Citing Carlos DeLuna, Protesters Call on Dallas DA Craig Watkins to Abandon the Death Penalty

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Photo by Leslie Minora
Anti-death penalty demonstrators plea for Watkins to stop seeking the ultimate punishment.
Rick Halperin, head of SMU's human rights program, has been saying for years what became nationally recognized this week: "Yes, America, We Have Executed an Innocent Man," to borrow a headline from the Atlantic. Halperin has spent his career doing the academic equivalent of banging his head against the wall trying to get people to recognize that it is possible to kill innocent prisoners and hosting event after event with death penalty exonerees sharing their stories.

Finally, a lengthy report released this week by Columbia University's law school concludes what Halperin's been saying all along: America killed an innocent prisoner in 1989. Or, more specifically, Texas killed an innocent prisoner in 1989.

That man's name is Carlos DeLuna, as the signs of anti-death penalty demonstrators outside the Dallas County Courthouse read this morning. Flaws in his case lead to his wrongful conviction and eventual death at the hands of the state. Halperin gathered a small crowd, in the face of this revelation, to plea that District Attorney Craig Watkins stop seeking death sentences for people charged with capital crimes.

Halperin made it clear that life without parole is often an appropriate punishment -- just not death. "A death sentence is many things, but it can never be equated to justice," Halperin said, demanding that Watkins do his job of "seeking justice."

Watkins has said many times, including in an interview with Unfair Park, that he is conflicted about the death penalty, but that he feels bound by duty to pursue it in cases that warrant the ultimate punishment. Halperin doesn't buy it.

"It's preposterous for a grown man who happens to be a District Attorney to be conflicted about the death penalty," he says. "This man needs to come out one way or the other."

The Columbia report on DeLuna has "profound ramifications" in Dallas, Halperin says, since Watkins' policies have made the county ground zero for exonerations, leading the charge in releasing wrongfully convicted prisoners. The current count is 33.

Halperin hopes the Columbia report will be a "catalyst to renewed and wider debate on the death penalty." While Columbia report has catapulted his message to a national stage, he's strengthening his cause locally, on the steps of the courthouse, with drivers speeding by and news cameras zooming in.

"It says something pretty dark and disturbing about us," Halperin says of the death penalty and the lost life of an innocent man. Several supporters of Ben Spencer, including his mother, held signs supporting the man many believe to be innocent of the murder that landed him behind bars. Others held signs listing the names of Dallas exonerees, the others on death row who may be innocent, and those executed in Texas despite evidence of innocence.

Halperin's message and the cases listed on the signs serve to show that Columbia's report, "Los Tocayos Carlos: An Anatomy of a Wrongful Conviction," may have prequels that have never been published. And that's why, Halperin says, "One is too many ... Carlos DeLuna is too many."

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trudat
trudat

 What I cannot understand is why so many folks act as if this is something that is not happening here or worse yet - as if this is something that they can do nothing about.  Wake up folks, billions of dollars are being flushed down the drain by the death penalty.  And, it's your money!  So,don't turn away as if you have no control over this, at least TRY to do something...you'll probably feel better and you might save some money for your self.  For starters, call or write your state/national politicians and tell them to abolish the death penalty...or at least contact SMU's human rights organization and ask if you can do something or...call the DA's office and tell him that you'll support him in some effort against the death penalty...or get creative and make a move on your own against the death penalty....DO SOMETHING... 

BFK
BFK

Good point by Halprin. Watkins isn't conflicted. He is just being a politician. afraid to offend some one who may vote for him. Pandering to both sides. Make a decision

For the record...
For the record...

As a middle-aged, white, slightly right-of-center thinker, I was formerly of the hang 'em high persuasion, especially as crimes seemed to get more heinous and inhuman, and generally trusted the justice system. I first drew back somewhat from the death penalty when execution delays first stretched into years and then into decades (and in California's and other states', into perpetuity.) That's because "justice delayed is justice denied."

I was and still am disgusted at the appeals attorneys who inevitably, purposely promote publicity for the last-minute appeals. That's a cynical ploy, and serves no good. My disgust spread, and I withdrew further from my former beliefs, when posturing DA's such as Williamson County's John Bradley. Encouraged by gubernatorial confidence in his case, he cynically and cruelly refused to permit DNA testing for years in the Morton case. Stupid, stubborn Bradley, it's not as if the prisoner is going anywhere.

Now with the list of exonerees stretching into the dozens, with this story, and with political profiles pulling even further to the right among such as Bradley, I say we start with a moratorium on executions. Throw a bit of state funds into a third-party investigation, such as the Innocence Project; throw some education grant money at grad school programs to pursue faster DNA testing and relieve that backlog; and let's evaluate for 12-18 months. Depending on results, then let's have a voter referendum on the death penalty itself.

T. Erickson
T. Erickson

But will our state's leaders be "conservative enough" to call for a moratorium and investigation. Probably not in an election year.

trudat
trudat

And that's where the electorate (you, me, those, and them....) comes in. The states' "leaders" need to be pushed into taking a position on this most important issue even though they apparently want to ignore it...

trudat
trudat

And that's where the electorate (you, me, those, and them....) comes in.  The states' "leaders" need to be pushed into taking a position on this most important issue even though they apparently want to ignore the it...

Rob Lew
Rob Lew

I say "death to the deathpenalty law enforcers"....let them taste the fruits of their own convictions....OCCUPY GAS CHAMBER MOVEMENT.

(an ever dwindling band of activists!)

Richard Miller
Richard Miller

Check out Warner Herzog's Movie "Into the Abyss" for a very compelling look at capital punishment. It's on netflix and worth the hour or so.

Rob Lew
Rob Lew

 almost as good as Planet of the Apes.

scottindallas
scottindallas

ahh hell, the death penalty advocates are now arguing that accidentally killing the wrong person actually puts the power and majesty of the law on an even higher and mightier plane.  When will you bleeding hearts stop appealing to the feelings of heartless cynics. 

It's quite simple, the death penalty costs 5-7 times more than incarceration for life. 

Show up looking like the tea party, bitching about the death penalty, then you'll get their attention.  Ask them, how can they justify these budget extravagances?  How many officers could be put on the streets?  How many DA hours are dedicated exclusively to the death penalty aspects of the trial?  6-12 mos?  Is that the most productive use of an asst. DA's time?

Rob Lew
Rob Lew

 maybe the issue of shooting the wrong person in a drive by gangbanger neighborhood shoot up should be reevaluated in light of the shooters deserving to be better trained in logistics, global satellite positioning location ID, and marksmanship.

Heck, someone could get an Obama govt grant for first study the issue, to then prepare a congressional report and briefing, and then to establish a private/govt entitiy to deliver the corrections to the public nation wide.

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