For 20 years, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas was a Washington, D.C. private detective specializing in homicide, political corruption and terrorism. Since 1998, Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Rob Douglas, email

For 20 years, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas was a Washington, D.C. private detective specializing in homicide, political corruption and terrorism. Since 1998, Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Rob Douglas, email

Rob Douglas: Horrific crime rekindles debate


Rob Douglas

Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at

Find more columns by Douglas here.

— She was 8. I was 26. She was calm, and her answers were matter-of-fact. I was nervous, and my questions showed it.

She was repeatedly raped by her father. I was her father's criminal defense investigator. She's just one of hundreds of crime victims I've interviewed, but she's one I'll never forget.

The longer I talked with this little girl, the more I realized she was too young and innocent to comprehend the reality of the unspeakable acts done by her father. Still, I knew the day would come when she'd understand what she'd been coerced to do, and I despised her father more than I've ever despised anyone.

But as much as I was sickened by her father's unforgiveable crimes, it never once entered my mind that he should be killed. That may place me in the minority of my fellow citizens - and soon with the law.

My memories of this sweet girl were rekindled recently by a national news story with local implications.

The story involves the pending decision by the U.S. Supreme Court concerning whether a person who rapes a child can be executed. The Court decided in 1977 that those who rape adults cannot be sentenced to death, but the court never decided whether those convicted of raping children can be executed.

The case before the court is from Louisiana - where child rape is death penalty eligible - and presents the court with a horrific crime that has reignited the death penalty debate. Before July we'll know the court's opinion.

Child rape in Colorado is not punishable by death, but that could change. Legislation was introduced this year to make rape of a child 12 or younger a capital crime. While the bill died in committee, look for it to be resurrected next year if the Supreme Court clears the way.

A quarter of a century has passed since I interviewed that girl, and I'm a firmer opponent of the death penalty now than I was then. Although I believe no one should kill - other than to prevent the imminent loss of their life or the life of another - my opposition to the death penalty is based more on my experience working in the criminal justice system than on morality.

The justice system in the U.S. is the best in the world, but it's a system run by men and women no more immune to human error and improper motive than the rest of us. If I learned anything during two decades investigating crime, it's that the most emotionally charged cases, especially murder and rape, can result in flawed verdicts as errors and improper motives rise exponentially with aroused emotions.

Hardly a week goes by that someone wrongfully convicted is not released from prison, including 123 off death row, after innocence is proven post-conviction, often by DNA.

One of the most glaring examples of a criminal justice system gone astray was exposed on "60 Minutes" on Sunday. For three decades, Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade put innocent citizens behind bars - many wrongfully convicted of murder or sex crimes - while often concealing evidence of innocence.

Now, new Dallas DA Craig Watkins, Texas' first black man to hold that post, has joined with the Innocence Project of Texas in reviewing hundreds of cases with indicia of wrongful conviction in just that one county. Seventeen men already have been released, most after more than a decade behind bars. The most recent was James Woodard, who spent 27 years in prison for the rape and murder of his girlfriend. DNA evidence proves Woodard didn't commit the crime, and we now know Wade's office hid evidence of the true killer from Woodard's attorneys and the courts.

As horrible as the injustice perpetrated upon Woodard and the thousands of wrongfully convicted inhabiting our prisons is, the real injustice is to the original victim of the crime and the rest of us. Every time we imprison or execute the wrong person, there is no true justice for the victim or for society.

So, I'm always puzzled by those so confident in the criminal justice system and so eager to inflict harsh punishment or death on their fellow man based on what they think they know about a specific crime. I'm even more puzzled as these are often the same folks who decry that O.J. Simpson got off, yet rarely notice the inherent contradiction of that fact with their support of the death penalty.

Rob Douglas can be reached at


dudleysharp 8 years, 11 months ago

It appears that Mr. Douglas has been duped.

The 123 released from death row after innocence was proven is a blatant fraud, easily uncovered by the rare act of fact checking.

Possibly, 25 actual innocents have been released from death row, or 0.3% of those sentneced to death after 1973. All of those were released after posy conviction review. That's a 99.7% success rate in actual guilty findings and 100% of the actual innocent were released. Is there a more accurate criminal justice snaction? Unlikely.

Furthermore, innocents are more at risk without the death penalty.

Living murderers, in prison, after release or escape or after our failures to incarcerate them, are much more likely to harm and murder, again, than are executed murderers.

No knowledgeable and honest party questions that the death penalty has the most extensive due process protections in US criminal law.

Therefore, actual innocents are more likely to be sentenced to life imprisonment and more likely to die in prison serving under that sentence, that it is that an actual innocent will be executed.

16 recent studies, inclusive of their defenses, find for death penalty deterrence.

A surprise? No.

Life is preferred over death. Death is feared more than life.


dudleysharp 8 years, 11 months ago

There are, at least, two majors issues with the legislation.

All of the new deterrent studies, as well as the very strong defenses of them, tell us that imposing the death penalty on child rapists may very well save many innocent lives.

However, if child rape and child rape/murder have the same possible sanction, execution, will the legislation give an added incentive to child rapists to murder, when it doesn't, necessarily, increase the severity of sanction over child rape?

If you believe in deterrence (disincentive), you must also believe in positive incentives. Some rapists may see nothing to lose and something to gain by eliminating the witness.

Some states, like Louisiana, have had these laws for quite some time. It would seem important to see what they have found.


George Danellis 8 years, 11 months ago

I agree with Mr Douglas this week: executing convicted felons for any reason is not acceptable. Thank you for sharing your views on this, Rob.


Dukebets 8 years, 11 months ago

dudley - I'm quite sure Mr. Douglas has not been duped. He's extremely knowledgeable and supports a lot of data with facts. And, his articles are opinion based, so facts truly aren't the issue.

You, on the other hand, begin factual statements with the word "Possibly"..............C'mon, you're blowing smoke while attempting to read from another screen. The mirror you look into is the only impressionable face.


dudleysharp 8 years, 11 months ago


I sent some fact checking material to Mr. Douglas' email.

He is wrong and he just has to confirm it.

For you: 1. "Case Histories: A Review of 24 Individuals Released from Death Row", Florida Commission on Capital Cases, 6/20/02, Revised 9/10/02 at

83% error rate in "innocent" claims.

  1. "Is 'the innocence list' an appropriate name?", 1/19/03 FRANK GREEN, TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER

Dieter admits they don't discern between legal innocence and actual innocence. One of Dieter's funnier quotes;"The prosecutor, perhaps, or Dudley Sharp, perhaps, thinks they're still guilty because there was evidence of their guilt, but that's a subjective judgment." Yep, "EVIDENCE OF GUILT", can't you see why Dieter would think they were innocent? And that's how the DPIC works.


70% error rate in claims of innocence.

  1. "The Death Penalty Debate in Illinois", JJKinsella,6/2000,

70% error rate in claims of innocence.


Origins of "innocence" fraud, and review of many innocence issues

  1. "Bad List", Ramesh Ponnuru, National Review, 9/16/02

How bad is DPIC?

  1. "Not so Innocent", By Ramesh Ponnuru,National Review, 10/1/02

DPIC from bad to worse.


forthepowder 8 years, 11 months ago

What happens to the DA's who hide evidence and wrongly convict? Maybe that should be a death penalty crime?


contrarian 8 years, 11 months ago

As 18th Person is Freed Based on DNA in Dallas, Summit on Wrongful Convictions in Texas Is Set for May 8

We've reached a tipping point on wrongful convictions in Texas,' Senator Ellis says

(Austin, TX; April 29, 2008) State Senator Rodney Ellis today announced that a day-long Summit on Wrongful Convictions will be held May 8 at the State Capitol in Austin to determine the causes of wrongful convictions in Texas and identify reforms that can prevent them.

Today's release of James Lee Woodard in Dallas - based on DNA tests showing that he did not commit a murder 27 years ago for which he was wrongfully convicted - comes just one week after Thomas McGowan was freed based on DNA results showing he did not commit the Dallas County rape and burglary for which he spent 23 years in prison. Woodard is represented by the Innocence Project of Texas; McGowan is represented by the Innocence Project. Eighteen people have now been freed based on post-conviction DNA testing in Dallas, and more than 30 people in Texas have been fully exonerated based on DNA results.

As a result of the unprecedented number of exonerations in Texas, key leaders from across the state will gather in Austin on May 8 for a landmark Summit on Wrongful Convictions. Judges, lawmakers, defense attorneys, prosecutors, exonerees, professors and many others will come together for the Summit. The Summit will mark the first time any state's criminal justice leaders have initiated a high-level meeting themselves to address wrongful convictions. Texas State Senator Rodney Ellis is spearheading the Summit, and Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck will attend. The Summit will be open to the public.

"We've reached a tipping point on wrongful convictions in Texas. Nobody can seriously doubt that there's a problem, and next week leaders from across our criminal justice system will come together to start solving it," Senator Ellis said today. "We will bring a wide range of leaders, experts and exonerees together for a full day to develop concrete, common-sense remedies to make our system of justice more fair and accurate. We won't solve these serious problems in one day, but we will make historic strides toward restoring confidence in our criminal justice system."


colowoodsman 8 years, 11 months ago

Once again RD is 'out of his league' as he adds two and two together and gets five. As he states, many of those who have been wrongfully convicted have been exonerated by the relatively new method of DNA testing. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that with the continued and widespread use of DNA testing in new trials the percentage of wrongful convictoins should drop significantly.Most of his examples are centered around Texas and one certain DA and are hardly representative of the nation as a whole. RD should put his dubious skills to better use by investigating who Noreen Moore really works for or sweeping out Scott Stanfords office.


betamikeiski 8 years, 11 months ago

I enjoy reading Mr. Douglas' articles however this time I have to strongly disagree. Child rape is a crime that no rational, sane person could ever even begin to contemplate. A father raping his own child is simply too horrific a crime to imagine. These crimes are so brutal and so very damaging to their victims that the death penalty is really the only punishment that fits such an evil crime. When you steal the soul from a child like that you should expect no quarter and no mercy. I'm sorry, I know this sounds harsh but really, the "father" who rapes his daughter is far too big a risk to society to be allowed to ever inflict that damage on any other person. Castration first, then capital punishment.


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