The death penalty has always been a contested issue in this country. Does any body of power, elected or otherwise, have the right to take the life of someone that they find guilty of a harsh enough crime? Is there too much human error involved in the investigation process to properly say that a defendant is defiantly guilty? Is there any other fitting penalty besides death for the cold blooded murder of another human being? These are the many complicated moral and social comments to be made on this issue, but this being opinion piece we will voice our opinion.
We are for the death penalty in very few select instances, but not in the case of Troy Davis.
In August of 1989, Davis was convicted of the murder of Officer Mark MacPhail in Savannah, Ga., based on the testimony of witnesses who claimed to have seen Davis shoot the on-duty officer and ballistics evidence. We was sentenced to death in 1991. After a series of appeals and retrials, the sentence was kept in 2010 with the execution scheduled being tonight at 7 p.,. It was delayed after the Supreme Court stepped in, but the High Court has now declined to stop the execution.
The main controversy over the decision comes from the fact that many of the non-police witnesses recanted their testimony through written affidavits, and many named a man named Sylvester Coles as the actual shooter.
The defense of Davis against the death penalty has been taken up by such figures as former President Jimmy Carter, civil rights activist Al Sharpton and Pope Benedict XVI. But despite these notable figures along with thousands of supporters running under the N.A.A.C.P and Amnesty International banners, all appeals for a stay of execution have been denied.
There were failures on both sides of this case. On the side of Davis’ supporters there are a great many accusations of racism against the Georgia court system (Davis is black). Whether or not this is true, it’s a play that weakens the defense of Davis by turning the case from “Has he been falsely accused” to the much more radical and hard to prove question of “He was found guilty because he is black.” This ignores the very real possibility (and we argue probability) that Davis is actually innocent and should not be executed.
An officer was killed in the line of duty, and Davis was simply the most likely suspect. The more-than-reasonable doubt cast by witnesses recanting their testimony is more than enough to stay the execution.
The second effect of the racism argument is it leaves the side that is pushing for his execution fighting against a split defense, with their side only having to defend “Is there enough evidence to find him guilty” and able to ignore the racial bias implications.
Meanwhile, the side that wants Davis put to death has failed in the way the capital punishment enthusiasts usually fail. They have taken the death penalty as an absolute answer and not as absolute last resort.
The evidence against Davis was strong, strong enough to prove his guilt in court and put him in prison for the rest of his life. But the evidence is not definite and certainly not strong enough to stake his life on it.
Signed affidavits, a second suspect, and lack of murder weapon open enough holes in the case where the death penalty seems too definitive of an action to take.
This action cannot be undone.
Barring any last minute and unexpected change of events, Troy Davis will be put to death by lethal injection at Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison. In the hours prior, his supporters will make several attempts to save the man’s life and most likely will fail to do so. After his death, Troy Davis will become a name used in many future cases, both for and against suspects facing his fate.
But make no mistake: what really happened here is that a cry for revenge for the murder of a police officer in the south has outweighed a cry for reason in the face of doubt.
Whether Troy Davis actually killed MacPhail or not, the guarantee in the nation that any reasonable doubt must be removed has been betrayed by this outcome.