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Erring on the side of death

A Times Editorial
Published March 22, 2005

To justify federal intervention in the private tragedy of the Schiavo family, the White House has repeatedly extolled the president's belief that he should "err on the side of life." That is a contemptible hypocrisy.

On June 23, 2000, while still governor of Texas, George W. Bush allowed the execution of Gary Graham, a man whose claim to innocence was so strong that five members of his own, notoriously sanguinary parole board had argued to spare Graham's life. So had four justices of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Graham's murder conviction depended entirely on his identification by a stranger who said she had seen him briefly through a car windshield from more than 30 feet away. Two eyewitnesses who had been closer to the shooting said later that Graham wasn't the killer, but they had never been interviewed by his court-appointed counsel and were not called to testify at his trial.

Graham was 17 when arrested, making him one of the last juvenile offenders to be executed anywhere on this planet. The senior warden of Huntsville prison at the time wrote later that it was the worst execution he had commanded; that Graham "was extremely angry, and struggled until he was fully strapped down."

In washing his hands of Graham's innocence, Bush rationalized that Graham had committed other crimes. Indeed he had, and admitted them. But they did not justify his execution, given the shaky facts and the inherent unreliability of eyewitness identification. On that occasion, if not others, the policy of George W. Bush was to err on the side of death.

[Last modified March 22, 2005, 01:21:16]


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