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In most other jurisdictions that enforce the death penalty, Delamora would be appealing from death row. And maybe that's not such a terrible thing. After all, at least since 1976, the creaky contraption that is the U.S. death-penalty system has worked, in the most narrow sense: it hasn't executed anyone who later turned out conclusively--through DNA evidence--to be innocent (although it should be noted that states haven't allowed DNA testing in all disputed executions).
Reformers like Earle hope that the capital system can promise something greater than merely preventing death at the last minute. It took someone like Earle to keep Delamora off death row--someone willing to ignore a grieving widow, the local sheriff and his own staff. Which makes Earle both courageous and freakish. It's one thing to understand that the vengeful emotions that accompany the death penalty can trump the factual certainties required to mete it out fairly. It's quite another to intellectualize the issue when a woman has lost her husband.
But Earle has always been a little weird. A close observer of Texas politics e-mailed this description of him: "Thoughtful. Conspiratorial. Crusader. Half-whacked. Smart. Insightful. Wise. Nuts." Well, not nuts. But most of it has a kernel of truth. Earle's reputation as conspiratorial derives largely from the workings of his office's public-integrity unit, a watchdog office that prosecutes those (including elected officials) who commit crimes in the course of their dealings with the state. Earle's job, in other words, is to root out conspiracies.
Earle is often suspected of bringing partisan cases on behalf of fellow Democrats. And while he has prosecuted 12 Democrats and only three Republicans, his biggest embarrassment came in 1994, after U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a prominent Republican, was indicted for allegedly using state employees to do political tasks. Earle amassed thousands of documents as evidence, and many thought the new Senator could lose her job. But at a pretrial hearing, the judge and Earle clashed over the admissibility of the documents; fearing he would lose, Earle declined to present a case. Hutchison was quickly acquitted, and Earle was portrayed as a fool. Republicans have never quite forgiven him.
Like most other prosecutors, Earle often sees himself as an advocate--for his constituents, for the state, for crime victims. Because of their role, prosecutors tend to be portrayed in popular culture as modern-day knights. But Earle has come to prefer another metaphor. "I'm the gatekeeper," he says. "I don't dare ask my boss, the public, to sit in judgment of somebody that I don't think deserves to die. That's why they elect me, to exercise that judgment and not bother them." Buried in that philosophy is something radical--the notion that the jury system, as it's currently constructed, can't be trusted to send only the guilty to death row. Most prosecutors wouldn't embrace that philosophy, which is why it may take an Earle, not a knight, to slay the demon of error.