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Wrong man was executed in Texas, probe says (yahoo.com)
157 points by bitops on May 15, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 83 comments

Categorically opposed to the death penalty for every possible reason: moral, religious, practical. But: what the hell is this article doing on HN?

No shit, you say? Capital punishment is inane, unjust, and difficult to justify in a message board thread? Wow! Glad we sorted that out! Can we move on now?

If every legitimate social justice issue had a hearing on HN, the front page would be nothing but social justice issues.


This isn't just a business-as-usual government-screws-up story. I have not seen a case of wrongful execution as bad as this. So while it's not evidence of an interesting new phenomenon, it's new evidence of an interesting phenomenon.

In most cases where social justice stories are plastered to the top of the front page, the people voting them up also believe that the story is uniquely interesting or important. Likelihood that this particular comment of yours is going to be used to justify many future stories like that, most of which will not be germane to the site: extremely high.

I also object to the idea that miscarriages of justice in death penalty cases are a "new phenomenon". This isn't a new phenomenon. It's just pithy, enough to capture the front page.

Having lived in Texas for 12 years I totally agree that this case isn't unique, in that Texas regularly appoints public defenders who are unqualified for the job or so overworked they can't possibly provide an adequate defense (1). And courts are happy to convict people whose lawyer sleeps during the trial (2). I express no opinion on whether this is suitable for HN.

(1) "Appointed as his advocates were a general practice lawyer who never had handled a major felony case and a veteran who had a heavy case load." (2) "The presiding judge said that the Constitution guarantees a defendant a lawyer, but it does not guarantee that the lawyer must be awake." http://www.secondclassjustice.com/?p=196

Can't say about the rest, but this story was very educational for me. By far the best argument against death penalty, and one that is not voiced enough (usually people oppose it because "murder is murder") (best as in: hard to argue against).

Do you feel this story has engendered a meaningful amount of useful discussion?

> I have not seen a case of wrongful execution as bad as this

I have bad news. This is a "typical" death row victim story. There have been several others like him.



Over half the death penalty convictions in Illinois were found to be faulty.


There have been a total 18 innocent people exonerated on Death Row in Illinois. Illinois has executed a total of 12 people since 1976

Prosecutors have no incentive to convict the criminal. Any plausible convict will do.

Even with faulty convictions, police may be seen by the wider community as able to do their job and thus the conviction for them is a cover up for incompetence. It may also be a vent and prop for communal racial prejudice. Also, victims' families are said to get the closure they think want, and incidentally many are against capital punishment anyway. Lastly, with faulty convictions, not only is the crime of murder perpetuated within the system, but the true killer walks free unhindered. Justice? Anything but.

The comments on this post where some of the more interesting I have ever seen on HN. Except, those like yours which simply complained that this was posted in the first place. As a rule I don't think 99% of Social Justice issues deserve a place on HN (bob's ISP steeped on him so what?), but neither do 99% of the breakthrough nano battery stories based on some vague improvement extrapolated to infinity. There is a reason the rules suggest intellectual stimulation as the rule and not just avoid anything posted to CNN and IMO this story is one of those that qualifies.

This article is newsworthy IMHO. I have yet to hear of a case of wrongful execution where the case for innocent was so clear.

The previous best-documented instance was the Willingham execution in Texas. for me http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/09/07/090907fa_fact_....


It's newsworthy but not hackernewsworthy.

I may concede it's not citricsquid-newsworthy.

But the guidelines say that anything gratifying one's intellectual curiosity is fair game. Isn't a quantum leap in the quality of documentation regarding the execution of an innocent person gratifying intellectually?

Note that not every article about death penalty gets posted here.

It is newsworthy. So are any number of things that are not appropriate for this particular site. This is not a general-interest news site.

Flagged. The FAQ is clear: if this could be on CNN, then it shouldn't be on HN.

Big-money startup acquisitions could be on CNN. I'll start flagging those.

The point he was making was not only straightforward but also a paraphrase from the site guidelines; here you've seized on the way he worded it in order to perpetuate a semantic argument instead of engaging with his actual idea.

(Obviously, it's easy for me to spot people doing it because I do it to other people all the time too. But still.)

You should.

Completely agree. Stop upvoting this, folks!

"Stop upvoting this, folks!"

Why would you sound so alarmist? You can do your stuff (flagging, upvoting, downvoting, expressing your opinion, discussing, pointing to rules and what not) without telling HNs what they should or should not do.

Why have guidelines at all?

Oh, the irony.

Please don't submit comments complaining that a submission is inappropriate for the site. If you think something is spam or offtopic, flag it by going to its page and clicking on the "flag" link. (Not all users will see this; there is a karma threshold.) If you flag something, please don't also comment that you did.

People are saying lots of things about the death penalty, with which I wholeheartedly disagree, but IMHO the really bad thing is this:

DeLuna was sentenced to death and executed based only on eyewitness accounts despite a range of signs he was not a guilty man, said law professor James Liebman

Eyewitness accounts are proven to be wrong again and again. They should not be used to convict anyone. Much less to the death penalty. The brain has this amazing (if a little buggy) capacity of sometimes being completely wrong and at the same time being absolutely sure that it is right (like it happens, for instance, when you see an optical illusion).

I believe there was a time when they were useful (but even then, they were used to falsely accuse - sometimes intentionally, sometimes not). But now there's enough technology to make me think convictions should be made based only on material evidence. Eyewitness accounts should be used only to give context to the material evidence found. If there's not any, tough luck. I would have a very hard time reconciling if, for instance, being accused of rape/assault like it happened to this guy: http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jun/27/local/la-me-accused-...

Eyewitness testimony is the leading cause of wrongful convictions, according to the Innocence Project:


I know it's tacky to meta-complain, but public interest articles are one of the reasons I stopped reading Reddit.

I am looking for one particular kind of "signal" in that signal-to-noise ratio, and while this might be of interest to a population including hackers, a population of hackers would likely not identify this article as relevant, outrageous though the article may be.

I've noticed HN's articles growing steadily less and less interesting. Perhaps it's time to move again. Any suggestions? MeFi? Other sites? Does a new one need to be created?

this is why there's a flag link for each submission

Please don't submit comments complaining that a submission is inappropriate for the site. If you think something is spam or offtopic, flag it by going to its page and clicking on the "flag" link. (Not all users will see this; there is a karma threshold.) If you flag something, please don't also comment that you did.


I can do that (I think I can flag, but this was not always the case), and silently grow to hate the content on HN as flagging fails to catch the borderline cases (and possibly devalue each individual flag).

Or I can break that rule to voice displeasure and hope that someone shared that opinion enough to point me somewhere better, create somewhere better, or effect change.

> If your account is less than a year old, please don't submit comments saying that HN is turning into Reddit. (It's a common semi-noob illusion.)

My account is over a year old (and I've lurked for longer). Therefore, I'm good!

But in all seriousness, while it probably is not turning into Reddit, I'm certainly planning to relegate HN, for the purposes of my news browsing / time management, to a category shared with other spammy news sites, for somewhat similar reasons.

I've been here over 4.5 years, and I can say that HN is not turning into Reddit. The quality of the front page has not declined.

The volume of stories submitted has grown dramatically, making it harder for the good content to get on the front page.

But this article definitely has no place on the front page. I flagged it, hopefully it will be gone soon.

Also, having an account that is less than a year old doesn't mean very much. I've been using Hacker News since early 2008, but Oinksoft is only about a year old, hence the age of this account.

Well, I used my [flag] button about 4-5 times in a single day (I didn't do that everyday - it just happened that I saw 5 stupid stories on a single day) and now I've lost my shiny weapon :-). I think one of my flags (which I've forgotten what it was) was incorrect and I shouldn't have done it so I don't blame it entirely on mods.

And I'm also guilty of sometimes submitting un-techy (but vaguely related to computers) stories on HN - a practice I decided a few days ago is best to abandon.

And I up-voted this submission too. I'm sorry, I usually don't vote before reading the linked article. I thought it was about a case where they wanted to execute Mr. X, but accidentally executed his jail mate, Mr. Y.

Flagging is different in that you can un-flag.

> (Not all users will see this; there is a karma threshold.)

The OP is below this threshold.

I was thinking "well, perhaps this article explains how forensics (and hence science, or statistics, etc.) was botched, and the discussion could be about how technology can be used to avoid such tragedies in the future..." but then I skimmed the article and realized that there was no mention of such scientific procedures within the text.

I wonder how the article made it to the front page in the first place though. Must it not mean that HN's audience (according to the algorithm) finds the article (or at least the title) to be intriguing and interesting?

This is seems to be a one off occurence. The articles and comments on this site are the best I know of. It hasn't degenerated like slashdot did while I was an active participant there.

That said, feel free to make a new one that's pure technology. If the stream of articles there is interesting, I promise to sign up!

Reddit still has some life in it if you remove all of the original subreddits and add things like http://www.reddit.com/r/depthhub and http://www.reddit.com/r/truereddit

Funny. The ability to have segmented areas for different topics is one of the reasons I read reddit.

Also, if "general interest" stuff turns you off, why on earth would you go to Metafilter?

Because I know what to expect and will adjust my attention accordingly. It won't be what I'm looking for, but I know what to expect from it.

The administration of subreddits has problems, in which some mods (i.e. of SRS) got death threats. Subreddit splits are typically unsuccessful. Exposition and discovery of subreddits is hard. Insightful, rational, two-way discussions are now exceedingly rare, and offensive/tasteless comments are nothing unusual. Popular subreddits tend towards "pop" topics rather than depth.

I am subscribed to DepthHub and TrueReddit but still, neither fully scratch my itch. I think that drawing a firm, clear line and being dedicated to squelching those who step over it will help build and preserve a community. See SomethingAwful, where there's an incentive to stay on-topic and a penalty for being creepy or overly offensive (beyond being just provocative) outside of the forums in which that is allowed.

Related: California has placed the Savings, Accountability and Full Enforcement for California Act (the SAFE California Act) on the November 2012 ballot.

The move to get this on the ballot was led by a former warden of California's San Quentin prison, Jeanne Woodford:

“California is on the brink of replacing the death penalty with a sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole as the maximum punishment for murder,” Woodford said. “In November, voters will have the first opportunity ever to decide between the death penalty and a sentence of life in prison with absolutely no chance of parole. Back in 1978, we did not have an alternative sentence that would keep convicted killers behind bars forever. We certainly did not know that we would spend $4 billion on 13 executions. Our system is broken, expensive and it always will carry the grave risk of a mistake. SAFE California offers a solution with savings at a time when we’re laying off teachers and cutting vital services.”

I urge support of this measure:


OP here - apologies to the folks who don't think it's HN-worthy. I usually shy away from posting anything like this on HN, but IMHO the death penalty stimulates my intellectual curiosity. Usual politics and "gee whiz poll numbers" not so much.

The death penalty is a deep issue, and I posted this on HN because I'd like to hear what the thoughtful folks in this community have to say on the topic.

Also, since I see a lot of people misquoting the Hacker News submission guidelines here they are in full, emphasis mine.

"Hacker News Guidelines

What to Submit On-Topic: Anything that good hackers would find interesting. That includes more than hacking and startups. If you had to reduce it to a sentence, the answer might be: anything that gratifies one's intellectual curiosity.

Off-Topic: Most stories about politics, or crime, or sports, unless they're evidence of some interesting new phenomenon. Videos of pratfalls or disasters, or cute animal pictures. If they'd cover it on TV news, it's probably off-topic."

I've often considered that a HN style politics page would be interesting if you could somehow keep it from turning into a flaming mess.

That said, I don't believe this is Hacker News and I flagged it. It's going to devolve into politics in about 8 seconds and we try to avoid that.

That's a fair point. Unfortunately, it's too late for me to delete. Lesson learned - I'll refrain from posting this kind of story in the future.

This is the entire reason people petition against the death penalty. And while I've said I can see the need for capital punishment, as a juror I would never sentence someone to death because mistakes happen, the wrong people are accused, evidence gets fucked (accidentally, intentionally), etc.

The mistake isn't worth someone's life.

Not entirely true, just as many people oppose the death penalty because killing is wrong as people oppose it because mistakes happen.

I personally do not agree with the death penalty (and live in a country without it) not because mistakes happen because murder is wrong, whether it's state sponsored or not. The fact that mistakes do happen just makes it even more ludicrous to me that ANYONE supports the death penalty.

    This is the entire reason people petition against the death penalty.
No, it's not.

Your opinions on capital punishment don't have to be mutually exclusive. I firmly believe that some people have to pay the ultimate price for their deeds, but I insist that these people should have so much evidence pointing them to having done the act that there is no possible way that they could be innocent.

IMHO, capital punishment should be so rare that it makes the news, and also sets a deterrent for future criminals wishing to do something similar.

Before responding to you directly, I'll say this: Killing is always wrong and therefore the death penalty is always wrong.

> I firmly believe that some people have to pay the ultimate price for their deeds, but I insist that these people should have so much evidence pointing them to having done the act that there is no possible way that they could be innocent.

I would say that condition is 100% impossible to meet, and would present that as an argument against the death penalty.

> also sets a deterrent for future criminals wishing to do something similar.

This does not exist. At least, it has not been reliably shown that this exists. The intensity of the punishment for a crime has not been shown to correlate with the number of criminals committing the crime. There have been studies that show both results (that increasing punishment decreases future crime, and that it doesn't).

You cannot base real ideas on the assumption that the death penalty will deter potential future murders. There's no reason to believe that's the case.

> I would say that condition is 100% impossible to meet, and would present that as an argument against the death penalty.

Without getting into the pro/con discussion, that doesn't sound right to me. I was under the impression that the vast majority of criminal cases were complete walk-overs: You have weapon, forensics, motive, opportunity, confession and what not all aligning perfectly.

By a stroke of tautology, we never hear about them because they are boring.

Or at the other end of the spectrum: Where is the wiggle-room for less than 100% certain guilt in the Anders Behring Breivik case in Norway?

I upvoted you for your reply. I appreciate that you didn't downvote me for something you read that you don't agree with.

I would say that condition is 100% impossible to meet, and would present that as an argument against the death penalty.

Exactly my point. So it'd be so rare that you'd never hear of it happening.

Regardless of people's moral/religious/practical stance on capital punishment, it is never a black and white issue. If anything, there exists only a grey area. I can always find someone who vehemently disagrees with capital punishment, but then makes exceptions to the rule in the most heinous of violations (killing of family, children, cultures).

My Google skillz are failing me but there is a famous quote from a judge ruling on obscenity laws. It went something like: "I know obscenity when I see it". For me, this is the same issue with capital punishment. The worst part is that you can't write laws based on that type of subjective judgement.

Ignoring your point about deterrence, I have issue with this: "but I insist that these people should have so much evidence pointing them to having done the act that there is no possible way that they could be innocent."

What you're asking for is a two-tiered system of guilt. In one tier the convicts are Definitely Guilty, while in the other tier the convicts are Definitely Definitely Guilty.

I don't believe a system like that is stable. Every juror who convicted Carlos DeLuna (or Cameron Todd Willingham) did so with a very firm belief in their guilt.

I agree with you, but I can think of another reason to petition against the death penalty besides mistakes. I don't think we should grant that kind of power to states because they tend to misuse it. This is more apparent in less democratic states, where the death penalty is an easy means to silence opposition. With that said, the US is surprisingly slow in abolishing this horrendous practice, especially if you consider this graph in this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Use_of_capital_punishment_by_co...

The death penalty is required. The judiciary just needs to have conclusive proof of the crime.

For example, right now, in one of India's jails lies a man named Ajmal Kasab. He is one of the terrorists involved in the 26/11 attack on Mumbai. He was caught on tape mercilessly killing people with his AK47.

If you do away with the death penalty entirely, how do you execute this fucker and others like him?


Edit: A lot of people asking similar questions. So I'll just answer them here.

Being identified by eye-witnesses and being caught on camera are not the same thing. People make mistakes while remembering. Cameras don't. Further, he was apprehended by the army/police in the middle of his killing spree. There is NO WAY it was someone else.

Handing him a life imprisonment just puts the system at risk. It will just lead to terrorists resorting to kidnap to release him as has been done in the past. A well known example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_Airlines_Flight_814

This should be a contreversal comment, so I'm going to say now that I'm just posting this rebuttal and not getting into an e-argument.

The criminal system isn't for punishment. It's for reform. It's not to 'get back' at people, it's to help integrate people back into society and act as a deterrent to stop crime in the first place. You're not trying to 'execute this fucker and others like him', you're trying to figure out what's wrong, how you can reform (if possible), and deter other crimes like it. If you're just executing it's a hell of a deterrence, but you're not reforming at all.

Remember the Oslo masscare? Read up on the perpetrator and his sentence. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anders_Behring_Breivik

If I were king of the world, I wouldn't sentence Anders to death either. It's sad that he turned out a madman and did what he did but surely you can't kill people who are mentally ill for being so.

There's a big difference between somebody who's medically declared insane and a member of a terrorist organisation who killed people as his masters wanted for the sole purpose of creating terror.

A bedrock principle of a civilized society is that the price to be paid to ensure that no innocent is ever falsely convicted, is that some guilty might be acquitted.

The death penalty is the ultimate irreversible penalty. Don't you think it's better to give people life in prison instead of death.

You should read up about the death penalty as a deterrent. Do you really think Ajmal expected to even get out of the mission alive? Do you think he didn't know about the death penalty if he managed to escape alive.

How do you execute him - you don't.

Every person ever convicted is, in theory, because there was enough conclusive proof. Mistakes will always happen.

Keep him in jail for life. Have a solid policy of not negotiating with terrorists. (Kidnap victims should be immediately considered murdered, with their salvation a potential bonus of whatever operation you carry out to resolve it, not an overriding goal.) Demonstrate that policy resolutely.

Do you really believe that type of policy could be instituted in the real world? If you were responsible for the decision and it was your kid kidnapped, would you consider her dead? The biological imperative to protect one's offspring is too strong for that (much less the imperative for politicians to CYA).

You may argue that it is a false dichotomy, but I disagree, because the people who will kill to get their compadres released will adjust their tactics until they find the lever that works.

There's a reason we specifically don't let the relatives of victims make choices here. This "you would never accept this policy if it were your child" argument is really irritating. No, I wouldn't, and that has no bearing whatsoever on the merits of the policy.

I agree that it would probably be fairly tough to institute in a democratic country. But I think it could be doable in a reasonably (but realistically!) rational country. The long-term effect should be a vast reduction in the quantity of kidnappings, since you render them ineffectual.

Such policies are already implemented sporadically. Look at various navies' responses to Somali pirates and their hostage-taking, or the way the US negotiates (or, rather, doesn't) with the occasional terrorist who kidnaps a US citizen and threatens to behead them.

Your thesis is that without the death penalty there would be more Ajmal Kasabs. That there are would-be-terrorists who don't act because of the death penalty.

To me, that's absurd on its face. Such persons are beyond reason. Don't forget, amongst this group are suicide bombers.

In the U.S. at least, its widely accepted that the death penalty is not a deterrent for murder, much less terrorism.[1]


Would you rather have him claim to die as a marytr and have his friends and family claim he is in heaven with his 70 virgins. His rotting in prison sends a stronger symbol that the state can keep a man down. At least in prison he can be humaliated rather than elevated to the level of a hero.

Its one thing to die a hero another to sit in a cell for forty years in your own filth.

Being caught on tape or identified by an eyewitness isn't conclusive evidence of guilt. The guy in this article who was wrongly executed looked almost exactly like the person who actually committed the murder.

Why do you see execution as the only option here?

Yeah! To show this guy that killing is wrong, we'll kill him!

To be honest, sometimes I find the death penalty to be an easy way out for the criminal.

As for Ajmal, I wouldn't want him to be executed simply because that is probably what he expected.

> If you do away with the death penalty entirely, how do you execute this fucker and others like him?


"Eye witness testimony is the lowest form of evidence in science. Which is sad, because it's the highest form of evidence in the court of law."

Neil D. Tyson

My view is that when someone is wrongly executed, justice is not finished - someone must be held accountable and punished. It's not just "oh well." Sometimes prosecutors are happy to see a conviction even if they know it's wrong, just for their reputations. These people, I'd argue, could be put to death too. Murder.

You can't have the death penalty in a broken system, it enables the same crimes it attempts to deter, and with death there's no recourse. 20 rights and 1 wrong is just unacceptable. In reality, the false positives are apparently much, much more despicable. Just do a search on final statements for "innocent" or "innocence."

The original source seems to be this more sophisticated article at The Guardian which was published earlier today. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/may/15/carlos-texas-inn...

And this is why the death penalty should be outlawed. If there is even a 0.001% chance we could execute an innocent person than its not worth it. Unfortunately I think the probability of executing an innocent person is much higher. Humans are imperfect and should not play god.

I'm not entirely sure how this relates to HN.

Does it need to "relate" to this site? If it doesn't get the votes, it'll be gone in no time.

I bet that's what they used to say on Reddit...

Try to think it is a parable: A flaw system (Texas court) exists today, and that kills people. So if you make a system today in good faith (e.g. a web or whatsoever) but didn't rule out all the flaws (which is hard), it can kill someday too.

So you're partly sure about how this relates to HN, or you're just being cwanky?

I'll bet that >100 other innocents who were treated far worse by the system were killed by prison during the time Texas took to execute this guy. And, this would continue even if the US abandoned the death penalty.

If you're looking to save innocents from being killed by prison, death row is the wrong place to look. No matter how inadequate you feel the process is for death penalty cases, it's significantly worse for folks who get other sentences. Since prison kills people (and not just with "live without parole)....

No, they don't "get a [meaningful] chance to prove their innocence. They just die, killed by prison just as much as someone intentionally executed.

Would people be so torqued up if this were a wrongful imprisonment in Massachusetts instead of a wrongful execution in Texas? I doubt it, which suggests that this story may be pushing buttons in your brain other than injustice == bad.

Wrongful conviction is bad in any case; the death penalty aspect is simply inflammatory. Executions are irreversible, but so is imprisonment. They might let you out if they discover you're innocent, but there's no way to refund you your lost time.

With the American justice system it would have been cheaper to keep him in prison for life than to execute him for murder, due to the number of appeals allowed.

In Ontario, Michael Rafferty & Terri-Lynn McClinic were recently convicted of the murder of Tori Stafford. Lots of pro-capital punishment banter as of late. In this case, it was pretty open/shut. You could say he is the perfect candidate for capital punishment. I wouldn't, but many would.

My problem is – our judicial system pretending these people can be reconditioned, like a refurbished electronic or something. Terri-Lynn McClintic was wicked well before the murder, even doing things like microwaving a small dog until it cried.

These people cannot be reconditioned. And when you take a look at the science, it comes down to bad wiring. So does killing them make sense knowing that they are mentally damaged and not simply moonlighting as maniacs?

With tongue in cheek, we need Minority Report-style decommissioning. Technology to the rescue.

..and that's just like Linux vs Microsoft.

Great - independent, open-source defense lawyering.

Make sure when you read a press release like this, though, that if there isn't a press release saying the courts have convicted an innocent man, there isn't a press release at all. Which means Professor Liebman and his students have wasted their time. Which they don't want to do, so they are anything but disinterested investigators.

I mean, you're not going to see a headline that says "Murderer walks free in Texas, probe says." I mean, duh. That happens all the time, so who cares? There's certainly no market for an independent, open-source prosecution...

Fking ridiculous.

Doesn't this make the prosecutors in this case guilty of murder?

Murder means intent. It makes them guilty of manslaughter, at best. I don't know if there's any legal precedent for that (I'm not a lawyer), but I'd imagine that a civil case by the deceased's family for a wrongful death would be in order.

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