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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Commentary: Davis Enterprise Gets It Right And Calls the Yolo County Courts On Their Conduct

It is one thing to see the Davis Vanguard complain about the conduct of public officials something that is in many ways our raison d'ĂȘtre. It is another thing when the Davis Enterprise does it.

Yesterday's Vanguard blog entry elicited complaints by among others Matt Rexroad and Val Dolcini, two people that the Vanguard respects tremendously despite their sometimes divergent views. One person went as far as to question whether it was a slow news day--which seemed a bit strange given that it had been a major story in both the Sacramento Bee and the Davis Enterprise.

Nothing compares however to the shock encountered reading the Davis Enterprise's Op-Ed entitled "Disturbing Pattern in Yolo Courts."

The Enterprise goes on to write:
"The issue: Wednesday's lockout of the press and suspect's family is just the latest in a string of abuses

Can Marco Antonio Topete get a fair trial in Yolo County? If there are any more shenanigans like those pulled Wednesday by sheriff's deputies and a court commissioner in Yolo Superior Court, we're not so sure."
More often than not from our view, the Enterprise has been part and parcel to this problem, however, we welcome them to the ballgame on this issue.

In defending the actions of the court here, Supervisor Matt Rexroad inadvertently made a key point when he said:
"They made a mistake under some difficult emotional circumstances."
If that is true, and it may be - we are not necessarily suggesting this was maliciousthen perhaps the Davis Enterprise is right, that the defendant cannot get a fair trial in this county.

The Davis Enterprise went on to write:
"During the proceeding, a gag order was imposed on the case, preventing participants from discussing the matter with the media. While transcripts of the hearing were later made available, the action in the court is a violation of the First Amendment.

Charity Kenyon, a media attorney representing The Davis Enterprise, The Sacramento Bee, News 10 and KCRA3 on the matter, wrote a letter Thursday to Judge David Rosenberg, who has been assigned to the Topete case. She cited the sense from the news outlets involved 'that more than a few court personnel operate on the principle that 'no news is good news.' "
They continue:
"THE YOLO COURT has a tendency to slap a gag order on every high-profile case that comes along, making it difficult for the public to get even basic information about a case from attorneys or law enforcement. Meanwhile, Kenyon said, 'The California and U.S. supreme courts have recognized that public access to court records and proceedings enhances and is an essential component of a fair trial.'

Educating the officers of the court and law enforcement personnel is the best way to prevent a repeat of this pattern. They need to learn that shielding victims from paparazzi is not the same thing as blatantly blocking the public's right to know.

Veteran Davis criminal defense attorney Rod Beede said deputies should have known the rules about open court proceedings. Just last week, the defendant in the Stevens slaying was sentenced to death after more than 21⁄2 years of hearings.

'Whenever you have a particularly high-profile case, especially when the victim is a member of the Sheriff's Department, a very, very close watch needs to be conducted on the whole thing,' Beede said. 'Anything that segregates the case as a different case is troubling.'"
On this issue, the Davis Enterprise is absolutely correct.

No one wants to disparage the memory of the slain Sheriff's deputy. However, the defendant is just as entitled to a fair trial in this case as anyone else. Mistakes happen, particularly when emotions are running high. For those reasons, it seems to be a wise move to shift this trial to another county to ensure the fair treatment of the defendant and the public in this matter.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, June 20, 2008

Commentary: What Were They Thinking: Sheriff's Department Keeps Court Building Doors Locked

In a bizarre series of events on Wednesday, the man accused of killing Yolo County Sheriff's Deputy Jose "Tony" Diaz was arraigned and the media and public was locked out of the courtroom.

Later Sheriff Ed Prieto called it a mistake and blamed it one on his lieutenants. There was a high degree of security around the arraignment with the defendant arriving in bulletproof vest (ironically similar to one that Deputy Diaz was shot and killed through). And his family was also provided with high security.

According to Court Executive Officer Jim Perry, the closure occurred due to a mistake by the Yolo County Sheriff's Office.

Perry told the media:
"It was not intended that anyone was to be excluded. The court made no order to anyone to lock the doors"
Sheriff Ed Prieto told the media that someone:
"Forgot to tell somebody to unlock the doors... I think it was just an honest mistake, but somebody dropped the ball, and we should look into it."
How big a mistake was this? That's the real question. It was big enough that the Davis Enterprise which tends to be rather forgiving and deferent to law enforcement used the term "bungle" to describe the chain of events.

Judge David Rosenberg was quoted in the Sacramento Bee saying that the hearing should have been open to the public and the media.
"The doors are supposed to be unlocked when court is in session. This kind of hearing should have been open to the public. There are no excuses. It shouldn't have happened."
The Sacramento Bee went further, quoting several lawyers who had grave concerns about the proceedings, especially given the very personal interest that the Yolo County Sheriff's department has in this case, on the one hand, one of their colleagues is the victim of this horrific crime and on the other hand they are charged with providing security and enforcing the rules for this case.
Several lawyers said Wednesday night that for the trial to remain in Yolo County, the court system would have to appear more even-handed.

Stewart Katz, a Sacramento criminal defense and civil rights attorney, called Wednesday's events "flat-out wrong" and said the criminal justice system has to treat cases equally, regardless of the victims involved.

"You have a situation, obviously, where people are acting out of emotion," he said. "But it sends the wrong message to everyone. It undermines confidence in the system when you have people who are personally involved getting to decide how the system operates."
Sheriff Ed Prieto for his part promised that this would not happen again.

The good news here is that this was just an arraignment hearing and the Sheriff's department obviously got enough heat and criticism for their handling of this event that it will not, as the Sheriff promised, happen again. In terms of actual damage, this rates very low.

On the other hand, I do not think you can simply dismiss this as a mistake. It just happened to occur during proceedings that very personally affected the Yolo County Sheriff's office. No one can deny the horrific tragedy that occurred. On other hand, these are professionals and if they cannot fairly and properly administer their normal duties for this case, then maybe it should be moved to a different venue.

The fact that these "mistakes" just happened to occur in a case directly impacting the Sheriff's department does not pass muster. Fortunately, in the scheme of things this is not the biggest problem in the world, as long as it does not repeat itself. However, it does not seem reasonable that we can merely shrug this off as an honest mistake.

Frankly from the standpoint of their fallen colleague, this is the last thing that needed to happen. It took the focus off the horrendous tragedy and put it back on the Sheriff's department. It also makes us all wonder if this was merely a protection instinct on the part of grieving colleagues or is there something that they do not want the public to know. For the sake of decency, we need to give them the benefit of the doubt for right now, but the situation is no less troubling.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed on Behalf of Farm Worker Who Died Due to Heat Stroke

In one of the worst human rights abuses I have heard of in recent memory in this area, a wrongful death lawsuit was filed yesterday at the Merced Superior Court for the death of 17 year old Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez. The lawsuit is for wrongful death, general negligence and premises liability.

Maria Isabel, a 17-year-old farm worker from Oaxaca collapsed on May 14 while working for a Merced Farm Laborer in a vineyard owned by West Coast Grape Farming outside of Stockton. Maria Isabel, who was two-months pregnant, had worked nine hours in temperatures that reached 100 degrees inside the vineyard. Her body temperature was 108.4 degrees when she was finally taken to a hospital nearly two hours after collapsing. She died on May 16.

The Vanguard spoke yesterday evening with Merlyn Calderon from the United Farm Workers on the Vanguard Radio Show on KDRT 101.5 FM.

Ms. Calderon told us this was Maria Isabel's third day on the job. By 3 pm in 100 degree heat, she had already worked nine hours.

In 2005, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a heat regulation act to protect workers from heat. Among other things this requires employers to provide shade, water, and periodic breaks to laborers. Maria Isabel should have had access to shade and water. However, there was no water provided on the site until 10:30 am when the temperature was already in the 90s. To make matters worse the water was a 10 minute walk away and the workers only received a 10 minute break. Meaning that there was no realistic access to water.

At the point at which, Maria Isabel's boyfriend noticed she was in trouble around 3 pm, she collapsed. The supervisor came over and stood four or five feet from her and told her boyfriend not to worry, this happens all the time, all she needed was some rubbing alcohol to cool her off.

She was placed in the van which was sitting in the sun with no air conditioning. They had to wait until all the workers came back before departing.

There were several additional delays before Maria was taken to a clinic.

Merlyn Calderon told us:
"While in route the foreman called saying, "If you take her to a clinic don’t say she was working [for the contractor]. Say she became sick because she was jogging to get exercise. Since she’s underage, it will create big problems for us." She was so sick an ambulance took her to the hospital."
By the time she got to the hospital her body temperature was 108.4 degree. Her heart stopped numerous times during the next two days.

Doctors said if emergency medical help had been summoned or she had been taken to the hospital sooner, she might have survived. Moreover most of this could have been prevented by simply following the heat regulation law.

Merlyn Calderon told us that there are 80,000 farms in the state of California but only 180 inspectors. She said she wanted to remind people that "the laws on the books are not the laws in the field."

Yesterday the coroner officially ruled the cause of death as heat stroke.

In addition to the lawsuit, UFW is working to give workers the tools to organize in order to prevent future tragedies.

As I said at the onset, this is one of the worst cases of human rights abuses I have seen in this area.

They are not sure that Maria Isabel knew that she was pregnant, apparently her fiance, Folrentino, did not know until after her death.

There is additional information available on the United Farm Workers website.

Merlyn Calderon said that no one from the companies involved have even had the decency to express condolences to Maria's family.
"To date no one from the companies involved has had the decency to express condolences to Maria's family--not the farm labor contractor, not the company who owns the field where Maria labored, nor the wine distributor. There have been no letters, no one showed up at the funeral--nothing. The only reaction they had was to try to shift part of the blame of Maria’s death onto her fiancĂ©, Florentino."
UFW is encouraging people to sign condolence cards to send to Maria's mother in Mexico.

For me the worst part of this is not only the blatant disregard for human life shown by the supervisor and the company, but also the fact that laws are on the books supposedly to protect against such occurrences and there is no enforcement and no resources to enforce with only 180 inspectors to cover tens of thousands of farms. How hard is it to provide people with water, periodic shade and breaks?

While this occurred down in Merced, Yolo County undoubtedly with its vast farms and agriculture undoubted has similar issues that we need to be much more aware of.

Last weekend, the Latino Caucus of the California Democratic Party passed a resolution urging the Governor and the State Legislature to provide additional resources for the necessary enforcement of regulations that protect farmworkers from heat related injuries and deaths.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Commentary: Redistricting is the focus again

We usually do not venture far outside of Yolo County and local Assembly and Senate races here, but this is an issue that will affect us all. The Governor has once again placed his own redistricting proposal before the voters. Back in 2005, his plan failed along with his other packages. Now he will try again.

The proposal is designed to change redistricting of state legislative districts (not congressional ones probably for constitutional reasons) from the Legislature to a 14-member commission.

The governor has already raised $2.4 million for the initiative.

Last weekend, the measure was opposed by the CA State Democratic Party but supported and in fact written by California Common Cause.

Maybe the change is a good idea, maybe not. We start by looking at motivations. California has had strong majorities of Democrats in both houses during the Governor's tenure. Does anyone think that the Governor would have been so eager for reform if the tables were reversed? I would guess not.

Second point. Democrats actually built those large majorities in the 1990s. The 1990s legislative boundaries were drawn by the court who took over the process during political disputes. So even if an impartial body (and by all accounts this would be somewhat impartial five Dems, five Reps, and four independents (whatever that means), redrew the boundaries, it seems likely that Democrats would retain control.

What is interesting is the role of Common Cause in all of this. I understand people think they want more competitive districts. But we saw what a competitive race in the Assembly brought--massive amounts of money and independent expenditures by the special interests. This fall we will see the same in the 5th Senate District. It will be the battle of big money.

How will this advance the cause of reform groups like Common Cause to have more big money raises again? Does that process tend to lead to more competitive elections and thus more moderate politicians? Not necessarily. It does increase the power of the special interests. So it is kind of a "pick your poison" moment for Common Cause.

I remember when politicians in the 1990s thought term limits would solve their problems. Now I suspect that most at least who are familiar with Sacramento are opposed to term limits. However, the recent term limit reform was more of a power grab more than anything else . Now they think that redistricting is the answer.

The problem for state Republicans is that California is a state that since the early 1990s has leaned heavily Democratic. If you take out the aberrant 1994 which was the most heavily anti-Democratic year in memory, since 1992, the only Republican to win a major statewide race is Arnold who let's just say, had things going for him that were quite unusual. Since 1994, Democrats have won the Presidential vote three times, they have handily won the Senate vote, and they have won most of the major constitutional offices. They have obtained, increased, and maintained large legislative majorities starting in 1996 when they surprised many by retaking the Assembly.

Somehow Republicans keep expecting that if they just change the rules enough, such as by having term limits, or now by neutralizing legislative role in redistricting, that they can regain the advantage.

The bottom line here is that this measure may or may not pass. I will likely oppose it. But it probably will not have the positive impact that its backers believe.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Slain Officer Leaves Behind Young Children and Family

It was a sad irony to note the confluence of events. In November of 2005 a CHP Officer was killed. This past week, the death sentence was handed down to his killer. Now just a few days later, a Yolo County Deputy Sheriff Jose Antonio Diaz was shot through his bullet proof vest during a pursuit of a man who was driving at speeds over 100 mph with a baby girl inside of the car.

The suspect has since been captured and the baby girl is safe and in foster care until a relative comes forward.

Meanwhile the young sheriff's officer, only 37 years old has died. To make this story more tragic, the officer is the single father of three young children--ages 4, 6, and 14.

It gets more tragic. Diaz was engaged to marry his fiancee on August 8. She has five children of her own.

With the suspect now in custody, the focus must turn to ways to help the family of this young officer. The Vanguard will be following up on ways in which to provide assistance to the fiancee and the children.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Commentary: Marriage Equality Comes to Yolo County

On February 14, 2008, I was at the County Clerk's Office once again covering County Clerk Freddie Oakley's protest against laws prohibiting the marriage of same-sex partners during her lunch hour. The day when Freddie Oakley would actually be able to marry such partners seemed hopelessly far off in the distance.

All of that has changed with a recent court ruling that has left open a window of time perhaps between now and Election Day when California same-sex partners can wed. Who knows what the Election Day will bring, perhaps the run on same-sex marriages during that time will convince people that the sky will not fall and that same-sex partners can hardly do more damage to the institution of marriage than has already been inflicted by high divorce rates and infidelity. Maybe.

Election Day must have seemed very far away yesterday for partners who have been waiting a lifetime to be legally and officially married. What it means to be legally and officially married will probably have to wait a few months or even years for the courts and the legislature to figure it out. But again, that likely was far from people's minds yesterday.

I have to say one of the worst images of the day was that of the protester who barged into someone's wedding.

The one plastered on television was Yuriy Popko:
"I came from the Soviet Union, and this is judicial tyranny – they're starting to regulate religion."
I am a very strong supporter of free speech, but whether you agree with gay marriage or not, shouldn't people have the right not to have you barge into their wedding, a day they will remember for the rest of their lives? Protest outside if you must. I find that a very disgraceful act that does not reflect well on that individual's faith.

Meanwhile controversy spread quickly across cyberspace in Davis as the revelations of an email from the owner of Ken's Bike and Ski Shop circulated and were posted on the Davis Wiki.

People were calling on the boycott of the bicycle shop. It was a letter to County Clerk Freddie Oakley.

The letter urges the County Clerk to
"uphold California law and maintain public order by NOT issuing any same-sex 'marriage' licenses unless and until the laws regarding marriage in California are altered. The separation of powers provision of the California Constitution clearly states that laws may only be changed by the legislature (with the governor) or the initiative process. The courts may rule on the constitutionality of existing laws, but may not circumvent the Constitution by writing new laws."
What the courts did of course was declare a law prohibiting same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Without such a law, local jurisdictions then have the right to determine their own policy.

He goes on to state:
"The applicable statutes (California Family Code, Sections 505, 300, 308.5, 301, etc) clearly state that marriage is between a man and a woman. County Clerks may not change the wording on these applications, and if in defiance of the law they do so, the California Department of Public Health must reject any such altered applications, as was properly done in 2004 by the Office of Vital Records."
He is correct that County Clerks may not change the wording--but the court has the authority to declare such laws unconstitutional by ruling that they violate the equal protection under the law. The courts have perfect authority to make such a ruling which in effect strikes this language from the law.

Then the key part of the letter:
"Any attempt to circumvent these laws, absent a change in the laws governing these forms and the process for their use, is dangerous and unconstitutional."
The courts of course have authority over what is and is not unconstitutional. In other words, the action is not unconstitutional unless the courts say so. By ruling the portions of the statute unconstitutional, they have negated those laws.

The owner of Ken's Bike and Ski Shop of course has every right to express his opinion on such a matter. On the other hand, the wisdom of such an act in a town such as Davis is questionable. He should have expected that his letter would get out into the community and would likely cause harm to his business.

Meanwhile I can respect the views of those who believe that same-sex marriages go against their religious teaching. I do not wish to impose my morality on others anymore than they would impose theirs on me. What I do not understand is how a religion based on the teachings of love and forgiveness becomes so hateful and intolerant when the issue of gay marriage comes up (as opposed to all of the, in my book, far greater evils of the world that often do not even register a complaint).

The fight in California this fall, I am afraid will be polarizing and ugly. I think that is unfortunate. It is unfortunate that an act that is supposed to bind love and understanding will instead foster hatred and polarization.

Will the ban on same-sex marriages pass in November? It is an interesting question. California for example has tried to pass a parental notification law for several years and has not been able to. It will be interesting to see if the resolve against Gay Marriage runs deeper than that against certain aspects of abortion law.

In the meantime, it is my sincere hope that those who were finally able to marry are able to find peace and fulfillment within their new relationship.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Monday, June 16, 2008

More on the Tasering Incident

Matt Rexroad's blog drew my attention this morning to a letter to the editor in the Woodland Daily Democrat. The letter was critical of the police's handling of the incident that led to the death of Ricardo Abrahams.

Unfortunately, instead of rightfully being critical of the actions of the police on the scene, the writer resorts name calling and charges of racism.

For instance he writes: "violently and viciously killed by our fine and highly trained Woodland Police Department." He goes on to say, "some of these police officers are no more than group of thugs with badges."

As we discussed earlier on this blog, the death of Ricardo Abrahams has left us with numerous questions about the handling of that case, the police's overall handling of people who clearly have mental disabilities, among other things. I think it is absolutely right to be critical of the handling of this case based on what we currently know. There will be a full investigation that should tell us some of the details that we do not currently know and on that basis, the matter will be adjudicated.

That said, while I may understand the frustration of the letter writer, he goes to far, draws too far and too wide a net, and uses language that actually serves to undermine his case.

Matt Rexroad is inspired to write a response letter to the Woodland Daily Democrat. I probably agree with him on about 90 percent of what he said.

For example:
"Braun has no idea what happened to Abrahams. None of us do. The investigation is not complete. Until it is complete, we need to keep our minds open to the facts that are given to us.

Braun uses terms such as “violently and viciously killed”; he plays the race card and calls our officers “thugs with badges.” How much more uninformed can he be?"
He goes on to say,
"Braun needs to wait until the facts are known before making such statements."
I would in fact go further than that, I do not see any purposes served in using that kind of language--even after all the facts are known.

However, there is one thing that does stand out in Mr. Rexroad's letter than I could not disagree with more.
"They deserve the benefit of the doubt (and more) each and every time."
The police are in a position of extreme public trust. They have the right to take private citizens into custody. They have the right under extreme conditions to legally end someone's life. With that trust that we give them comes a high level of responsibility for which I do not think they deserve the benefit of the doubt when something goes wrong.

I think we have the right based on the facts at hand to be skeptical and respectfully (key word) question their handling of a given situation. The officers involved without doubt deserve to have a full and impartial inquiry into their actions. Moreover, they deserve regardless of their guilt or innocence not to be called derogatory terms. They also deserve not to suffer collective guilt for the actions of one or more individuals.

However, "benefit of the doubt" goes beyond withholding judgment in given case. It suggests expressing support for these officers in a judgment call type situation. They deserve not to be thrown under the bus, but having spoken to numerous law enforcement people, I have yet to hear one say that given what we know they did the right thing.

Mr. Rexroad also said:
"Woodland Police Officers are well trained. They also are forced to make decisions quickly and without the benefit of the comforts associated with post event analysis."
They are well-trained, but part of my criticism is whether they were trained well enough to handle this situation. Again, this is based on what we know. They get a call from this facility who have a person who is out of control. The response from the police is to try to issue orders. The person is non-responsive. What is the proper way to deal with a non-responsive individual who is known to have mental disorders at the time? That is a question that we need to understand. Pretty much every person I spoke to who actually are involved in law enforcement has told me, using the taser in this situation is not the best course of action.

Second, it appears that they used the taser four times and yet it did not serve it's desired purposes. Again, why is the response of the officers to repeat the scenario if it is not working.

Third, it appears that two officers simultaneously used the taser. Is that an appropriate course of action?

I understand that they are forced to make their decisions quickly and without the benefits of post-event analysis, part of the scrutiny here has to be on the training. What are they trained to do in these kinds of situations?

On a different but related topic

My wife drew my attention to this yesterday. Apparently, one of the new rages is a "Taser Party." Kind of like a Tupperware Party.

Apparently Taser International is marking their products to the civilian market in addition to law enforcement.

I did not see this particular report, although I was able to Google similar news stories. One of the things that was striking was the person talking about how safe it was. Here we have trained police officers struggling with issues on Taser usage and we want civilians to have the capacity to use Tasers?

I will give Taser Internation credit for at least requiring its customers to submit to a criminal background, but I am increasing uncomfortable with the way the police use Tasers, I am much less comfortable with having lesser trained individuals carrying around these types of weapons.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Commentary: Death Penalty Case Weighs on Our System

In Friday's Sacramento Bee is a story about Judge Stephen Mock ordering the death in the killing of a California Highway Patrol Officer in 2005. Judge Mock ordered the death of one of the convicted killers of the officer, a man who is just 22 years old.

I have little sympathy for a person who would kill an officer of the law or frankly anyone else.

And yet, I have long been against the death penalty. I do not believe the state has the right to end another's life. I also do not believe there is a way to apply it fairly across the board and as a result people who lack the means to afford good legal representation systematically receive the death penalty in far higher numbers for similar crimes.

I have barely covered this case but it weighs more heavily on me than most. Perhaps that is because at two separate points in time I was asked to intervene on behalf of the defendant.

The first time occurred over a year and a half ago when the defense was trying to get Judge Mock disqualified.

At the time, Judge Mock was the lead Superior Court Judge in Yolo County. He had the responsibility of assigning cases to judges. He no longer is in that position, it is a position held by Judge Dave Rosenberg.

At the same time, his wife was Chief Deputy District Attorney. It was her job to assign cases to prosecutors.

The Vanguard had covered this issue prior to the December 2006 article and in fact, the relationship between Judge Mock and Ann Hurd seemed problematic in some other cases I was aware.

It would be reported:
"An out-of-county judge, specially appointed to hear the controversy, has already decided in favor of Mock. That judge ruled that though it was a "close call," Mock can remain impartial."
A year and a half later, Judge Mock is signing the order to send an individual to death row. Maybe he was completely fair in the trial, I was not there. The appearance of a conflict here is important though. The people prosecuting this case are the same people that are colleagues and underlings of Judge Mock's wife.

The fact that I provided the defense attorneys with information and witnesses to Judge Mock gives me some connection to this case.

I am a strong believer in transparency in government. I think the fact that Steve Mock is judge in this county means that his wife should not be the chief deputy DA in this county. That is no slam against Ann Hurd, I have seen her in action and she is very good at what she does. But I think for the sake of both of their credibility there needs to be some distance.

Ironically, my indirect involvement in this case did not end there however. I had a second opportunity to intervene in this case a few weeks ago. Apparently Rick Gore was one of the investigators into the case and every case he was involved in is now in some sort of question. In this case, I was unable to help and some time in the future a man will die.

We have a system where the difference between life and death is based on very narrow distinctions and findings of fact. It is based on the ability of lawyers to provide good defense. It is based on the ability of the defendants to pay for these lawyers to provide good defense. It is based on a whole host of facts and matters that should not matter.

The innocence project has freed many people who were wrongly convicted in courts of law. Some of that is based on newly available technology such as DNA testing. But at its core, the reason that innocent people are convicted of crimes is that the justice system is based on the work of human beings and human beings make errors. Not only do they make errors that lead to them committing crimes but they make errors in their attempts to determine who did what and what the appropriate punishment should be for a given crime.

A person who is freed after serving 17 years cannot recoup their 17 years in prison. But at least they can be freed to start a new life, such as it is. You cannot bring back the dead. Perhaps it would be better if we did not have to try.

I have seen very little evidence that the death penalty is a deterrent to future crimes committed by other individuals. I have seen very little evidence that the death penalty works better than life without parole. It would sure make these matters just a little easier.

In the meantime, I will continue to ponder how I played a very small part in a case, that I have no direct knowledge of nor do I know any of the parties.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting