fact that the death penalty is a huge waste will!

  3. savoy47 says

    I once had a guy tell me that it is OK to put an innocent person to death once in a while because that is the cost of law and order.

    When I asked, what if you are the innocent person that is being executed? His reply was, “I would never put myself in that situation”

    Face – Palm!

  4. Darron says

    There will always be inaccuracy and uncertainty in the criminal justice system, even with every reasonable safeguard implemented. That uncertainty, however, is the price we must pay for a society with a reasonable balance between protecting life, health and property on the one hand and preserving freedom and privacy on the other.

    Aside from one’s opinion on whether it’s ever moral for the state to execute anyone, however heinous the crime committed and irredeemably bad and dangerous the perpetrator, my view is that the unavoidable uncertainty and inaccuracy in the system’s determinations of guilt, severity of offense, and the defendant’s prospects for rehabilitation or risk of future danger counsel against imposing the irreversible penalty of death in the overwhelming majority of capital cases.

    In addition to imposing safeguards against unreliable eyewitness testimony, such as “blind” lineups where the officer with the witness doesn’t know who the suspect is, many problems could be avoided by imposing additional safeguards on the use of confessions, testimony from alleged fellow participants in the crime, and testimony from jail-house snitches.

    Given the relatively negligible cost of digital video and data storage, no confession or admission resulting from custodial interrogation of a suspect should be admissible unless every second of the interrogation was recorded with time-stamps and other safeguards against tampering and “staging” and the recordings provided to defense counsel ASAP. We should also consider requiring that all interrogation and negotiation sessions with an alleged fellow perpetrator be similarly recorded and provided to the defense whenever the prosecution wishes to introduce testimony from the fellow perpetrator pursuant to a plea bargain. The credibility of such testimony can be undermined if the police and prosecution used improperly coercive interrogation or bargaining techniques, quite aside from the fellow offender’s simple self-interest in getting a lesser sentence in return for his “cooperation.” Finally, given their inherent lack of credibility and frequent abuse by some prosecutors, I’d be in favor of a rule excluding uncorroborated testimony from jail-house snitches that the defendant “confessed” to the crime while in pre-trial detention.

  5. Tim DeLaney says

    For less than $4 million–and probably a great deal less–we could produce a very professional video test that would tell us how reliable a particular eyewitness is at identifying a previously unknown face. The test could be applied to any eyewitness anywhere in a matter of a couple of hours, and would weed out those witnesses who are just guessing or acting out of personal bias.

    It involves watching a one minute video, and later identifying the shooter and the victim from a lineup of ten or so. If a witness fails in this simple test, his or her testimony would almost certainly be rejected by a jury. Of course, many versions of the shooter/victim scenario would be produced, and one of those would be picked at random to show to the potential witness.

    If such a test were to enable us to avoid just one wrongful conviction, it would pay for itself many times over. It would make convictions harder to obtain, and it would make it more difficult for prosecutors to pressure witnesses.

  6. lexaequitas says

    You’d think they’d want to let people out. After all, they would be disproportionately freeing the religious!

  7. says

    In high school I took a social studies course on law. In one class someone walked through wearing a costume, and we were instructed to remember what the person looked. At the end of the class we were given homework, which included writing a paragraph describing the person who had walked through wearing a costume. The next class we went over our paragraphs. We disagreed on almost everything. We didn’t even agree on the person’s sex or hair colour.

    Although anecdotal, this seems to me that eyewitness identification is not particularly reliable.

  8. Draken says

    Isn’t trial by “a jury of peers” a relic from a long-distant past that really belongs to a museum, along with the ducking stool?

    Justice nowadays is a highly scientifical or technical matter whether it involves judging forensic evidence or witness accounts. Leaving this to a bunch of John and Jane Does who’ve hardly had a crash course in the subject matter is roughly the equivalent of having the public judge whether, say, human life could emerge from simpler life forms through adaptation and selection. You know where the American audience stands there.

  9. freemage says

    Draken: The problem is, who do you replace them with? Judges are notoriously inclined to believe police officer testimony; prosecutors already do everything they can to cheat… Appointed jurors would be subject to pressure from on high, while elected jurors (or, say, an elected board to appoint jurors specifically) would also be prone to campaigning, and we know from experience that “tough on crime” would be the way to campaign.

  10. rjmx says

    It’s inconceivable to them that the justice system could ever convict an innocent man

    I’m not sure I agree with that; witness the wingnut a couple of weeks ago who, at the suggestion that Perry had almost certainly executed an innocent man, was said to reply “it takes balls to execute an innocent man”.

    I begin to think that that kind doesn’t care if they’ve caught the real perpetrator; they’re quite happy to find someone they can pin the crime on, whether he committed it or not. If it’s a black guy, then so much the better — it just reinforces their prejudices. And from the police/prosecutor point of view, if you’re a bit — shall we say, lazy? — once you’ve got someone to be the patsy, you don’t have to look any further.

    Yeah, I know, I’m getting cynical in my old age.

  11. Pierce R. Butler says

    Tim Delaney @ # 6: … later identifying the shooter and the victim from a lineup …

    Speaking of lineups: does any police department anywhere take the routine precaution of having the witness/victim accompanied only by personnel who do not know anything about any of the “suspects” (i.e., standard single-blind study protocol) as they finger the alleged perp?

    Do they even screen the liners-up to make sure they all match the verbal descriptions given by the prospective identifier, and that they all be persons actually facing charges (a cop wearing civvies just will not act the same as the rest)?

  12. says

    Well hey, these are the same folks who shriek like care-bears in a blender whenever the word “abortion” is mentioned. So where’s the reciprocal outrage about the death penalty.

    Of course, I’m expecting the Tea Party to show some kind of logic.

  13. gopiballava says

    I don’t inherently see a problem with the family wanting to have a final decision. If you take the court decisions at face value, the court is determining whether this guy did it or not. Being told that it turns out the guy you thought murdered a relative didn’t, and that the killer is still free would be distressing.

    The impression I get is that many of the conservative law and order types think most conviction reversals are based on silly technicalities. I suspect that directly asking them, do you think that people found innocent didn’t do it would be enlightening and might make them think more clearly about their assumptions. Pointing out the number of DNA mismatches, where we know it really wasn’t that guy, might make them realize that there are actually people sentenced who didn’t do it – they didn’t get off because the arresting officer mumbled Miranda before the killer showed the burial site.

    Are there any good sites that identify wrongful convictions based on whether the accused probably didn’t do it, or was simply not proven, or probably did it but got evidence excluded on a technicality?

  14. davidct says

    By Jury of his peers I assume that Mr.Phillips means that they were all in some way Human. I doubt they were all black males. I doubt that Mr. Phillips has any basis for that statement and it might be interesting to actually know who was on the jury.

    Like most red blooded Americans I like my justice with a proper amount of revenge thrown in. Unfortunately in actual practice our legal system is too flawed to allow me this luxury. As much as I would like to see vicious criminals dispatched in kind, there is no way to assure that vengeance will never be wrongly applied. The death penalty is just not something that humans can be trusted with.

  15. Aquaria says

    The impression I get is that many of the conservative law and order types think most conviction reversals are based on silly technicalities. I suspect that directly asking them, do you think that people found innocent didn’t do it would be enlightening and might make them think more clearly about their assumptions.

    I’m going to take you to a scary place, and it’s into the puny, diseased mind of your typical conservatard. This is why they aren’t bothered when people are punished for crimes they didn’t commit.

    If you got strung up for something you didn’t do, it was to punish you for something you did that you didn’t get caught for. And crime to your typical conservatard isn’t limited to what the law specifies, you know, assault, theft or murder, but whatever else conservatards don’t like for other people to do, like: Premarital sex, adultery, homosexuality, having an abortion, being female, fibbing about taking an extra piece of candy when you weren’t supposed to, talking back to your parents, not being at a church when its doors were open even once, and on. And on.

    So if you got strung up for something you didn’t do, then so what? You deserved it for the other “crimes” you committed that you didn’t get punished for.

    This is how they think. If you can call such twisted brain farts “thinking”.

  16. dingojack says

    Aquaria – except if you’re a conservatard christian, then it’s the craved for ‘martyrdom’ – Dingo

  17. michaelcrichton says

    savoy47: If it ever comes up again, tell that person to ggogle Ray Krone and then explain what exactly Ray did to “put himself in that situation”.

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