According to so many religions, certain acts mandate the death sentence. Certainly, many of the rules are simply outmoded, and for one reason or another, are comical and ridiculous to consider enforcing. Some have taken on a more appropriate punishment, or simply moved down to being things which are criticized. For obvious reasons, this is good – nobody wants to be put to death for being held in contempt of court – though it would be kind of hilarious to see Karl Rove put to death for being in contempt of Congress.
Last night, as the majority of the world now knows, Troy Davis was executed by the state of Georgia, his official time of death recorded as 11:08 PM. I admit, I’m not a hero of justice, I wasn’t fighting for his freedom or anything, and I really wasn’t aware of the case until about two months ago, if that. I’m not saying people didn’t fight hard enough, or that I was the only one who cared – no, if nobody else fought or cared enough, I’d never have known about this, my world would have been no different today than yesterday.
In 1991, Troy was convicted of, and sentenced to death for, the murder of an off duty police officer, Mark MacPhail, working as a security guard who was attempting to help a homeless man being assaulted in a parking lot.
Troy was convicted, based in large part, on circumstantial evidence and witness testimony, including that of Sylvester “Redd” Coles, later himself implicated in the crime. Due to a string of mishandling of the case, evidence, and witnesses by the defense, both in the original trial and subsequent appeals and evidentiary hearings, as well as the aggression of the prosecutors, and the blood thirsty MacPhail family, no substantial case was put together to clear Davis, or at least commute his sentence to life in prison.
I do not claim to know whether or not Troy Davis was guilty or innocent. The most important fact here is that we do not KNOW. Enough holes were in the original case, or later exposed that the case by definition must be considered to have at least a serious doubt, serious enough that the death penalty cannot in fairness be applied here. Unfortunately, for Troy Davis, at least, the debate is now academic. Hopefully, he will at least be given a fair trial in his afterlife.
As a generality, I personally believe in the death penalty. Some crimes are simply too heinous, such as rape, child molestation, and murder, and the perpetrators of these crimes do not deserve the life they have been given, and in some cases, maintain after committing the crime. That said, the burden of proof in a capital case must by definition be 100%. There can be no doubt, as a life cannot be returned once taken. A life sentence without the possibility of parole serves the same purpose, and it always leaves room for a conviction to be overturned later.
In a different case, the death sentence is almost not enough, certainly not in a manner which we can feel a true sense of justice. Just hours before Troy Davis was executed, justice was truly served, even if in a state in which the death penalty should be abolished for the sake of the poor and innocent who may be the wrong color or class. Last night, Lawrence Russell Brewer was executed in perhaps one of the most well known and revolting hate crimes of the last century.
Brewer and two of his friends, John William King and Shawn Berry, chained a black man, James Byrd, Jr. to the back of their pickup truck, and dragged him to death, spreading his remains across nearly three miles.
My point is, I support the death penalty. A deterrent it is not, but I know that I could be brought some peace if someone close to me were murdered, and the guilty party would have to face their imminent death. While there is still room for error, however, I cannot support the death penalty. A mistake like that cannot be reversed.