Among its other merits the Death by Deadline series underlines a fact about wrongful convictions and executions that the conventions of daily reporting obscure. We think (and write) as if a big injustice needs a big villain as its cause. And the public wonders "Who would set out to execute and innocent man?"
But who set out to kill the Challenger astronauts? As Susan Vaughan observed of that tragedy, it reflected "a mistake embedded in the banality of organizational life."
Wrongful convictions and wrongful executions happen that way too: they are "Normal Accidents" caused by many small mistakes (none independently sufficient) combining with each other and system weakness. People zig when they should zag; keep silent when they should speak up; and bring about results they could not have anticipated.
James M. Doyle (I am a defense lawyer and writer based in Boston. I have defended capital appeals as a volunteer in the South.)
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