Since 1973, at least 140 people have walked off our nation's death rows after new evidence revealed that they were sentenced to die for crimes they did not commit. That's more than one innocent person exonerated for every 10 who's been executed. Hundreds more have been exonerated from long prison sentences as a result of advances in DNA testing. Wrongful convictions like these mean victims' families suffer while the real killers remain at large and tax dollars are wasted.
One might think that DNA is a magic bullet. Kirk Bloodsworth knows different after being sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit. He testified before a Maryland legislative committee that DNA exonerations only reveal that murder cases are often riddled with problems, including mistaken eyewitnesses, incompetent lawyers, shoddy forensics, unreliable jailhouse snitches and coerced confessions.
DNA evidence doesn't solve these problems — it can only tell us just how bad they are — and it exists in only about 10 percent of criminal cases, far fewer than one would think from watching TV crime shows like CSI. Even Maryland's tight evidentiary requirements in death penalty cases don't eliminate human error.
Maryland has failed to find an evenhanded, just and fair-minded way to apply the death penalty. The only way to prevent executing an innocent person is to repeal the death penalty in our state.
The writer is Mid-Atlantic regional director of Amnesty International USA.