In 1983, an 11-year-old North Carolina girl
was raped and suffocated, her body later found in a soybean field. Two mentally disabled
half-brothers, Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, quickly became targets of the investigation.
After hours of interrogation, McCollum and Brown each confessed. They were convicted
and sentenced to die. Sounds like well-served justice. Public officials
in North Carolina and across the country praised their death penalty conviction. But here’s
the problem: McCullom and Brown were innocent. After 30 years on death row, DNA evidence
revealed another man, who’d lived near the scene and had a long record of sexual assaults,
was the murderer. He was never investigated during the case.
We nearly executed two men for a crime they did not commit. That shows just how dangerous
the death penalty really is. Even if you think that some people deserve to die, governments
make mistakes. That means having to accept the unacceptable: innocent people will die.
That can’t be undone and we cannot compensate for it the way we can with mistaken imprisonment.
What if the death penalty doesn’t make us any safer? It hasn’t deterred crime more than
life sentence without parole, nor have we seen a spike in murder rates following its
abolishment in different states. Innocent people can and have been wrongfully
sentence to die for many reasons. Take Curtis McCarty. He was sentenced to death for the
murder of a police officer’s daughter. After 22 years in prison he was exonerated. He returned
home to his terminally ill mother and now adult son, and a granddaughter he’d never
held. 22 years of Curtis McCarty’s life were stolen from him because a forensic chemist
with the Oklahoma City Police Department either intentionally altered or lost evidence related
to the case. That same chemist participated in over 3,000 other cases; 23 resulted in
death sentences. Does that make you feel safe? How many more innocent people should we let
die before we abolish the death penalty once and for all?