A recent Dallas Morning News editorial decried the use of expert witnesses who claim to have the ability to predict future dangerousness, a determination that jurors in Texas heavily rely on in sentencing people to death. The editorial states:

In Texas, we execute criminals not for what they did, but for what they might do.

Convicted murderer David Harris has a date with the executioner June 30 for having killed a man in a Beaumont gunfight. But that’s not enough to get Mr. Harris, or any Texas murderer, a death sentence.

Here, a convicted murderer can only draw the death penalty if, according to state law, a jury is unanimously convinced that “there is a probability that the defendant would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society.”

This newspaper has supported the death penalty, but this statute is wrong and should not stand.

How can a jury know what violent crimes anybody might commit? They could consult with the Psychic Friends Network. Or they could do something that the American Psychiatric Association considers about as reliable: ask a psychiatrist to give his expert opinion. According to The New York Times, Dr. Edward Gripon, the psychiatrist and expert witness who helped convince a jury of David Harris’ future dangerousness, never met the defendant and based his expert testimony on the prosecution’s description of the man’s conduct.

Dr. Gripon guessed wrong. The most violent thing Mr. Harris has done since his 1986 conviction was kick a guard’s boot. Because of a lazy psychiatrist’s bad judgment, a man who ought to be spending life in prison will die.

It’s appropriate to consider possible future acts in parole hearings or when determining sentence length. But such speculation should never be the determining factor in whether the state takes a person’s life. Pseudo-scientific guesswork has no place in matters of life and death.

(Dallas Morning News, June 16, 2004) (emphasis added). See Editorials.