Alex Massie

A Question for Supporters of the Death Penalty

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Have you read David Grann's article about the trial and execution of Cameron Todd Willingham? I'd urge you to do so.

Willingham was convicted of setting the fire that brunt down his house and killed his three children. There were, investigators said, no fewer than 20 grounds for supposing that the fire was not an accident. The only problem? Each and every one of those grounds was based upon faulty science or an inadequate understanding of fire.

It is, therefore, quite possible, perhaps even more than probable, that an innocent man was executed.

If that is the caseĀ  - and it is possible that the State of Texas will one day admit this - then does it change anything? Would you - and by you I mean most people both in this country and the United States - rethink your enthusiasm for the death penalty? And if notĀ  - if, that is, the probability than an innocent man had been put to death - what would it take to persuade you that the death penalty is unsafe, if not wicked?

Now, you may say, this is Texas and there are all manner of problems with Texas justice. That couldn't happen here. Not in Britain. But can you be so sure? Or maybe it just doesn't matter, right?

Polls consistently show that a majority of people favour reintroducing capital punishment. If that's you, is there anything about the story of Cameron Todd Willingham that disconcerts you? And if it doesn't trouble you, why doesn't it bother you?

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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