A big stink is being made over here about a Spanish citizen under a death sentence in the Philippines. The alleged criminal, Francisco Larrañaga, is the son of a Spanish jai alai player and an upper-class Philippine woman, whose family has political connections. The victims are two young women, about 20 years old, whose surname is Chiong. Their father works for a guy who is a big shot in the local mafia. Supposedly, on the island of Cebu, Larrañaga and seven others, who were spoiled rich brats on drugs, picked up the two Chiong girls one day in 1997, raped them, and killed them. One's body has never been found; the other's was found at the bottom of a ravine. Supposedly. Larrañaga's lawyers claim that it has not even been proven that the body is that of Marijoy Chiong. Larrañaga claims to have an alibi, but the only witnesses--agreed, there are more than 20 of them--are friends or classmates of his. Several other witnesses identified Larrañaga and the other seven in a car with the two Chiong girls. I am not sure if any of these people are telling the truth. Especially not the main prosecution witness, a guy named Rusia, who was one of the eight. Rusia, who turned state's evidence and got off, says he and the other seven did the crime, raped and killed the girls. However, he's been in prison twice in the US and his whereabouts are unknown. There seem to have been irregularities at the trial as well; Larrañaga's lawyers claim he was not allowed to testify on his own behalf. He and the others were convicted and got life in prison. Then, something very strange happened: the case was reviewed, and the punishment changed to death. I wasn't aware that such a thing could happen in any legal system. Oh, yeah, in here somewhere the judge, who had convicted these guys in the first place, there was no jury, committed suicide. Maybe.
Larrañaga's family is mounting a media campaign to save him. Philippine president Gloria Macagapal Arroyo says she will not sign any death warrants, which means that Larrañaga is at least temporarily safe from lethal injection. However, temporarily is not permanently.
My attitude is that I am not in favor of coddling criminals, and I think those convicted of heinous crimes deserve the death penalty. Kidnapping, raping, and murdering two young women is about as heinous as it gets, and if these guys did it, fire up the syringe. The problem is I am not convinced these guys are guilty. Exhume the body of the girl said to be Marijoy Chiong and DNA-test it to see if it's her, and to see if any of these guys' DNA are on it. Then proceed from there. But don't execute people if there's a reasonable doubt to their guilt. Hell, you're not supposed to convict people if there's a reasonable doubt to their guilt.
One thing to remember is that Larrañaga is getting all the attention because he's an EU citizen and his family has money. You have to wonder how many people get railroaded by the system, especially in the Third World; I'll bet surprisingly few, but I'll also bet it happens sometimes, and disputes between local elites and mafias are just the sort of context that someone getting railroaded might happen in. Interest in these cases is only taken in places like Europe when there's a Westerner involved.
My understanding, by the way, is that since the US brought back the death penalty in 1977 nobody innocent has been executed.