Back Talk

Guilt and innocence

| November 08, 2000
Your article "Sudden Death" [Oct. 25] seems to miss the conclusion that would worry me most if I were against the death penalty. If we are putting innocent people to death, then it only stands to reason that our prisons are filled with thousands of innocent people. The inmate mentioned, Lorenza Norwood, seems to be a good example of failing schools, but a poor case for a moratorium on the death penalty.

Defendants who undergo a trial for a capital offense are scrutinized much more carefully than people accused of stealing cars, selling drugs or robbing people at gunpoint. These people hardly have a trial at all compared to Norwood, who killed a store clerk by fire over the price of a bottle of wine.

Judging from the picture of Norwood in a high-school graduation gown, it seems ironic that he uses the defense of a low IQ to avoid the death penalty. I guess a low IQ in prison is fine, but a low IQ in the death chamber would be a travesty of justice.

I wonder how many people feel that Norwood needs to stay behind bars for the rest of his life, but that the death penalty is going too far. A prison cell is not humane; it is necessary after a complete and thorough trial, to protect society. Let's not fool ourselves. Are we a better society because we forget people doomed to prison and yet groan at the potential loss of a killer who wanted a better price for a bottle of wine?

A moratorium on the death penalty does nothing for justice if the innocent are spared death only to stay in prison. If you worry that innocent people are being put to death by the state, then you should wake up screaming every night about the prisons crammed to overflowing with the falsely accused.

John Valentine, in his Oct. 25 article on McSweeney's magazine, proposed that Neal Pollack, author of The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature, is really Dave Eggers. What is true is that Neal and his wife, Regina, were on tour this fall to promote the book that was written by Neal Pollack and published by Dave Eggers in McSweeney's first professional book-publishing venture. The main character in the book is a pompous, self-important journalist who puts himself at the center of every story, and he is the alter ego of the real Neal Pollack, who is a 30-year-old writer from Chicago.

Valentine is the second writer to jump to rash conclusions without doing his homework. The first was a writer in the San Diego Union-Tribune, and Neal's grandmother, a San Diego resident, was the first to discover that debacle. She contacted me and I wrote to the editors of that paper to reassure them that my son was real and was the author of that book. Now Valentine has geographically located me in Chicago, where I have never lived, and indicates that I may be fictional also. Pollack has the right idea in taking journalists to task.

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