Sul nuovo numero del New Yorker c’è una lunga e incredibile storia, raccontata formidabilmente, che ieri è stata ripresa anche dal New York Times: non è mai successo nella storia degli Stati Uniti che un “giustiziato” (bleah per la parola) dopo una condanna morte si riveli provatamente innocente. Il caso di Todd Willingham potrebbe essere il primo, e mettere agli atti ufficiali che la giustizia americana ha ucciso un innocente. Sarebbe un precedente storico e clamoroso.
The fear that an innocent person might be executed has long haunted jurors and lawyers and judges. During America’s Colonial period, dozens of crimes were punishable by death, including horse thievery, blasphemy, “man-stealing,” and highway robbery. After independence, the number of crimes eligible for the death penalty was gradually reduced, but doubts persisted over whether legal procedures were sufficient to prevent an innocent person from being executed. In 1868, John Stuart Mill made one of the most eloquent defenses of capital punishment, arguing that executing a murderer did not display a wanton disregard for life but, rather, proof of its value. “We show, on the contrary, most emphatically our regard for it by the adoption of a rule that he who violates that right in another forfeits it for himself,” he said. For Mill, there was one counterargument that carried weight—“that if by an error of justice an innocent person is put to death, the mistake can never be corrected.”The modern legal system, with its lengthy appeals process and clemency boards, was widely assumed to protect the kind of “error of justice” that Mill feared. In 2000, while George W. Bush was governor of Texas, he said, “I know there are some in the country who don’t care for the death penalty, but . . . we’ve adequately answered innocence or guilt.” His top policy adviser on issues of criminal justice emphasized that there is “super due process to make sure that no innocent defendants are executed.”