Patrick O'Neill's "Semi-public Execution" (Oct. 1) calls to mind grim statistics. Since reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, over 800 people have been executed in the United States. In this same period, more than 100 individuals condemned to death have been exonerated, some within days of scheduled execution.
Often, DNA profiling proves a condemned man's innocence. In a large number of capital cases, however, there is no biological evidence from which genetic material can be extracted.
Viewing these facts in tandem, it is reasonable to assume that a significant number of death row inmates are innocent. (See indyweek.com/durham/2003-09-17/burtman.html) In the absence of exculpatory biological evidence, innocent people will be executed.
Playwright Arthur Miller observed: "Few of us can easily surrender our belief that society must somehow make sense. The thought that the state has lost its mind and is punishing so many innocent people is intolerable. And so the evidence has to be internally denied."
Some people believe capital punishment is an effective deterrent, or just punishment, or both. If we were absolutely certain of guilt, I would--at least--understand the emphatic righteousness that impels death penalty advocates to endorse execution. It may also be true that ongoing improvement of the legal system lessens the likelihood of executing innocent people.
Nevertheless, infallibility is intrinsically unattainable. (Recent studies show that 30 percent of all eyewitnesses identify the wrong party. Perhaps seeing is believing: it is not, necessarily, the truth.)
Any hope--or belief--that The System is infallible does not constitute "admissible evidence" in courts of law. Regardless the intensity of personal conviction, the persuasive force of subjective belief pales before the scientific weight of DNA profiling. Exculpatory DNA evidence--alongside the absence of genetic material in many capital cases--demonstrates the system's fallibility. Whatever our feelings, opinions and beliefs, we confront "a statistical certainty" that over time innocent people will be executed.
Although some may disagree with the term "statistical certainty," "reasonable doubt" is indisputable. Many citizens support capital punishment and take comfort that the practice is legal. It is cold comfort born in the heat of bloodlust. If your child or spouse were an innocent victim of capital punishment, would you consider such slaughter "collateral damage"? Or would you consider it premeditated murder? Death penalty advocates deny any desire to execute innocent people. However, the only assurance that innocent people will not be executed is to abolish capital punishment.
When I consider the lethal miscarriage of justice implicit in widespread support for capital punishment, I recall the saying: "In an avalanche, no individual snowflake accepts responsibility." Currently, most Americans are more "at peace" with Pilate's hand-washing than the Nazarene's supplication: "Father, forgive them."
As demonstrated by Washington's pre-emptive strike on Iraq, human beings "see what they want to see and disregard the rest." Mahatma Gandhi made this chilling observation: "The only people on earth who do not see Christ and his teachings as nonviolent are Christians."
Young Blue Jays
I am impressed with the work of Mike Emeigh, ("Baseball by the Numbers," Oct. 8) but I think the writer in making overall statements about big-league teams failed to do research. He wrote about how since J.P. Riccardi arrived in Toronto the organization has a vastly improved farm system. Just curious what judgment that comes from. Does the writer know that in the last 15 years, Toronto has been number one most every year and never lower than number three in terms of players in the big leagues produced by its farm system? That's long before the arrival of J.P. He has not been there long enough for any player signed in his tenure to make the big leagues. He also has gutted the scouting and farm system in Toronto, so it will be interesting to see what transpires in the next few years.
Burtman off the track
It's sad that the Burtman polemic on the Triangle Transit Authority ("One Way Track," Oct. 8) is devoid of facts on our local situation. He gives readers lots of details on trains in Houston and Portland, Ore., but obviously hasn't taken the time to look at the facts on our unique local situation. These facts are readily available in the EIS published by the TTA itself. The EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) required by the federal government to qualify for the $500 million aid the TTA is requesting, is a 600-page document providing details and projections of every aspect of the train project. Facts that contradict every contention Burtman makes about the TTA project. The TTA train will not reduce vehicular traffic here! The EIS projects roughly a 1 percent decline in daily vehicle miles in the year 2025, well within the margin of error for a projection 22 years in the future.
The TTA train will make only minor changes to the pollution levels. One problem is that the train will use diesel/electric power ,adding to pollution. In fact, in some areas of the Triangle pollution is actually projected to increase because of the train.
The basic problem with the TTA project is that it serves so few people, about 14,500 per day. Of these riders, most will travel only two or three stops. Less than 5,000 riders a day will go to RTP. The TTA is touted as a needed alternative to driving, yet practically all the projected train riders currently have an alternative, the TTA bus system, an alternative that few use. Assuming that the TTA ridership goals are achieved, a reduction in 5,000 cars per day on the routes to RTP will not be noticeable. Recent experience shows this to be true. Roughly 5,000 jobs have been lost at RTP over the last two years, yet congestion on I-40 and N.C. 54 remains high.
The fundamental problem for the train is not the opposition of conservative politicians to the TTA but planning failures of the past. Such as a previous City of Raleigh plan that focused on broad low-density development across expanding city boundaries. But the key mistake was and is the RTP plan with very low-density commercial campuses remote from housing and urban infrastructure. Less than 15 percent of the thousands of acres at RTP are occupied. This very low density is a major problem for the TTA and will require the development of an elaborate shuttle system for RTP commuters. There may come a time when the TTA train may be needed. But for now most of $1 billion cost projected for the train can be saved. Some of these millions need to be spent on implementing (and expanding) the new five-year CAT bus plan for Raleigh. This plan focuses on providing reliable service to major destinations in the city. It even provides service on Sundays and holidays. Unlike the TTA, this plan will serve many in Raleigh who currently have no alternative. As to reducing traffic to RTP by 5,000 cars per day in 2025, adopting mixed-use zoning on the mainly undeveloped Wake County portion of RTP is the easiest and cheapest solution. Living at RTP workers could bike or even hike to work if they don't want to drive.
Burtman hardly contributes to a "healthy debate" on the TTA by implying that opponents are religious fanatics. Look at the facts; you may change your mind.
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