Discussing the morality of capital punishment
(Page 2 of 2)
There's no question the death penalty can be made better - we can assure [that] every defendant has highly competent lawyers, impose standards on the decision to seek the death penalty and layers of review, demand videotaping of full interrogation of homicide suspects, get rid of felony murder.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
You can do a host of things we recommended in Illinois. It would definitely improve the application of the death penalty, but we will still convict a certain number of innocent persons, and we have a higher propensity to do that in capital cases. The nature of offense is so awful it tends to make us less rationale.
Q: You suggest the courts will eventually reject the death penalty. Why?
ST: It's a race between the courts and technology. Medical advances may call the rationale for the death penalty into question. If we could reliably make people less violent, then the arguments for executing them is going to begin to fade away. It would make it easier to imprison even the most violent offenders.
Q: How has your attitude toward the death penalty changed since you were a police officer?
MF: I used to believe the death penalty cases were investigated better than anything else. What I found was exactly the opposite. They're not investigated as well as I'd investigate a simple robbery.
Once we've gotten someone on the hook and we believe they've committed the crime, then [prosecutors and police believe] it should be good enough for everybody else.
Q: How likely is it that Oklahoma executed an innocent person?
MF: Very likely. In fact, I think it's so likely that [it explains why] Oklahoma refuses to give relatives of executed inmates the DNA tests so they can find out for sure. What are they afraid of?
Q: What kind of pressure do prosecutors and police face?
MF: It's the ultimate case any attorney will go into court to prosecute or defend. When you seek the death penalty, it means this is the most heinous, atrocious murder committed in your jurisdiction and you must win. It's not 'I hope we win,' it's 'we must win.'
There is no conservative state where your sheriff or prosecutor will get away with saying, 'I'm opposed to the death penalty, and it's simply not right.'
Q: What do detectives do wrong? Will you talk about operating on hunches?
MF: When detectives go to a crime scene, you're certainly going to make conclusions that end up with some beginning theories about the case, but as you collect evidence and interview people and do your work, you can develop new ideas about what happened and you need to be open to that.
If you go to a crime scene and omit all evidence that might disprove that initial theory, you're no longer a detective. You're simply someone who believes someone is guilty.
Q: You focus on a forensic scientist as a source for several false convictions. What's the problem there?
MF: Forensic scientists should be absolutely blind to anything about the investigation. They should not discuss the case. Detectives shouldn't tell them what statements we have, don't tell them anything.
If they work in that vacuum, an incompetent forensic scientist won't be knowingly engaging in a case to get attention, gratify prosecutors or detectives, or gain their own power.