"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Hangman, Hold That Rope 

It's still too early to call this a victory, but the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles has recommended by a vote of 5 to 1 that the execution of Frances Newton, scheduled to occur tonight, be postponed for 120 so her attorneys may have forensic evidence properly tested by competent experts. You may recall that I mentioned Newton's case on Monday.

It will come as a surprise to no one, I suppose, that I oppose the death penalty. However, I recognize that a slim majority of Americans - and, I suspect, a larger majority of Texans - disagree with me on this point. Fine. I hope, though, that no one (other than Justice Scalia, of course) actually approves of executing innocent people. If we hope to avoid killing innocent defendants, we must make sure that capital trials meet some minimum standard of fairness and that evidence is properly analyzed and interpreted. In Newton's case, it seems clear to me that her trial was fatally flawed by the incompetence of her attorney (he has since been barred from representing defendants in capital cases) and by the ambiguous nature of the forensic evidence - that is, the only evidence, since there was no confession and no eyewitness - on which Frances Newton was convicted.

So, good for the parole board. Now the case falls in the lap of governor Rick "Good Hair" Perry, who, unfortunately, has defied the parole board's recommendations in the past. Specifically, Perry approved the execution of Kelsey Patterson, a mentally ill defendant, in May of this year. In a virtually unprecedented decision, the parole board recommended by the same 5 to 1 margin that Patterson's sentence be commuted to life in prison.

If Perry does not act to implement the board's recommendation, Frances Newton will be put to death at 6:00 this evening.

Update: With two hours to spare, Governor Perry granted Frances Newton's request for a 120-day stay of execution. That's four months that her lawyers have to do their work, and we will see whether the original trial reached the correct conclusion from the available evidence. Congratulations to Frances Newton, her lawyers, and her supporters around the country and around the world. And sincere thanks to Governor Perry and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.




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