The recent controversy over the now-finalized judicial
execution of Troy Davies in the southern U.S. state of Georgia last Wednesday
got me thinking about the death penalty: here was a man that cast more that
reasonable doubt over what had happened more than two decades ago – his case
was so compelling that he got millions behind him – myself included – who signed
petitions and placed calls to the district attorney in Jackson, GA to try and
stop his execution. Former president Jimmy Carter and Pope Benedict 16th
also voiced their support, but the Georgia authorities turned a deaf ear to all
his supporters – and after a last-ditch attempt from his attorneys, went ahead
and killed the man anyway.
For those unaware of this particular case, there were
several holes in the case – there was no DNA evidence and the whole case was based
on circumstantial evidence and witness testimony. Many of the witnesses in the
case later recanted or changed their testimony, claiming that they had been
pressed on fingering Davis as the culprit. The family of Mark McPhail, the police
officer he allegedly killed, were unwavering, though, believing that justice
would only be served if the assassin himself was killed – jail just didn’t seem
to be enough in this case.
Hundreds of miles from Georgia, white supremacist Lawrence
Brewer was also executed in Texas by use of lethal injection. He was convicted of
participating in the racially motivated murder of James Byrd, who was dragged
to his death from the back of a pickup truck – arguably the worst hate crime to
happen in the post-civil rights era.
Brewer not only admitted the crime, but he was proud of it,
and recently said to a reporter in his home state that he would do it over
again if he’d had the chance. He was unrepentant to the end, and many people do
think he got what he deserved.
As for myself, I must confess that I am a bit conflicted
about the use of capital punishment. I sometimes feel that in the case of premeditated
and cold-blooded murders do deserve the ultimate punishment – like the case of
the recent murders that took place in a drugstore in Long Island or the murder
of 9-year-old Leiby Kletzy, an orthodox Jewish boy who got lost in Brooklyn and
asked directions to a fellow Jew who would ultimately kill him in what he
described a ‘panic situation.’
However, I do believe that ‘though shalt not kill,’ and that
the state should have no power over anyone’s life or death, especially when the
accusers have nothing but eyewitness report. I mean, just look at the recent acquittal
of Casey Anthony in Florida. Though all circumstantial evidence pointed at her,
the prosecutors simply could not place her at the murder scene – or could establish
it in the first place. As a result, the jurors – in spite of the public opinion
– were forced to let her go. I remember that one commentator wrote that when
there is reasonable doubt, it is better to let a guilty person walk than allow
an innocent to pay for a crime he or she did not commit.
In recent years, a great number of death row inmates have
been exonerated and set free because evidence surfaced that they were innocent.
There is no way of knowing how many
innocent men and women have been wrongfully convicted and executed before their
convictions were vacated, though there are a handful of documented cases.
The saddest thing about Troy Davies’ death is that in this
day and age, a poor black man might still be the victim of wrongful convictions
in the American South. Worse is that the United States of America claims that
this is such a modern, enlightened nation – while being the only developed
country that still has capital punishment – even when studies show that its
existence does not curb criminal activity.