The New York Times today suggests that Illinois Governor George Ryan should commute all the prisoners on death row to life in prison. Ryan had suggested that this was an option, but recoiled when a hearing demonstrated the horrific nature of the crimes committed by these inmates. The Times suggests that he should not be moved by that, but rather by the fact that there have been mistakes--DNA has proved that some of the men on death row were innocent. What the Times does not do is say that the DNA evidence also likely proved that many of the men sitting on death row are guilty. What about these inmates? Should their sentences be commuted, even when we are certain that they committed the crimes? The New York Times seems willing to treat DNA evidence as a one way ratchet--we will point to it to get people off death row, but ignore it otherwise. Like Justice Blackmun, who voted to grant habeas in every death penalty case toward the end of his term, the New York Times is less concerned with process and more concerned with their own opposition to the death penalty. That’s fine, but the Times should not dress up its opinion in the clothing of process, when it is clear that they do not want the death penalty even when process is sufficient and guilt is undisputed.
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