Already in the spotlight over whether it executed one innocent man — Cameron Todd Willingham — in 2004, the state of Texas now faces questions about whether another man may have been wrongly condemned to death.
The past few years in Texas have seen a parade of DNA exonerations: more than 40 men so far. The first exonerations were big news, but the type has grown smaller as Texans have watched a dismaying march of exonerees, their wasted years haunting the public conscience.
Yet a case in Williamson County, just north of Austin, is raising the ante. Michael Morton had been sentenced to life in prison for murdering his wife. He was released six months ago — 25 years after being convicted — when DNA testing proved he was not the killer.
Proponents of the death penalty often argue that the threat of being executed acts as a deterrent that prevents people from committing murder. But those who oppose capital punishment challenge that claim. And some researchers argue that state-sanctioned execution might actually increase homicide rates.
Now, a panel of independent experts convened by the prestigious National Research Council has taken a look at this question and decided that the available research offers no useful information for policymakers.