Matthew Franz ‘25

Justice for Julius Jones. Innocence among death row inmates is an overlooked tragedy in society. Cases such as Walter McMillan, the subject of Bryan Stevenson’s moving memoir Just Mercy, depicts such a case where an innocent man underwent unfair trials and appeals. Furthermore, he was subjected to imprisonment for years before being found innocent. Regardless of race, gender, religion, or sexuality, the death penalty effects individuals and families to an unimaginable degree. That being said, African Americans face other obstacles: judicial bias and racial integrity. The Bureau of Justice statistics reports a ghastly 650 death sentences since 2010, not including this year’s sentences. The death penalty is an ineffective deterrent of crime, inhumane, and morally questionable.

The National Academy of Science reports that 4.1% of death row inmates are actually innocent. Additionally, in many cases new evidence becomes available that suggests innocence AFTER execution. While 4.1% may seem low, the cost is high. The Death Penalty Information Center reports 2,500 humans currently on death row. Following the NAC statistic, this adds up to 102.5 innocent people. That is 102.5 living, breathing human beings facing death. If the idea of over 100 innocent people’s deaths is not concerning, I question your humanity. When a court sentences a person to death, it takes the risk of ending an innocent life. Humans make errors. Is the death of 102.5 innocent people a cost we should be willing to take to correctly convict 2,400? How do we navigate the innocent versus the guilty? How do we console the families of innocent people who we have killed? We can’t. There lies a single issue with the death penalty. It has a high margin of error, with the cost being life. Due to this, the death penalty is an ineffective way to deter crime. It punishes innocent people. Additionally, people who murder or rape have motive to do so. The consequence of death will not deter most people from acting upon emotions such as anger, hatred, and vengeance. If there is a will, there is a way.

The 8th Amendment protects an individual’s right to cruel or unusual punishment. However, 27 states still permit usage of the death penalty. Methods of execution include lethal injection, gas chambers, firing squad, hanging, and electrocution. The Death Penalty Information Center also reports that there have been almost 300 botched executions where an inmate has either caught fire, been strangled, or has been administered the wrong dosage of an injection. Botched lethal injection has been linked to symptoms of pulmonary edema which equates to drowning. These botched executions, pain caused by them, and the conviction of death in itself are cruel. They lead to inhumane treatment of people, some of which are innocent.

I have previously opinionated my pro-life stance through my article Choice Misconceptions about “Her Body, Her Choice.” It is important to understand that my pro-life stance extends to all life, not just unborn babies. A moral dilemma occurs when we choose to end a life. In ending a life, we effectively decide that the right to life does not exist. If a man kills and rapes a woman, has he violated her rights? Of course, he has! He has defiled her body and denied her right to life. Should the offender pay with his life? That is the big question. Answering an evil act with another evil act will not change the past. Instead, it just ends the life of another human. A life sentence however, forces the convicted party to remain without freedom. It provides ample time for reflection and regret. Is the guilt felt by one who convicts murder not a punishment itself, let alone the inability to leave a small cell for life? Today’s security and technology is more than capable of containing prisoners and leaves society with very little threat.

A recent case exemplifies the issues with the death penalty. Julius Jones is an African American man accused of murder in Oklahoma. He has been on death row for over 19 years of his life. Jones’ execution has been scheduled for November 18th, just under two weeks away. Witnesses, racial bias, and incorrect testimony have all played a role in this case and have led Oklahoma officials to be uncertain of the guiltiness of Jones. The Innocence Project states 4 main reasons the Jones trial is inaccurate. Jones has an alibi, being home with family members yet his lawyers never mentioned this fact. Additionally, eyewitness reports state the killer had 1-2 inches of hair, while Jones was bald. The original jury consisted of 11/12 white people with one juror calling Jones the N-word and saying he should be shot. Finally, 3 sworn affidavits of inmates say Jones confessed to them, yet Jones had never met the other inmates. The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole board voted 3-1 in September to reduce sentencing to life in prison with parole due to the uncertainty of the validity of the prosecution. However, the Governor of Oklahoma, Kevin Stitt, has not acted upon this recommendation. What does this mean? If November 18th comes around without the governor addressing concerns, Jones will be put to death as a likely innocent man. Even today, we as society find it accept able to put someone to death in an uncertain case. Although I fully oppose the death penalty, should it be continued, the least we can do is be absolutely confident the defendant is, in fact, guilty.

As a pro-life advocate, I cannot condemn anyone deserving of death, no matter how horrendous their actions may be. As a citizen, I cannot find any reasonable value in ending another human’s life when alternative measures can be made. As a human, I cannot risk the cost of ending a human’s life when there is a chance that they are innocent. That’s exactly what slave traders and sex traffickers do. You can’t put a value on a human being’s life.