July 16, 2007
Freed inmate shows flaws in death penalty
Courier Post, opinion
Executing even one innocent person should be intolerable.
Anyone who has followed the sagas of Paris Hilton or the Haddonfield
teenagers who marauded through a neighbor's home probably know that justice
is not blind.
Yet, it also appears that justice sometimes cannot be found, even in life
and death cases.
A Superior Court judge last Monday dropped murder charges against a man who
had served 22 years of a life sentence. A jury had declined to impose the
death penalty sought by prosecutors.
It turns out that DNA testing not available in 1985 couldn't connect Byron
Halsey to the murder and sexual assault of his live-in girlfriend's
8-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter. Test results implicated another man,
Clifton Hall, who lived in the same rooming house as the children and
Halsey. After testifying against Halsey in 1988, Hall later was jailed for
committing sexual assaults.
Halsey is the 205th convicted person nationally and the fifth inmate in New
Jersey to be exonerated through DNA evidence since 1973. Since 1976, more
than 1,000 inmates have been put to death. Because DNA is not available or
allowed to be considered in every post-conviction case, it is unknown how
many people may be wrongly imprisoned or put to death.
Halsey's case and the others like it make a compelling case for abolishing
the death penalty -- or even the threat of capital punishment -- in New
Jersey and other states.
A legislative commission has recommended that New Jersey abolish its death
penalty. It has not been carried out since being reinstated in 1976. The
commission found that not only was it not a deterrent to crime, it also cost
New Jersey taxpayers a premium to maintain a death row.
It is not clear whether there is the political will to do, although most
state residents support life without the possibility of parole over the
death penalty, recent polls show.
The commission found that life in prison would provide sufficient safety for
the community against murderers. The money saved by abolishing death row
could then be redirected to provide more support and assistance to the
families of murder victims.
Some people might argue the problem with the death penalty is the reluctance
of officials to use it. Or, that the error rate is too small to eliminate
this ultimate penalty. But the error rate isn't zero, either.
Even if mistakes are rare, one wrongful death should be intolerable. If
murder is wrong for the individual, execution is certainly wrong for the
Source : Courier Post, opinion