07/16/2010 08:14 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Troubling the Waters Against the Death Penalty

Although it has been a while since I've hit the pavement, particularly during these dog days of summer, I still consider myself a runner. I love the sweet-tired feeling of accomplishment when I complete a long distance run.

Lynn Greer, the Secretary on the Board of Directors of Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (VADP), is a swimmer. She is preparing to "go the distance" in the July 18 Alcatraz Challenge and Aquathlon. Lynn will be swimming to make a point - to remind us of the risk of executing an innocent person. And she will be raising funds for VADP to help them eliminate that risk, by ending the death penalty in Virginia once and for all.

Lynn has good reason for her concern. Earl Washington, Jr. was exonerated by DNA evidence in Virginia in the year 2000 after spending 16 years on death row. He came within days of execution. Others on Virginia's death row have had their death sentences commuted to life because evidence of their guilt was so uncertain.

Earl Washington is one of 138 prisoners exonerated from death row nationally from 1973 to the present, when DNA and other evidence proved them innocent. Three of the 138 death row exonerees are from California, where Lynn's swim takes place: Patrick Croy, Ernest (Shujaa) Graham, and Chol Soo Lee.

And the problem is growing. From 1973-1999, there was an average of 3.1 exonerations per year, but from 2000-2007, the number increased to an average of five exonerations per year.

A recent opinion poll conducted by Rasmussen Reports shows that Lynn is not alone in her concern about executing innocent people. Seventy-three percent of Americans are concerned about the possibility of executing the innocent. Forty percent say they are "very concerned."

Echoing that concern, last year the American Law Institute, a nonpartisan, independent entity charged with providing guidance to assure that our laws meet the highest standards for fairness and due process, removed the death penalty from its Model Penal Code. One of the reasons it cited when considering the action was that "... some persons sentenced to death will later, and perhaps too late, be shown to have not committed the crime for which they were sentenced..."

Concern about the risk of executing innocent people has been a key factor in efforts to repeal the death penalty in states such as New Mexico, which was recently added to the "no death penalty" column - and should be the case in other death penalty states, including Virginia, the focus of Lynn's athletic effort.

That's why, at 8 a.m. PDT this Sunday, Lynn will dive into the roiling, freezing ocean waters off Alcatraz Island. She will swim the 1.5 miles between Alcatraz Island and the East Beach of Crissy Field in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area's Presidio Park.

She will be swimming that treacherous course so that no innocent person will ever have to navigate a treacherous legal process in Virginia that could end in their death.

What will you be doing?

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For more information about Lynn Greer's swim against the death penalty, visit her web page at