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.
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.
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:
- Antigua and Barbuda
- China (People’s Republic)
- Congo (Democratic Republic)
- Equatorial Guinea
- Korea, North
- Korea, South
- Palestinian Authority
- St. Kitts and Nevis
- St. Lucia
- St. Vincent and the Grenadines
- Saudi Arabia
- Sierra Leone
- Trinidad and Tobago
- United Arab Emirates
- United States
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.