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Not So Innocent -- II

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"Tony Apanovitch has been sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit. He is a victim of the most serious miscarriage of justice."  So proclaims this page on the Web site of the Canadian Coalition Against the Death Penalty. Note the complete absence of doubt from that statement. Not "there is evidence that leads us to believe he is probably innocent." Nope, it's an absolute certainty.

Funny thing, though, is that there was DNA available from the 1984 rape and murder of Mary Ann Flynn, but Apanovitch steadfastly refused to give a comparison sample. Shouldn't that have given the innocence proclaimers at least a little pause?

He refused, that is, until a 2003 mandatory testing law gave him no choice, reports Jim Nichols in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Although only a fragment of DNA remains available, an independent lab in California puts the odds against the killer being anyone else at 140 million to one.

The fact that one more convicted murderer proclaiming his innocence has been confirmed guilty is "dog bites man," i.e., not news. The reason we posted it is its reflection on the credibility, or lack thereof, of what is posted about supposed innocents on the web sites of anti-death-penalty organizations.

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Unfortunately, though, the abolitionists are getting mileage out of these proclamations.

The "Canadian Coalition Against The Death Penalty" is probably some guy sitting around in his underwear who has a pathological affinity to the worst North America has to offer. If that's not the case, perhaps some visitors to the C&C blog could offer some specifics to rebut this belief.

It is perhaps instructive that one has to go to a Canadian anti-death penalty web site to find this innocence claim. One will not find a similar claim on the web sites of the leading national anti-death penalty organizations in the U.S. -- for example, the NCADP, Amnesty International USA, the ACLU Capital Punishment Project, etc.

We also were not the ones pushing the "innocence" claim with regard to Roger Keith Coleman (although, admittedly, one religious organization opposed to the death penalty was as well as a number of individuals. My organization's take was to call for a testing of the DNA, but to refrain from prejudging what said testing would find.)

Leading abolitionists aren't stupid. We know the pitfalls of pressing false innocence claims. And given that we know and understand the power of the innocence argument, why risk losing this valuable tool in our anti-death penalty toolbox?

Mr. Elliot, while leading abolitionists aren't stupid, they are not above inflating claims to make their case. DPIC points to 123 "innocents" sentenced to death. Under DPIC-speak, innocence is equated with, inter alia, acquittals. Under our criminal justice system, the accused is accorded many protections, which often results in factually guilty people being acquitted. But it is hard to dispute that at least some of the people on DPIC's innocence list actually did it.

NCADP cites DPIC's numbers: http://www.ncadp.org/fact_sheet4.html

Mr. Federalist: We're kind of reprising last week's argument, but here goes: Your side thinks the DPIC innocence list is too large, e.g., no way no how could all of those 123 people be truly innocent. My side tends to think it is too small (example: it has been criticized because it doesn't include Sunny Jacobs, just to list one example). If you want to see an interesting example of how one state anti-death penalty organization, Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, disagrees with the DPIC list, go here:
http://www.cuadp.org/pressrel48.html

At the end of the day, I think even two people who are as far apart as you and I are can agree on one thing: It does no one any good to press a false innocence claim. Indeed, I am still having people tell me on radio talk shows and other venues, "Oh, you said Roger Keith Coleman was innocent." Which, of course, I did not -- we simply wanted the DNA tested, and to Gov. Warner's credit, it was.

Mr. Elliot:

I think that Kevin Cooper would disagree with you about the efficacy of pressing false innocence claims. But more to the point--DPIC has gotten a ton of mileage out of its list, and the while the list is useful as a starting point, it's an exercise in propaganda as it's used now.

Sadly, Kevin Cooper's claim was effective, since he has delayed his execution several years with a bogus actual innocence claim. Also, the websites for the ACLU, Amnesty International, and NCDAP all make the actual innocence claims used by the DPIC. AS I read their website, those groups are pushing the innocence argument.

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