The Controversy over the Death Penalty Essay

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The Controversy over the Death Penalty

HE STOOD AT THE THRESHOLD OF THE EXECUTION chamber in Huntsville, Texas,18 minutes from death by lethal injection, when official word finally came that the needle wouldn't be needed that day The rumors of a 30day reprieve were true. Ricky McGinn, a 43-year-old mechanic found guilty of raping and killing his 12-yearold stepdaughter, will get his chance to prove his innocence with advanced DNA testing that hadn't been available at the time of his 1994 conviction. The double cheeseburger, french fries and Dr Pepper he requested for dinner last Thursday night won't be his last meal after all.

Another galvanizing moment in the long-running debate over capital punishment: last week Gov. George
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Because Texas provides only $ 2,500 for investigators and expert witnesses in death-penalty appeals (enough for one day's work, if that), it took an unpaid investigator from out of state, Tina Church, to getthe ball rolling.

After NEWSWEEK shone a light on the then obscure case ("A Life or Death Gamble," May 29), Scheck and the A-team of the Texas defense bar joined the appeal with a well-crafted brief to the trial court. When the local judge surprised observers by recommending that the testing be done, it caught Bush's attention. The hard-line higher state court and board of pardons both said no to the DNA testswith no public explanation. This time, though, the eyes of the nation were on Texas, and Bush stepped in.

But what about the hundreds of other capital cases that unfold far from the glare of a presidential campaign? As science sprints ahead of the law, assembly-line executions are making even supporters of the death penalty increasingly uneasy.

McGinn's execution would have been the fifth in two weeks in Texas, the 132d on Bush's watch. Is that pace too fast? We now know that prosecutorial mistakes are not as rare as once assumed; competent counsel not as common. Since the Supreme Court allowed reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, 87 death-row inmates have
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