Sunday, July 25, 2010

Stay of Execution?

Anyone reading this blog for any length of time knows that I'm a strong supporter of the death penalty. Executions should be carried out faster, and there should be more of them. On the other hand, I think the death penalty should be reserved only for those who are clearly & unmistakably guilty. If there is any significant doubt about guilt, we should err on the side of allowing the criminal to live. Consider the following case featured on CBS News.  

Jeffrey David Matthews was convicted 16 years ago of murdering his uncle during a break-in. His aunt survived to testify against him, and he got the death penalty. He's on YouTube asking for a stay of execution.  According to the article, here is the evidence against him. 

  • accomplice said he pulled the trigger
  • stolen medicine from his aunt's home was found at his home
  • clothing matching his aunt's description of the murderer's outfit found at his home
  • he told others he was thinking of robbing his relatives
  • and most importantly, the murder weapon, which someone loaned him, was found at his home.

That's some pretty damning circumstantial evidence. But there are other factors that create doubt.

  • the accomplice recanted and now says another unnamed person was the murderer
  • the police officer who arrested him thinks he isn't guilty and didn't get a fair trial
  • there is no DNA or fingerprint evidence connecting him to the murder
  • he has two witnesses giving him an alibi that weren't called during trial

Even for as big a death penalty supporter as I, that's just too much doubt for me to sign off on his execution. In my opinion, if this article is substantially correct, the governor of Oklahoma should stay the execution. Jeffrey David Matthews may be a criminal low-life who deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison. And it's certainly possible he really is the murderer. But the evidence of his guilt is just not clear enough to warrant taking his life, and possibly making an irreversible mistake.

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