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Capital punishment kills innocent people

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It is unconscionable enough that the United States is known to have executed severely mentally ill and mentally retarded inmates.

More horrific still is the knowledge that our nation has already executed at least two innocent people.

In February 2004, the state of Texas carried out the death sentence of Cameron Todd Willingham, who had been convicted of setting a fire that killed his three young daughters.

Willingham never stopped declaring his innocence throughout his thirteen years in prison, and arson experts finally confirmed that the fire was accidental--two years after the wrongfully-convicted man's execution.

More recently, in May 2012, Columbia University law professor James Liebman announced his finding that Texas executed Carlos DeLuna in 1989 for a murder he didn't commit. Liebman indicated that a combination of sloppy police work and poor legal representation led to DeLuna's wrongful conviction in the stabbing death of gas station attendant Wanda Lopez.

Like Willingham, DeLuna maintained his innocence from the moment of his arrest to the moment of his death by lethal injection, but to no avail.

According to Death Penalty Information Center executive director Richard Dieter, "If a new trial was somehow able to be conducted today, a jury would acquit DeLuna," but that is no consolation to DeLuna's friends and family, or to any American who values justice.

A third possible victim of wrongful conviction and execution is Troy Davis, who was put to death in September 2011 in Georgia for the murder of off-duty police officer Mark McPhail.

Davis, who also insisted he was innocent until the end, was executed despite the recantations of seven of the witnesses in his trial and another suspect's possible confession to the murder of McPhail.

Since 1973, thanks to exonerating evidence, 141 people in 26 states (including three in California) have been released from death row. That's 141 innocent people who were scheduled to be executed.

How many more wrongfully-convicted death row inmates have yet to be exculpated?

The US judicial system is far from infallible: The National Registry of Exonerations lists over one thousand known cases of Americans who--just since 1989--have been cleared of all charges after being convicted of crimes they did not commit.

With 79 exonerations, California is second only to Texas in the list of known wrongful convictions.

It is possible that California has already executed any number of innocent people, and--given the imperfections of our legal system mentioned above--there is no way to guarantee that any state that employs capital punishment won't put an innocent person to death in the future.

For this and numerous other reasons, California voters should approve Proposition 34, which replaces the state's death penalty with a sentence of life in prison without parole.

While Prop. 34 can't stop wrongful convictions, it is the only way to prevent California from executing people for crimes they didn't commit.

Save an innocent person: This Tuesday, vote YES on 34.