innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Unasked Questions

This article appeared in the Daytona Beach News on October 30, 2006:

Unasked questions
Tonight's debate should dig deeper


When you watch tonight's gubernatorial debate -- if you watch it, and we all should -- think about the slogans and carefully thought-out position statements you're hearing.

Then think about what you're not hearing. Think about the issues that neither campaign is addressing, issues that are certainly important enough to merit attention. Look at the performance of Attorney General Charlie Crist and U.S. Rep. Jim Davis, not just in the actions each man boasts about (or jabs the other for) but in issues that matter to Floridians: Poverty. Justice. The struggle between man and nature.

These issues received short shrift in Tuesday's heated debate. Floridians deserve to hear more, and tonight (with Reform Party candidate Max Linn joining the fray) they should.

One moment from Tuesday's debate demands more attention. Crist had just fired off a question about Davis' refusal, while serving in the state Legislature, to support compensation for Freddie Pitts and Wilbert Lee. The two men spent 12 years in prison for a murder they did not commit. They waited another 23 years for the Legislature to approve a bill to compensate them for that lost time. Davis replied that he had asked both men for forgiveness. He noted that Pitts was in the audience supporting him. And, then, they moved on.

Left behind was a question that many expected Davis to bring up. The nightmare faced by Pitts and Lee is by no means unique, as the emergence of scientific evidence like DNA proves.

Yet under Crist, the Attorney General's Office has fought aggressively against DNA testing, and even battled efforts to release inmates after DNA testing proved them innocent. Lawyers in Jacksonville are still warring over the case of Chad Heins, convicted 10 years ago of raping and murdering his sister-in-law. DNA evidence obtained since then points to another assailant, yet, Crist's office is fighting court action that would result in Heins being freed. Prosecutors did the same in the case of Wilton Dedge, a Brevard County man who spent 22 years in prison for a rape he didn't commit.

When is Crist going to apologize to Wilton Dedge and Chad Heins? We'd like to know, and Davis should ask.

The two men should also account for their respective parties' inability to stop the slow slide of many Floridians into poverty. Welfare reform -- once presented as a chance for people to work their way off the dole and into a productive life -- has turned into a sorry sham. Too many people are shuffled into low-paying jobs, missing out on the help they need. Many others are afraid to ask for help.

And the state deserves to hear what Davis and Crist plan to do to preserve the remaining vestiges of Florida's once-abundant natural beauty. "Planned growth" received a brief mention Tuesday, but most Floridians have seen through that buzz-phrase as bulldozers continue their march across forestland and pasture. As a steward of Florida's natural environment, Florida's next governor should have a plan that focuses on preservation, not development.

These issues might not be as highly charged as those debated last week. But voters deserve to know where the candidates stand on each.

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