View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Convicted murderer freed

Douglas Warney has a 68 IQ and AIDS.

He also has a criminal record that includes assault and robbery.

And up until last week, that record included a murder conviction.

Last week, Warney was released after 10 years in prison for murder.

A murder he did not commit.

In 1996, Warney confessed to killing William Beason in Rochester. But he then recanted that confession, and there is evidence that police interrogators may have helped to plant ideas in his 68 IQ brain.

The evidence just did not add up.

A car he said he escaped in was not available to him at the time of the murder. The bloody clothes he said he took off could not be found. The cut he said he sustained did not exist. He was somewhere else at the time of the killing. The blood found at the scene was that of the victim and another person – but not Warney.

Yet there was that fishy confession.

And Warney was not a model citizen.


He almost got the death penalty, but the jury settled for the lesser charge of second degree murder.

So he sat in prison a convicted murderer.

Until his case got the attention of the Innocence Project.

Using DNA testing not available just a decade ago, the Innocence Project got permission to test the unidentified blood found at the scene, and discovered it was that of Eldred Johnson.

Johnson is already serving time for another killing. He has now confessed to killing Beason.

Warney is now a free man. He just lost 10 years of his life.

It can be argued that this is proof that the system works. He was not found guilty of
first degree murder in the first place and thus not executed, allowing time for the truth to surface. He was eventually freed.

But what if he had not caught the attention of the Innocence Project? What if the DNA testing used to overturn his conviction were not now available?

How many other innocent men and women are serving sentences for homicide and other serious crimes?

How many have been executed?

What if they don’t get the attention of someone who can help? What if DNA tests are not permitted? What if DNA testing won’t help in their cases?

And who cares – especially if they are people with criminal records, AIDS and a 68 IQ?

Or Black?

Or poor?

Or anything else we don’t like?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is pretty clear that in places like the United States, “the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity `are very rare, if not practically non-existent.’” (2267)

But that doesn’t prevent situations like this in which a man sits in jail for a decade for a crime he did not commit.

The system worked. Sort of. But only after 10 years and outside interference.

We need to keep working to improve the system to prevent more cases like this.

Promoting the death penalty is not a way to improve the situation.

It just puts blood on our hands.

And sometimes, innocent blood.


Blogger Steve Bogner said...

Exactly. Amen, brother!

10:01 AM  

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