Thursday, April 17, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Why the death penalty should be abolished

Read these stories by Daily News reporter Dana DiFilippo about wrongfully accused defendants. How can you support the death penalty as part of such an error-prone system?

Why the death penalty should be abolished

Kenny Woods (left) at his Mantua home. He was arrested last fall for a fatal hit-and-run that did not involve him and has since had trouble finding a job. Another man, Donnie Sayers, (right), was subsequently charged. (Alejandro A. Alvarez/Curt Hudson/Staff)
Kenny Woods (left) at his Mantua home. He was arrested last fall for a fatal hit-and-run that did not involve him and has since had trouble finding a job. Another man, Donnie Sayers, (right), was subsequently charged. (Alejandro A. Alvarez/Curt Hudson/Staff)

Take a few minutes and read this story by Daily News reporter Dana DiFilippo about Kenny Woods, 22, the West Philly father who was wrongfully arrested last year after a hit-and-run death in Delaware County. Then read Dana's short sidebar about how inaccurate eyewitness identification can be.

Now, tell me how you can support the death penalty as part of such an error-prone system? From today's story:

No one tracks how often erroneous arrests occur, or how often they result in wrongful convictions. But they happen frequently enough that the National Institute of Justice has funded a major study, now under way at American University in Washington, in which researchers will create a database of wrongful arrests and convictions and recommend ways authorities can avoid them. Woods' case is part of the study ...

... Even without the data, experts know the main causes of erroneous arrests and convictions: Eyewitness misidentification, unvalidated or improper forensics, false confessions, lying snitches or informants, bad lawyering and government misconduct.

Then there is the issue of inaccurate cross-racial identification at crime scenes:

Some experts assert that whites get it wrong more than other racial groups, because Caucasian attributes - eye color, hair color, nose shape - vary more than in other races, suggesting that racial groups with more uniform characteristics have a more discerning eye. Exposure also impacts accuracy: Those surrounded primarily by one race have more trouble with cross-racial identification.

And that's before you even get into the courtroom, where I have seen jurors staring into space, nodding off or sleeping in their chairs during major criminal trials. Is that who you want deciding your fate if you've been wrongly accused?

For the most part, the criminal-justice system works. But Dana's reporting is the latest reminder that it's far from perfect. And that's not good enough when it comes to the death penalty.

About this blog
In The Daily Delco blog, Daily News reporters William Bender and Stephanie Farr dig up all the dirt - from crazy crimes to political malfeasance and everything in between - in Delaware County.

E-mail tips to Bender at benderw@phillynews.com or call him at 215-964-2099. Follow him on Twitter: @wbender99

E-mail tips to Farr at farrs@phillynews.com or call her at 215-854-4225. Follow her on Twitter: @farfarraway

William Bender and Stephanie Farr
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