Texas executed its fifth teenage offender at 22 minutes after midnight on Aug. 24, 1993, after his last request for bubble gum had been refused and his final claim of innocence had been forever silenced.
Ruben Cantu, 17 at the time of his crime, had no previous convictions, but a San Antonio prosecutor had branded him a violent thief, gang member and murderer who ruthlessly shot one victim nine times with a rifle before emptying at least nine more rounds into the only eyewitness -- a man who barely survived to testify.
Four days after a Bexar County jury delivered its verdict, Cantu wrote this letter to the residents of San Antonio: "My name is Ruben M. Cantu and I am only 18 years old. I got to the 9th grade and I have been framed in a capital murder case."
A dozen years after his execution, a Houston Chronicle investigation suggests that Cantu, a former special-ed student who grew up in a tough neighborhood on the south side of San Antonio, was likely telling the truth.
So there’s the innocent man executed smoking gun we’ve been waiting for, I guess.
Here’s where I am a flaming liberal: the death penalty should be banned. Is there anyone who can honestly say that they believe no innocent man has been executed? But my bigger problem is that it is so unevenly handed out. Who was the last rich person executed? If O.J. had been found guilty of the premeditated and ghastly murders that most believe he committed, does anyone think there would be any chance of him being executed? But if the exact same murders had been committed by a poor African-American, the death penalty would have surely been invoked (I don’t remember if the state in which O.J. was tried has the death penalty, but you get the point.)
You just cannot have a penalty as harsh as killing a person for their crime and have it so unevenly administered. On top of that, as I have aged I’ve come more and more to the personal belief that the government should not be in the business of killing incarcerated citizens. Yeah, yeah, if my wife was raped and killed I’d want to kill the guy, but that is pure emotive response.
Nick, I hear “but we’ve never executed anyone who’s innocent” all the time as a justification. I think that’s why the poll numbers actually moved some with the big Ryan thing in Illinois - most people just think “oh well, they’re all killers.”
Well, it is a fairly common pro-death penalty talking point that “there is not a single instance in which we know an innocent person was executed.” Which is true in a parsing, legalistic sense, but implies a situation which defies both statistical probability and common sense.
Well, the alternative to the death penalty certainly strips people of Liberty and arguably the pursuit of Happiness. Also, it seems likely the framers believed in applying the death penalty for certain crimes.
The argument about the death penalty as a deterrent has been repudiated many times, in many ways. The average person who commits a murder that would be in the death penalty category doesn’t think “Oh, I almost forgot that if I get caught its the death penalty instead of the rest of my life in prison - I’d better not do this.” If you want it to be a deterrent then make it public and gruesome. Instead we try to assuage our guilt by making it as “comfortable” as possible.
When the criteria is completely clear and the line is drawn, such that you say “anyone who is convicted of this crime, defined by these terms, will be killed” and remove the arbitrary nature, then I think we could move to the next stage of the argument in which we debate whether the state killing people is something we want to condone. We have to understand that it is being done as pure punishment and vengence, not a deterrent. But it can’t be doled out such that two people can commit and be convicted of the exact same crime, and one is killed and the other isn’t.
The death penalty is distilled retribution. It is the right of a society to band together and protect itself against those who would ravage it from within. The inherent right of self defense of the victim, unexcercised, is captured by those who survive and by those who stand in our defense. Once the circumstances are fully understood by the greater society, the right of self defense is uncorked again, and it flows out around the murderer, depriving them of nothing more than they surrendered when they threw their name into the hat that was the life and death struggle that saw their victim’s life torn away. We have a right to defend our lives to the utmost against those who would take it. Those who would commit murder face the danger of their justified death at the hands of their intended victims. We will not allow them to extinguish our rights by plunging knives into our bodies.
Not being incarcerated is only one definition of “liberty,” and it’s a pretty safe bet that’s not the one the Founders were using. As for pursuit of happiness, what do you think White Power Bill is doing when he has his roomie bent over and squealing like a pig?
My mom, who was a District Attorney in LA in the 70’s, once told me: “You take an inner city kid, and you put him in front of a bunch of white suburbanites. Even if you have no evidence, they’re just going to assume that it was all suppressed, and at the very least he’s a gang-banging thug anyway. Meanwhile, all he’s got is a public defender who’s either asleep or so incompetent they might as well be. It’s almost impossible not to get a conviction of a black kid for a violent crime.”
That’s basically the reason I’m opposed to the death penalty. I should also mention, however, that my mom went from being anti- to pro-death penalty because of her experiences as a DA. She thinks there’s a lot of people who are so fucked up and violent that they just need to be put down. Also, she married my dad, who was a public defender at the time. So make of that what you will.
My lady has the same opinion. She elaborates by stating, “If they’re just going to spend the rest of their lives sitting around watching tv there’s no point to them even being alive.” And, “I don’t see why they should get to live when the other person is dead.”
I gotta say, the second part is pretty fair, if heavy handed. The first part is why she threatens to kill me for not going out and doing stuff with her on the Weekends, though.
That’s the logic behind eye for an eye justice. How far do you take it? If you cause an accident and the person in the other car is crippled, why should you be able to walk the rest of your life if they can’t? Surgically sever your spine. If your actions result in someone else being blinded, we’ll poke your eyes out.
That’s the logic behind eye for an eye justice. How far do you take it? If you cause an accident and the person in the other car is crippled, why should you be able to walk the rest of your life if they can’t? Surgically sever your spine. If your actions result in someone else being blinded, we’ll poke your eyes out.[/quote]
There would seem to be at least some difference between the results of an accident (even due to negligence) and deliberate attempt. Which is one reason that so far as I know anywhere it’s applied, the death penalty can only attach to 1st degree (pre-meditated) murder.