An Inexplicable Vote for Death
Paul Gregory House was convicted of murdering a neighbor
in 1985, before the era of DNA typing. The Tennessee jury that found him guilty
was told that the semen found on the body of the neighbor, Carolyn Muncey, matched
his blood type. The jury, citing the fact that Mrs. Muncey had been raped, said
Mr. House should be sentenced to death.
Its hard to believe that the jurors would have come to that
conclusion if they had known that the semens DNA matched that of Mrs.
Munceys husband, Hubert, not the defendant. A 15-judge United States Court
of Appeals panel in Cincinnati that heard a request to reopen the case knew
that. Yet the judges recently voted, 8 to 7, that Mr. House should neither be
freed nor given a new trial. They were not swayed by six witnesses implicating
Mr. Muncey. Two said Mr. Muncey had told them he had killed his wife while he
That eight judges would condemn a man to be executed under these
circumstances is shocking. Whats worse is that the judges divided along
partisan lines. The eight judges appointed by a Republican president voted to
keep Mr. House on the road to the death penalty. Six judges appointed by a Democrat
wanted to free him, and the seventh called for a new trial. Its hard to
dismiss the thought that the Republicans voted as a show of support for capital
punishment, not on the merits of the case.
For Mr. House, the next stop is the Supreme Court. For
the rest of us, his case should serve as a reminder that when we elect a president,
we are also deciding the makeup of our courts.
-New York Times editorial
October 9, 2004