Dear Joseph,
In response to a letter several months ago in which the writer spoke critically of religious people who favored capital punishment, you wrote that the Bible approved of capital punishment for premeditated murder. The whole tone of your response suggested that you clearly favored the Bible's position. I'm curious if the recent well-publicized instances in which DNA evidence has exonerated people who were sentenced to death have caused you to reconsider your support of capital punishment?

Dear Curious,
In recent months, several cases have surfaced in which DNA evidence indicated that people who were convicted of murder were innocent. This evidence has indeed affected me. I strongly believe that the fact that we now have a powerful tool like DNA testing mandates that such evidence be considered not only in all capital cases but in any case where someone might be sentenced to prison. Although it might be expensive, this is an expense well worth incurring, for what could be more vile than having an innocent person executed or, for that matter, incarcerated for life when we have available a technique that could have exonerated him?

The person most associated with the use of DNA evidence in capital cases is lawyer Barry Scheck, creator of the Innocence Project at Yeshiva University's Cardozo Law School. Mr. Scheck has worked with remarkable diligence and idealism. He is responsible for freeing a number of people who were wrongfully convicted. However, as you might recall, Mr. Scheck also worked on the defense team at O.J. Simpson's trial. I believe that Mr. Scheck, if he indeed wants many Americans to take the Innocence Project seriously, should make a clear statement concerning the DNA evidence in the Simpson case. In the absence of such a statement, some people will remain suspicious about how DNA evidence might be manipulated in court.

What advocates sometimes neglect to point out is that the DNA evidence cuts both ways. Just as the lack of such evidence can point to a convicted defendant's innocence, its presence might well point to a defendant's guilt. I therefore continue to believe that there are instances in which capital punishment is an appropriate punishment. In addition to well-known killers such as Charles Manson (in whose case DNA evidence would have been irrelevant because he ordered the murders of his victims but did not personally carry them out) and Sirhan Sirhan, I think of the very recent killings in New York City in which two gunmen robbed a Wendy's restaurant and murdered five employees because they feared that these people might later testify against them. I believe that by their actions, these two murderers forfeited their own right to live.

However, I do believe that before we execute a murderer we should have a standard of evidence that goes well beyond a reasonable doubt.

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