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Home : Viewpoints : Editorials
11/22/2012 10:38:00 AM
Too risky to innocent life
Michael Keenan
Michael Keenan

Another deadly mistake has been uncovered and corrected. Michael Keenan was released from Ohio’s death row this fall, after serving 24 years for a crime he didn't commit. The prosecution, it turns out, had hidden exculpatory evidence. Keenan was the nation's 141st death penalty exoneration.

How many innocent people were killed before they could be exonerated?

We here in Oregon should take note and abolish our own death penalty law before innocent blood taints our hands. Oregon has already had its share of dropped charges and overturned murder convictions.

Christopher Boots and Eric Proctor were convicted of murder in Lane County in 1985 and sentenced to 20 years each. The evidence was thin and later debunked.  The real murderer was identified. Released in 1994, after eight years in prison, Boots and Proctor settled with the city of Springfield for $2 million.

Laverne Pavlinek implicated her partner John Sosnovske in the murder of a young woman whose body was found in the Columbia Gorge in 1992. It appears she made the accusation  in a desperate attempt to escape an abusive relationship. A stunned Sosnovske pled no contest in order to avoid a death sentence and received a sentence of life without parole. The case fell apart when another man confessed and recited watertight facts about the murder.

Santiago Ventura Morales was sentenced for the murder of another Mexican man in 1986. The county had no interpreters who spoke Ventura’s Mixtec dialect and he could not understand the investigation and trial. Another person then confessed to the crime. Jurors who had convicted Morales called for a new investigation that released him by 1991.

Phillip Scott Cannon was convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole in 1999 for the murder of three people in Polk County. Evidence was later proven inadequate and he was released in 2009.

Of the 37 people on Oregon’s death row now, four have had their convictions overturned and are awaiting re-trial. The main reasons have been mistakes made by judges in their instructions to juries, lack of adequate legal defense and competency of the defendant to assist his defense team. While many feel that DNA evidence has played a major part in the 141 exonerations, DNA  was the major factor in only 17 of the 141 cases.

The death penalty is expensive and, as the last two popes have said, unnecessary. But one of the most pressing reasons to ban it is the very real risk of taking innocent life.  

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