Texas juries may impose a death sentence only if they find that the defendant probably will commit more violent acts, says the New York Times. Other states look backward, asking juries to consider the moral blameworthiness of the crime. Texas juries rely on expert testimony. In 1986, psychiatrist Edward Gripon, testified that David Harris, then 25 and convicted of murder, posed a substantial risk of further violent acts. Gripon, who had never met Harris, based his conclusion on a prosecutor’s description of the defendant’s past. Harris, now 43, is to be executed on June 30. Last week, his attorneys told a state appeals court that Gripon’s prediction has turned out to be wrong: Harris’s years in prison have been marred by only minor infractions.
A recent study by the Texas Defender Service, which represents defendants in capital cases, examined 155 such cases in which prosecution experts had predicted that the defendants would commit more violent crimes. They were wrong 95 percent of the time, said the report. Arguing that he was sentenced to death on the basis of junk science, Harris has asked for a resentencing hearing. Gena Bunn, chief of the Texas attorney general’s capital litigation unit, cited in a 2000 law review article the case of Aaron Fuller, who raped and killed an elderly woman in 1989. “Although the use of psychiatric testimony to predict future dangerousness is roundly condemned in the scientific community,” she wrote, “the reader need only make a common-sense inquiry to see the logic of the system. Would the reader want to share a jail cell with Aaron Fuller?”