A Reasonable Doubt

I wrote two posts that I had intended on sharing up here. However, after mulling it over while mowing the grass, I have decided that it’s probably not the best time to post them. In fact, there may never be a good time to share them. One of them was me blowing off steam about a situation I recently had to deal with. I didn’t share any names or details because it wouldn’t be proper. I spoke in very general terms and after re-reading it several times, I decided that it was confusing and didn’t really accomplish what I had hoped it would. It ended up sounding like me whining. I do enough that already.

The second post was a collection of jumbled thoughts concerning liberty and freedom. It also touched upon the idea that none of us are 100% consistent with out beliefs. I am not totally abandoning it yet. I do need to think about it more and do a better job of organizing my stuff. Hopefully I will have it ready in a few days. We’ll see. What this means is that I am just writing off the top of my head this afternoon. Sometimes that works out great and sometimes…well…sometimes it doesn’t.

I just finished watching the three Paradise Lost documentaries. For those who may not be familiar with them, they tell the story of three Arkansas teenagers who were accused and subsequently convicted of murdering three eight year old boys. The documentaries suggest that the three teens were targeted because they had long hair and listened to heavy metal. Accusations of Satan worship and human sacrifice were made early on and persisted throughout the trials. The first film helped kick off a movement to free the West Memphis Three (as they were dubbed). Celebrities like Eddie Vedder, Natalie Maines, and Johnny Depp vocally supported them. Metallica (one of the bands mentioned in the trials) even loaned their music to all three films.

Many people (myself included) found themselves convinced that the three teens were the victims of a witch hunt. The West Memphis police department had been under scrutiny for not finding the murderer(s) and it seems as if they hastily (ans sloppily) threw together the case based upon a forced confession from one of the teens. I confess, even if the West Memphis Three are guilty, the three films introduced so much doubt that I would never be able to find them guilty. I’m not sure if that was the film maker’s original intent, but he sure accomplished it.

The three suspects ended up spending over eighteen years in prison before being released in 2011 after submitting controversial Alford pleas. This allowed them to maintain their innocence while acknowledging that there was enough evidence to convict them. In return, the state of Arkansas released them with suspended sentences with time served. Two of the accused did not want to enter the pleas but did so because the primary suspect was facing a death sentence and was out of appeals. It was the only was to guarantee that he would not be executed. The third film contains a scene where the state prosecutor actually says that they most likely would have been granted a new trial and they would probably be acquitted.

The films really do remind you that even at its best, the criminal justice system is flawed. It is one of the reasons that I no longer support the death penalty. I know that I am probably not 100% consistent in that belief but I have seen too many cases where the state messed up. Sometimes it was accidental, but I have to wonder how many times it is deliberate. I think the police knew that they didn’t have enough evidence against the West Memphis Tree but pursued it anyway because they knew they could hold up photos of three dead kids and play on the emotions of others. Another case that made me rethink my original stance was Cameron Todd Willingham. He was actually executed in Texas for supposedly murdering his two children. Later investigations revealed inconsistencies and negligence by the original investigators.

Things like that make me think a lot. We are constantly seeing convictions overturned and suspects released from prison after DNA evidence proves that they aren’t guilty. We know that some law enforcement officials and attorneys mess up. We know that some judges mess up. With those types of inconsistencies being exposed every day, I can longer feel comfortable when someone is executed. I know that some people believe that the Bible supports capital punishment and that God Himself ordains it. I agree with that to a certain extent, but given the flawed system at work here in America, I can’t in good conscience support it.

I not writing this in attempt to sway anyone to my opinion. These are my personal convictions and I believe we all have our own. I try my best to respect others, even when I disagree with them. That is all I ask in return.


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