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The Death Penalty and Todd Willingham

By Edited Jun 12, 2016 0 0

1- Views on the Death Penalty

Currently thirty four states have laws that allow capital punishment. Capital punishment has been used by most societies to a certain extent. Today, capital punishment has become governed by laws that specify when it can be used. Ninety five countries have abolished capital punishment while fifty eight continue to practice it.

I can see why some people would support the use of capital punishment. If a member of my family was a victim of aggravated assault, I would probably want the perpetrator to receive capital punishment. The possibility of a prisoner escaping from prison and getting a second chance for freedom is eliminated if the prisoner receives the death sentence. It also acts to deter prisoners who are serving a life sentence from committing murder in prison.

I am a religious person who believes that the decision of ending someone's life should be made only by God. I lived most of my life in Canada where the death penalty was eliminated in 1976. I don't think that the death penalty serves as a stronger deterrent than a life sentence. Canada and the United States have similar cultures, history and development yet the US on average has 2.9 times more murders per capita than Canada. Another reason I don't agree with capital punishment is the risk of executing an innocent person. I believe that wrongfully executing an innocent person in the name of justice is a crime terrible enough to warrant second guessing this method of punishment.

Some argue that a perpetrator who committed a crime worthy of the death penalty should receive it to avoid harming innocent people again. The problem with this logic is that we do not know how a person will act in the future. The assumption that a person's crime will identify their future actions undermines the entire penal system. If punishment will not change the future actions of a criminal then we should just permanently remove all criminals from society.

After debating the topic with myself, I realized that I am an opponent of the death penalty. I believe that the cons heavily outweigh the pros. The video about Todd Willingham affirmed my opinion.

 

2- Todd Willingham's Innocence

The Frontline video began with the fire in Corsicana, Texas. The video discussed the investigation of the fire, the opinions and actions of people surrounding Mr. Willingham and the case, further investigation of the case, and Mr. Willingham's execution. Opinions are still divided concerning Mr. Willingham's innocence.

The first part of the video shows how people were lead to the belief that Mr. Willingham was guilty. Some factors that lead to this belief are his lack of serious injuries, the finding of starter fluid in the front door, abnormal burn patterns, “satanic” posters in his room, prior domestic abuse, the testimony of a jailhouse informant, the testimony of James Grigosn (psychiatrist), and his seeming lack of remorse. Mr. Willingham never plead guilty and refused to accept a plea bargain.

The initial investigation of the fire was done by fire “experts” who did not have training in modern fire investigation methods. The followup investigation which included real fire experts shows that most of the evidence used to convict Mr. Willingham did not point to arsen. The abnormal burn pattern on the floor was atributed to ventilation. The starter fluid was from a bottle that was near the door at the time of the fire. The “satanic” posters were actually posters of metal bands which does not necessarily point to satanic thoughts. The testimony of Johnny Webb, Willingham's cellmate, should not have been accepted as he benefited from it, was taking medication, and was considered an unreliable person. Grigson testified that Willingham was a severe sociopath but it was later found that Grigson actually did not know Willingham.

I firmly believe in the presumption of innocence (innocent until proven guilty). From all that I have seen in the case, I believe that there is no evidence proving Willingham's guilt. Therefore, in my eyes Willingham is innocent. It seems that throughout this case instead of requiring to prove that he is guilty he was required to prove his innocence.

 

3- Three Suggestions to Improve the Current Death Penalty System

After researching the Texas system for implementing the death penalty, I found that it is very good in theory. Some people who were given the death sentence were released and exonerated after proving their innocence. The system works to a certain degree but there are still some problems as shown by the Willingham case.

I think the best way to improve the system would be to remove it altogether. As I have discussed in question one, I do not agree with capital punishment. Texas has and continues to execute the highest number of people in the United States.

I do not think that the problem with the current system is with the system itself but rather with the people in the system. I think that there is a problem with people who have power within the system are not using this power in a fair way. As shown in the Willingham case, the court allowed testimonies that should not have been accepted. It seems that someone had decided that he was guilty and used any means to prove this guilt without regards to morality. I think the people who are chosen to have such power need to exercise proper ethics.

Another way to improve the Texas system would be if people were more aware of the errors of the system. Since many people do not have to deal with the death penalty, they seem to put it out of mind. When the topic of capital punishment is brought up most people assume that anyone dealing with this system is guilty and undeserving of sympathy or consideration.  

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