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An Innocent Murderer: The Flaws Of Capital Punishment

1907 words - 8 pages

What would you do if you were suddenly arrested for a crime that you didn’t commit? What if you were taken to the station, interrogated, and booked for murder? Would you stick to your innocence, or possibly take a plea bargain just to get past the constant questioning from authority? Would you write to others to try and prove your innocence? During the course of many years, this has happened to numerous people. Many people have been ripped from their daily lives and thrown into a cell. The individuals are just waiting for the day when someone will prove them innocent. In the past 39 years, 117 people who were serving time on death row have been proved innocent and released from prison (Daily 36). Over time, critics have presented flaws in the judicial system that are leading many to question the use of capital punishment.
One of the most fundamental pieces of a trial is eyewitness statements. However, eyewitness statements can contribute flaws to the judicial system because they often change. The case of Cameron Todd Willingham centered on the idea that Willingham started a fire that killed his own children, making him a murderer. One of the eyewitnesses, Diane Barbee, first told authorities that Willingham seemed absolutely “hysterical”. She also mentioned that the front of the house exploded during the fire. On the other hand, after learning that fire investigators were suspecting Willingham of murder, Barbee’s testimony began to change. Barbee then told authorities that the smoke coming from the house was minimal and not very thick. As critics looked back at the case, they also noticed that Diane Barbee testified differently during the trial than in her eyewitness statements. During the trial, Barbee testified that Willingham didn’t attempt to break back into the house. However, Barbee was also absent for part of the fire because she left to call 911. Both Barbee’s daughter and firemen and police who were on the scene, reported that Willingham was frantically trying to get back into the house. Many testified that Willingham was even handcuffed for his own safety. In addition to Diane Barbee’s testimony, another eyewitness changed his testimony drastically. Father Monaghan, a police chaplain, first testified that Willingham seemed to be a father who was so upset that his children were inside. Nonetheless, as investigators began to suspect that Willingham was an arsonist, Monaghan stated that Willingham seemed too emotional and he believed that Willingham had something to do with starting the fire (Grann 7-8). A cognitive psychologist by the name of Itiel Dror once assessed changes in witness statements and said “The mind is not a passive machine. Once you believe something – once you expect something – it changes the way you perceive something and the way your memory recalls it” (Grann 8.) This rang true in the case of Willingham. Both eyewitnesses, Barbee and Monaghan, changed their testimony after being told that Willingham was being...

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