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December 06, 2005 - Image 4

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The Michigan Daily, 2005-12-06

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4 - The Michigan Daily - Tuesday, December 6, 2005


c Me kbdigandail

Editor in Chief

Editorial Page Editors

Managing Editor


Unsigned editorials reflect the official position of the Daily's editorial board. All
other signed articles and illustrations represent solely the views of their author.

Why don't
you just execute
us and get rid of
all of this!"
- Barazan Ibrahim, in a courtroom
outburst during the trial of his
half-brother, deposed Iraqi Presi-
dent Saddam Hussein, as reported
yesterday by The Associated Press.

xN '
\ }Ta :NJ M f

Murdered by the state?

young tough
shoots a
drunk off-
duty cop in a pool
hall in a rough part of
San Antonio in 1984.
The wounded cop's
buddies search the
kid's house that night
without a warrant,
botching any chance
for a conviction. But they're able to get the
17-year-old for an unrelated, unsolved mur-
der in the neighborhood that happened four
months before. A friend of the injured offi-
cer brings the unsolved murder's sole eye-
witness - an illegal immigrant who was
shot nine times - into the station. Though
the witness has twice before denied recog-
nizing the kid's photo, this time he finally
identifies the youth as the shooter. The kid
is convicted, says he was framed and pleads
his innocence up to his execution in 1993.
It'd make for the plot of a decent movie
- and, unfortunately, that movie would be
strictly based on actual events.
The Houston Chronicle reported last month
that the state of Texas likely killed an innocent
man when it executed Ruben Cantu, the fellow
in the plot sketch above. Cantu was far from
a model citizen. He was involved in gangs
and drugs, although he had no prior criminal
convictions. His alibi for the murder was that
he'd gone to Waco to steal pickups. He admit-
ted to shooting the off-duty officer, Joe De La
Luz, although Cantu maintained it was in self-
defense after an argument over a pool game.
But it also appears that Cantu was inno-
cent of the crime for which he was given a

lethal injection. There was never any physi-
cal evidence tying him to the murder; he was
convicted based on the testimony of a single
eyewitness. That man, Juan Moreno, now says
that he buckled under pressure from police and
falsely identified Cantu two days after the De
La Luz shooting. The head juror, the judge and
both the defense attorney and the prosecutor
now have doubts about Cantu's guilt.
With a national debate about the death pen-
alty surrounding the execution last Friday of
the thousandth person since the U.S. Supreme
Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976,
I was surprised the revelations about Cantu's
trial didn't receive greater attention. This real-
ly looks like a case where the government put
a man to death for a crime he didn't commit.
That, in my mind, ought to be a big deal.
Part of the reason why the Chronicle's
article didn't make much of an impression
nationally, I suspect, is that we've come to
expect flaws in the justice system - even in
capital cases. Since 1976, over 120 people
across the country have been released from
death row, despite having been found guilty
beyond a reasonable doubt. Tales of ill-pre-
pared, inexperienced public defenders falling
asleep in court, of convictions based on the
testimony of lying jailhouse snitches and of
sloppy forensics labs that seem to contami-
nate evidence as soon as it's received are so
common they've become numbing.
But a bigger reason why Ruben Cantu is not
a household name, I worry, is that many people
just don't find what happened to him that outra-
geous. Aside from the base retributive glee of
putting vicious criminals to death, many death
penalty supporters argue that executions are
a necessary deterrent to crime. Yes, this does

means that some innocent people will be put
to death. No human institution - our judicial
system included - is perfect. But won't we
save more innocent lives that would otherwise
be lost to crime?
I've seen evidence both ways on the question
of whether the death penalty deters crime, and
my limited experience with research on such
broad social concerns has mainly convinced
me that these questions are frighteningly dif-
ficult to answer with any certainty.
But the death penalty debate in this country;
it too often seems, is conducted solely in these
empirical, utilitarian terms. How many lives
are saved per murderer executed? With the
cost of appeals, does it cost more to sentence
someone to death or to life without parole?
How much would sweeping judicial reforms
cost, and how much would they decrease the
chance of executing (more) innocents?
In every other case where government policy
directly affects life and death, the debate pro-
ceeds largely in moral terms about the range
and limits of our freedoms. I might not always
like the direction these moral debates take.
I don't believe Jack Kevorkian, who aimed
to help people end their lives as they chose,
would be in prison in a more enlightened
society. Still, we can't come to ethical conclu-
sions on these issues if we rely strictly on some
mechanistic utilitarian calculus to make our
decisions for us; we're stuck with slow, messy
moral thought.
Here's my contribution to the debate we
need to have: It is wrong, period, for the gov-
ernment to execute an innocent person.
Zbrozek can be reached
at zbro@umich.edu.



Diversion of Michigan's water endangers resources

One only needs to flip through the myriad
pundit shows on cable news networks to realize
that our political sphere has become increas-
ingly dominated by morality-driven, hot-but-
ton political issues. These issues are singled
out because they ignite passion and create great
sound bytes, but more importantly because
they are relatively simplistic. The average
person has been exposed - through religion,
family or education - to facts that allow him
to form a strong opinion on social issues. The
emphasis on social issues, however, has left
the general public woefully underinformed on
the many important policy fights taking place
every day. As an intern this semester for state
Sen. Liz Brater (D-Ann Arbor), I was thrown
into the complicated world of state politics,
learning that the most important legislative
changes are often the most tedious. The cur-
rent fight over water regulation and reform will
dictate other states' access to Michigan's fresh
water supply, but it has received relatively little
mainstream press.
The general lack of interest in environmen-
tal issues has resulted a policy area principal-
ly dominated by interest groups and lobbyists.
It is understandable that very few people can
fully explain the 1,400 page Natural Resourc-
es and Environmental Protection Act that
currently dictates environmental regulation
in Michigan, but several key water policy
changes being debated in the Senate right
now will have direct and lasting effects on
many residents. Michiganders seem to have
a never-ending supply of fresh water to use
for swimming, watering their gardens, drink-
ing and taking extravagantly long showers,
but this kind of caviler approach to water use
is becoming the exception to the rule in the

United States. It is often said that water will
be the resource equivalent of oil in the 21st
century. If this is true, the Great Lakes basin
will become the resource monopoly equiva-
lent of the Middle East. This may seem an
exaggeration, but thirsty Western states are
already looking to Michigan as their water
tables fail to support their populations and
they are forced to restrict personal usage.
If the last year of natural resource short-
ages - petroleum and natural gas -has
proved anything, it is that foresight and plan-
ning are invaluable. Michigan must begin to
prepare for increased need for fresh water in
the future by regulating how it is being used
today. Working with the many Michigan
environmental groups, Brater and 14 Sen-
ate Democrats introduced a bill to increase
transparency and regulation of water diver-
sion from Michigan. Water diversion takes
several forms, but one of the most contro-
versial is water bottling. The company Ice
Mountain - part of the Nestle Corporation
- had been bottling from Michigan aquifers
at a rate of 400 gallons per minute, lower-
ing the water table and causing problems
with local wells. A lawsuit against Ice Moun-
tain resulted in a temporary injunction, but
an appeals court ruling last week allowed
pumping to resume at a rate of 200 gallons
per minute. With no legislation preventing
water diversion, the courts lack an effective
tool to deal with the problem.
The Democrats' bill would amend the Nat-
ural Resource and Environmental Protection
Act to allow for the evaluation of environmen-
tal factors when approving water diversions.
A diversion proposal would be subject to nine
environmental factors that are designed to
encourage responsible and sustainable water
use. In response, Senate Republicans intro-

duced a set of alternative bills that take a much
narrower view of water regulation. The legis-
lation would prohibit large-scale withdrawals
that "caused an adverse resource impact to a
designated trout stream" and would require a
permit for withdrawals of more than 2 million
gallons a day from inland lakes and streams.
Missing is any regulation of withdraws from
aquifers - like those made by Ice Mountain.
Instead, the legislation requires the Ground-
water Conservation Advisory Council to
create a water withdraw assessment tool and
make recommendations for the future. The
Republican package was taken up in commit-
tee, but environmental groups across the state
- including Ann Arbor's own Sierra Club
- have come out against this watered-down
set of bills, claiming it is a regression in water
policy as opposed to an improvement.
Michigan is in an excellent position to be
an example for responsible resource manage-
ment; current trends treat water as a commod-
ity. The Republican water bills do not go far in
regulating diversion. The complicated nature
of these bills has hindered public involve-
ment, but public comments will be crucial as
the Legislature prepares to vote on the final
versions of these bills. Michigan residents are
barraged with information about the grandeur
and uniqueness of the Great Lakes. Unfortu-
nately, when water conservation becomes an
issue, the state's residents become surpris-
ingly quiet. It may seem that fresh water is an
inexhaustible resource in Michigan; however,
environmental indicators - such as dry wells
- are warming signs of depletion that must
be heeded and answered with a serious plan
for a sustainable future.
Burns is an LSA junior and intern for
state Sen. Liz Brater (D-Ann Arbor).



Editorial Board Members: Amy Anspach, Andrew Bielak, Reggie Brown, Gabrielle
D'Angelo, John Davis, Whitney Dibo, Milly Dick, Sara Eber, Jesse Forester, Mara Gay, Jared
Goldberg, Ashwin Jagannathan, Theresa Kennelly, Mark Kuehn, Will Kerridge, Frank Man-
lev. Kirstv McNamara. Raiiv Prabhakar, Matt Rose, David Russell, Katherine Seid, Brian

Dilapidated student housing
puts tenants' lives at risk
This fall it took me over a week to let my

located off-campus to house the majority of
students. The University should take a part
in making sure landlords are regulated and
housing is kept up to current code.
Currently, the Michigan Student Assembly

should not be forced to jump from second and
third floors of their burning homes, to live in
emergency housing during final exams or to
fear that they might not be woken by their
smoke alarm in the case of a fire.


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