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AdLib On September - 22 - 2011

As many are too well aware, Troy Davis was executed last night by the State of Georgia.

He was convicted without any meaningful forensic evidence, in fact, the only forensic evidence presented to convince jurors to convict him were shell casings from the scene of the crime that prosecutors claimed matched those of an earlier shooting that night Davis was convicted of…yet no gun was found on him and it turned out it that it was Davis’ acquaintance who was at the scene of the crime who owned a gun of that caliber.

…there was no murder weapon, no DNA, and no other physical evidence that suggested Davis’s guilt. Seven of the nine eyewitnesses have recanted their testimony against him, including several who said they had given it after being threatened with hard time by the police. That leaves only two witnesses, but one of them could be crucially flawed: Coles (Davis’ acquaintance who was at the scene of the murder) has stuck to his story—but several witnesses claim to have heard Coles confess to the murder.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/09/21/troy-davis-execution-everything-you-need-to-know.html

Based primarily on the eyewitness testimony of those 9 people, jurors came back after just two hours with a guilty verdict then shortly after, agreement to give the prosecution the death penalty it wanted for Davis.

I do not know if Troy Davis shot the innocent, kind and responsible off-duty policeman who tried to help someone who was being attacked. Based on the lack of forensic evidence and the recanted testimony of nearly all the eyewitnesses, I don’t see how anyone can know for sure.

And yet, in the face of the deteriorated case against him, the courts in Georgia and The Supreme Court of the United States, declined to prevent the killing of a man who was no longer proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

One can’t escape the racial factor when it comes to black men being convicted and harshly sentenced. A number of people have compared Troy Davis’ case to that of Casey Anthony’s. A black man whose public financing of his defense was cut off while a young white woman had unlimited public financing of her legal defense. There was no forensic evidence to prove the black man guilty, there was a great deal of forensic evidence and proof of lying to use to convict this young white woman. The young white woman was found not guilty, the black man was found guilty. I am not saying it is oranges and oranges to compare any two criminal cases but one can understand the upset over a case as solid as the one against Casey Anthony where she wasn’t even convicted of neglect transposed against Troy Davis being executed without one solid piece of physical evidence against him.

Here are some sobering facts about race and incarceration:

(There are) 2.3 million inmates in custody. ABC News said:

The report provides a breakdown, noting “of the 2.3 million inmates in custody, 2.1 million were men and 208,300 were women. Black males represented the largest percentage (35.4 percent) of inmates held in custody, followed by white males (32.9 percent) and Hispanic males (17.9 percent).”

The United States leads the industrialized world in incarceration. In fact, the U.S. rate of incarceration (762 per 100,000) is five to eight times that of other highly developed countries, according to The Sentencing Project, a criminal justice think tank.

Some of the key factors for the record imprisonment rate include:

Race: Black males continue to be incarcerated at an extraordinary rate. Black males make up 35.4 percent of the jail and prison population — even though they make up less than 10 percent of the overall U.S population. Four percent of U.S. black males were in jail or prison last year, compared to 1.7 percent of Hispanic males and .7 percent of white males. In other words, black males were locked up at almost six times the rate of their white counterparts.

http://www.laprogressive.com/law-and-the-justice-system/boiling-hot-mad/

Some have expressed that once a case has been decided, any reasonable doubt that may later become apparent is irrelevant, it only matters when a verdict is being decided. I would argue that either there is a principle of not killing someone when a reasonable doubt exists or there isn’t.

Why is “beyond a reasonable doubt” a standard in criminal law? It seems inherent that the intention is, even if there is the tiniest, most remote possibility that someone is innocent, our society should err on the side of possible innocence as opposed to probable guilt when it comes to taking away people’s freedom or life.

That vital part of the American legal system, seems to have been a secondary victim in the killing of Troy Davis. The message that came across, at least to me, was, “We played the game already and he lost so that’s that,” as if our legal system is just about winning a competition, justice and principles are irrelevant, winning the game in court is what it’s all about. After that, who gives a shit about what principles are supposed to matter in our society, they don’t matter anymore once the game has been decided.

Shouldn’t principles of a society endure inside and outside of a courtroom? It doesn’t seem like that was so in this situation.

If so many people, from prison wardens to jurors to death penalty supporters and ex-Presidents can have a shadow of doubt, let alone millions across the globe who were following and engaged in trying to halt Troy Davis’ execution, how can a state be 100% certain themselves that they aren’t murdering an innocent man and allowing the actual cop killer to get away with it?

For those who believe in our justice system and even for many who support the death penalty, this was a crushing moment. We do have to accept that we are citizens of a nation that has a legal system in place that will kill potentially innocent people.

Out of full disclosure, I am opposed to the death penalty in all cases for two main reasons. First, a society that wishes to claim morality by saying that the killing of other human beings is the most heinous, despicable  act that can be committed, should not be in the business of killing other human beings. If a father punches his child to punish him for hitting another child, we would put that father in jail, call him an unfit parent and take his child away from him…even if his child was completely in the wrong for hitting another child. If something is wrong, it is wrong no matter who does it or what their justification is. There is an exception in self-defense, that is the only morally justifiable reason, protecting one or more lives by killing someone who is trying to take them.

If you can bear one more analogy, imagine that a medicine is created that would be given to all Americans, that could curb potential criminal behavior but would kill some of the people who took it, whether or not they would ever do anything criminal. Is there an amount of intentional killings of innocent people that would be acceptable if it prevented some murders from taking place? And what is the difference to the loved ones and families of those innocent people who are killed, whether by the state’s program or by a criminal?

Any party can rationalize the righteousness of their actions. An angry ex-boyfriend or disgruntled employee can believe in their minds that it would be justice for them to kill others who they feel have horribly wronged them. The State is no different, it has its rationale that someone killing another person is so evil and unacceptable, The State is justified in being a killer as well.

This then leads into the mechanics of justification and the flawed nature of human beings, my second reason for opposing capital punishment. As human beings, we are by nature imperfect, we all make mistakes and in most cases we can try to correct them. Accepting that we are fallible as a species, we must then admit that people will not always be correct in concluding the guilt or innocence of a criminal defendant. Thanks to DNA evidence, many people who were wrongly convicted by juries that were absolutely certain beyond a reasonable doubt that a person committed a crime, have been set free after serving short or long terms in jail. Some were on death row. If we are to be honest with ourselves, we would have to accept that some have been executed as well before being able to be exonerated by DNA testing or other methods of proving their innocence (if you haven’t seen it, check out the incredible documentary by Errol Morris, “The Thin Blue Line”).

The question that is derived from this is, should we have a death penalty if we know that by supporting one, as rare as it may be, we will be complicit in the murder of innocent people?

There is empathy and understanding for the opinion of those who have had a loved one murdered. As anti-death penalty as some people may be, if their child was murdered by some monster, many would want the murderer executed…though some have still asked the court and prosecutors not to execute the murderer for their personal moral reasons. For those who are gripped by the need for vengeance because someone close to them was killed, their feelings are legitimate and valid. Still, as a society, we would be in great trouble if we allowed our laws to be dictated by our most powerful emotions instead of overall guiding principles, we would end up with a capricious society and legal system.

For reference, here is a list of the countries that fully support and apply the death penalty:

  • Afghanistan
  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Bahamas
  • Bahrain
  • Bangladesh
  • Barbados
  • Belarus
  • Belize
  • Botswana
  • Burundi
  • Cameroon
  • Chad
  • China (People’s Republic)
  • Comoros
  • Congo (Democratic Republic)
  • Cuba
  • Dominica
  • Egypt
  • Equatorial Guinea
  • Eritrea
  • Ethiopia
  • Gabon
  • Ghana
  • Guatemala
  • Guinea
  • Guyana
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Jamaica
  • Japan
  • Jordan
  • Korea, North
  • Korea, South
  • Kuwait
  • Laos
  • Lebanon
  • Lesotho
  • Libya
  • Malawi
  • Malaysia
  • Mongolia
  • Nigeria
  • Oman
  • Pakistan
  • Palestinian Authority
  • Qatar
  • St. Kitts and Nevis
  • St. Lucia
  • St. Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Sierra Leone
  • Singapore
  • Somalia
  • Sudan
  • Swaziland
  • Syria
  • Taiwan
  • Tajikistan
  • Tanzania
  • Thailand
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • Uganda
  • United Arab Emirates
  • United States
  • Vietnam
  • Yemen
  • Zambia
  • Zimbabwe

(courtesy: The Death Penalty Worldwide — Infoplease.com http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0777460.html#ixzz1YhKqU538)

Not exactly the most prestigious group for the US (and Japan) to be associated with. Oppressive and dictatorial regimes make up the lion’s share of nations on this list, it hardly seems to be a coincidence.

Empathetic people will naturally be angry at someone who commits a heinous act such as murder and it is also natural to want that person to face death themselves. However, it is a package deal. Humans make mistakes so some juries will use the death penalty against the actual perpetrator of a horrible crime while others will sentence innocent people to death. So, to have vengeance against the guilty, we must accept responsibility for supporting the same act we revile, the killing of innocent people.

Most industrialized and Western nations have decided that they can’t abide such a societal act of murder. The principle of condemning the act of taking life is consistent for them, killing is wrong for anyone, including them to commit.

I don’t see how we can take pride in our legal system after last night. Those who believe Troy Davis was probably guilty could be right, those who say he may not have been could be right but what both have to stipulate, if they are honest, is that there is reasonable doubt about this. That being the case, last night’s execution of a man who many on the right and left believed was not proven to have committed a crime beyond a reasonable doubt, also killed confidence in a core principle in our American legal system.

Time will tell if this execution will lead to strengthening the movement against capital punishment. For the sake of our society and our legal system, for the sake of our society not having the blood of innocent people on their hands, I hope so.

Written by AdLib

My motto is, "It is better to have blogged and lost hours of your day, than never to have blogged at all."

38 Responses so far.

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  1. SueInCa says:

    Adlib

    so much to say so little room. First of all, anytime a person is executed by the state, the coroner always puts “homicide” as the reason for death. Simplistically thinking why then do the police not investigate and condemn the state’s proxy who actually pulled the trigger? How does the criminal justice system get away with a homicide that is not investigated? Personally I would like to see a civil case that challenges that, it might give ample reason to discontinue the process. What is the state going to claim? Self Defense? Hardly since the act is blatantly premeditated and there is plenty of evidence to prove mens rea which is required for a capitol murder case or any criminal offense.

    Secondly, I have worked with DA offices around the country and Federal prosecutors. Hands down I found the federal prosecutors exhibited morals far surpassing any DA I dealt with. I have seen DA’s who will stretch the truth if they think they can get away with it. Sure they might be subourning perjury but a lot of DA’s offices are run on the motto “win at all costs”. How about the DA in Bakersfield who brought all those parents up on sexual abuse charges when it was later found they were all(almost) innocent? But not after some spent 19 years in jail. A somewhat classic case of a DA going outside the truth using coercion of child witnesses to gain convictions. Ed Jagels remained in office until 2009 in Kern County

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kern_County_child_abuse_cases

    Third the police and prosecutors are able to make deals with all manner of people to gain their testimony, but the defense is left helpless. Whoever thought allowing a criminal to provide testimony against a person who is supposed to be “innocent until proven guilty” was kosher? Pulease, what criminal would not want a lesser sentence, extra privilegs etc in exchange for their testimony whether true or not? Someone that is already incarcerated could care less if they were charged with perjury. “I probably did not tell the truth when my trial took place, but I am for sure now” Hardly believable.

    Like you, I do not believe in the Death Penalty. I wrote a note here the other night about my enlightenment. I never thought much about it until I heard live commentary about an execution taking place in San Quentin one night in bed listening to the radio. It sickened me to my core, it was just so creepy to hear people talk about it like it was some circus act. That was probably way back in the late 80’s or early 90’s. That is when it became real to me and I never forgot it. There is much more I could say but I will stop for now. Thos statistics are not a stand up proud moment for our country, none of them.

  2. Caru says:

    I’m against the death penalty as a matter of principle and a case like this demonstrates some of the myriad reasons why it is wrong:

    1.) It’s arbitrarily applied.

    2.) There’s a strong possibility of bias in many cases.

    3.) You can’t take it back.

  3. KQuark says:

    I know it’s not popular in liberal circles now but I’m still ambivalent about the issue myself because it’s applied far too often and in a biased way. I just can’t empathize with people who have no empathy. Call me barbaric or whatever but when we are absolutely sure someone like a McVeigh committed mass murder with malicious intent or even sure a child rapist and murderer is guilty, I have no problem using the death penalty.

    I think the standard needs to go beyond reasonable doubt for the death penalty to having no lingering doubts at all. The Davis case was far far short of that standard. White supremacist Lawrence Russell Brewer being executed for dragging James Byrd miles behind Brewer’s car until Byrd was decapitated not so much.

  4. Kalima says:

    Japan wants to engage in a serious discussion/debate about it’s death penalty, it’s on the table if we ever have a PM in office long enough that is.

    Also there have been quite a few people who have served decades behind bars, being released because of DNA evidence.

    The death by hanging here, occurs without fanfare or media coverage, and is still very few compared to other countries on your list. I’m hoping that this will be addressed in the near future because the voices for abolishing it are growing louder.

    Personally there is not much I can do about it, as you know, I can’t vote here.

  5. Emerald1943 says:

    Adlib, thank you so much for writing this piece. I concur with all you said here. It occurs to me that this rush to kill by the state is based on our Old Testament thirst for vengeance. The old “eye for an eye” rule. It’s not punishment…it’s revenge, pure and simple. These “laws” from the Old Testament were written several thousand years ago by people who scarcely had the wheel. Have we not evolved beyond that?

    In my opinion, punishment for some horrendous crime like murder should be life in prison without parole. I personally cannot imagine anything worse than losing my freedom for the rest of my life. I think I would rather be dead.

    The homicide rate in the United States still is among the highest of the industrialized nations. I can find no evidence that the death penalty is actually a deterrent. Angry and irrational people with guns will not stop to think about whether they will receive the death penalty before pulling the trigger!

    I hope that we as a nation will abolish this barbaric practice. With the people behind a movement to abolish, it would take very little action by the Supreme Court to do so but I am not holding my breath to see it, not with this group of justices and the prevailing attitudes about capital punishment.

    • javaz says:

      The Christianity that I was raised by has been thwarted or changed, so that it now means that God wants war and killing.

      They’re going by the old testament and twisting Christ into a warrior against the poor.

      I remember while a little girl in a Catholic School, and how they went from Latin for mass to English, and how they began teaching that GOD IS LOVE.

      I think the GOD is love thing is all gone now and we’re back to fire and brimstone and Jesus hating the poor.

    • AdLib says:

      Hey Emerald, I agree, the death penalty does seem to come from the brutal law of “an eye for an eye”.

      Thankfully, we don’t actually gouge out the eye of a criminal who may have harmed the eye of a victim but somehow we still kill people who are convicted (guilty or not) of killing.

      How unenlightened and hypocritical is that?

      We do live in a culture that celebrates violence, people are killed in movies and tv and games all over the place, in fact, killing people IS what the most popular “games” are all about.

      And as javaz mentioned below, many of these death fanatics are rabid pro-lifers. It’s a bit schizophrenic.

      Would be nice to once again be a country that others want to emulate around the world.

  6. javaz says:

    Well, I don’t care if Troy Davis was guilty or innocent.

    There!

    I said it.

    Capital punishment is WRONG.

    There was also an execution yesterday of Lawrence Russell Brewer in Texas and he’s the white supremacist who killed a black man, James Byrd, by chaining him and dragging him on the back of his pickup truck.

    And as abhorrent as that crime is, even Mr. Brewer did not deserve death by the state because capital punishment is WRONG.

    The right-wing is all about saving embryos and zygotes, but when it comes to living people, they cheer death.

    Hell, even when it comes to Americans lacking health care, they cheer death.

    But let a woman in a Catholic Hospital, during birth, where it’s a life and death scenario and the hospital chooses to save the mother, the right-wingers are angered over the death of the baby and they believe that both should have died.

    Up is down.
    Black is white.
    War is peace.

    What a messed up, jumbled up, mixed up world we are living in.

      • javaz says:

        As many know, we lost our daughter -- my husband’s daughter, and my step-daughter, but she was mine, as I became her mother when she was 12 years old, since her mother had died, and that made her mine.

        The accident that killed her had no rhyme or reason -- clear road, clear night, paved road, no alcohol, no drugs and the person who is responsible for her death was her boyfriend who was driving the motorcycle.

        Do we hate that young man and want revenge?

        NO.

        I get it, in that it’s not the same as someone pulling a trigger and killing her outright.

        My husband, was at first very bitter toward the guy, but he let that go as it would serve no purpose.

        The worst part of it, was that no one ever to this day, as there were others involved and it was a domino effect that led to her death, but the worst part is, is that no one involved ever made an attempt to say that they were sorry.

        It’s awfully hard to forgive, when no one says that they’re sorry, but my husband has forgiven them all.

        We’ve had to forgive in able to live again.

        The thing about the slain man in the Troy Davis case are the reports that they smiled while he was being murdered by the state.

        And then I heard this morning that the family released a statement that said that they took no joy from Troy’s death, but maybe now they’ll understand how they felt losing their son, brother and father.

        WTF?

        Troy Davis’s family lost him when he was incarcerated.

        I can’t explain it correctly and please forgive me for that.

        But even the family of Mr. Byrd, who was murdered by Lawrence Brewer in such an unimaginable and horrific way, even Mr. Byrd’s family asked the state of Texas not to kill him.

        My faith in God is doubtful at this point.

        I’ve lost my faith, is what I am trying to say.

        This is not what I learned at all growing up and I’m losing my faith every single day the longer the Rick Perry’s and faux Christians, such as Pat Robertson saying it’s okay to divorce when a spouse gets Alzheimer.

        We’ve really lost our conscience in this country, and maybe we’ve never had conscience and I’m finally just realizing it.

        • Emerald1943 says:

          Javaz. thank you for sharing your feelings here with us. I know there can be no healing for the pain you have endured over this loss.

          We must all learn that NOTHING is permanent in this world. We cling to impermanent things to give ourselves some sense of stability, but in the end, we lose everything. It is hard to let go, but we must. I believe you have come to terms with this loss, but you cannot allow others less “evolved” than you are spiritually to take away what comfort you take from your beliefs. That only hinders your spiritual growth, which IMO is the reason that we are all here.

          I do agree with you about the direction our society is going in now. It seems to be off the rails and no one has a good idea on how to fix it. I would call it the loss of our “soul”. We are so absorbed in things that are impermanent and meaningless. It is sad to see a people with so much potential go down this road.

          But take courage and solace in this…not ALL of us have lost our way! (At least I hope I haven’t!) I find so many wonderful spiritual people here at PPOV, people who support me and are true friends though I’ve never met any of them. Not religious like the faux Christians that you mention, but spiritual…there’s a huge difference! I count you among those friends! :-)

  7. PatsyT says:

    FB quote

    GOP thinks Global Warming has reasonable doubt;
    Why are they so sure Troy was guilty?

  8. Khirad says:

    Actually, what struck me about that list were these:

    Antigua and Barbuda -- 1991
    Bahamas -- 2000
    Barbados -- 1984
    Belize -- 1985
    Dominica -- 1986
    Guyana -- 1997
    Jamaica -- 1988
    St. Kitts and Nevis -- 2008
    St. Lucia -- 1995
    St. Vincent and the Grenadines -- 1995
    Trinidad and Tobago -- 1999

    I’ll tell you what all those have in common besides region. I wonder if they execute many people or just never bothered to take it off the books after independence.

    No Venezuela? That’s embarrassing. Edit: Abolished in 1863! At independence!

    • AdLib says:

      I think that’s a logical assumption, they’ve left those laws on the books. However, I don’t know if they have executed anyone.

      But…what is the US doing in this company?

      • Khirad says:

        By the way, edited that, with the last year of each execution. Apparently it’s quite popular. You’d think they’d all be more chill. Still doesn’t appear to be used often at least.

        for the record, I wouldn’t mind being in a Caribbean’s company. :-)

        • Emerald1943 says:

          Khirad, I can personally vouch for the wonders of St. Maarten! I was there last January and it was absolutely divine! A paradise on earth! In fact, if Perry wins in 2012, that’s where you can find me! :-)

  9. bito says:

    The issue is not Troy Davis and the injustice done. Troy Davis has been murdered. Long live Troy Davis. Now is time to concentrate on this injustice! http://planetpov.com/2011/09/01/time-out-for-ot-vol-17/#comment-151823
    Start learning this name: Reginald Clemons

    From Karoli’s words:

    If we learn anything from the Troy Davis case, it should be this: The time to make noise is while there’s still time left, not at the eleventh hour. There should be pressure on anyone connected with this case to give it a fair, public hearing and arrive at a fair, just conclusion.

    Lets not wait until we are typing: “Too Much Doubt” and adding AGAIN to the tag!

  10. ADONAI says:

    Goddamn I’m still angry about this. How helpless the people at that prison must have felt. They killed him about 500 feet away from them and there was nothign they could do about it.

    I started writing a post on the history of capital punishment. It’s the only way I can wrap my head around it. Maybe I’ll find some reason, some justification for this barbarism.

    But I doubt it.


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