Monday, July 16, 2007

Capital Punishment - The Real Crime

The fundamental prescient case for capital punishment is that it fits the crime. The fact that almost all Western countries have outlawed it however, should tell us something about the way the death penalty is regarded. It is a backward society that executes humans in order to exact retribution. It cannot be justified by deterrence and should not be justified by revenge. The overwhelming case against it, is that should the state, any state, as has undoubtedly been the case, execute an innocent person, it has made itself accountable in the same way as a murderer – a cold blooded pre-meditated killing of a person. ‘Oops’ does not work.

So this should again be taken into account in the pending execution of one Troy Davis of Georgia. Davis was a man who may or may not have committed the crime, but that is no basis for carrying out an inmate’s execution. What is certain is that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. In 1989, A scuffle between two men outside a Burger King between a homeless man by the name of Larry Young and a second man had broken out allegedly over a beer. An off-duty but uniformed police officer intervened and was shot twice and died of his wounds.

A weapon was never found so police relied on eyewitnesses. A man named “Red” Coles eventually went to the police with an attorney and named Davis as the killer. Some witnesses named Coles as the killer but in the event of a homicide on an officer, police were desperate to make an arrest. Davis turned himself in to police four days later after hearing that he was being sought. The police took affidavits from several people at the scene and Davis seemed to be implicated by some of them. However, this is an example of what many of those witnesses said after the conviction as reported in the Washington Post:

The affidavit from Darrell Collins, the friend who was with Davis that night, was typical.

"I told them it was Red and not
Troy who was messing with that man, but they didn't want to hear that," Collins, who was 16 at the time, said in his 2002 statement. "The detectives told me, 'Fine, have it your way. Kiss your life goodbye because you're going to jail.' After a couple of hours of the detectives yelling at me and threatening me, I finally broke down and told them what they wanted to hear."

Other witnesses have since confessed to lying on their statements. So it should be clear that if the death sentenced is not overturned, there should at least be a new, thorough investigation. There wasn’t and the truth is even more uncomfortable: Martina Correia, Davis, sister tried in vain to find a lawyer who would support them as they didn’t have the means to pay for one. Some on the right might consider that tough luck.

In 1996 President Bill Clinton signed the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act into effect. It was passed by Congress in the wake of the Oklahoma bombing and was aimed at limiting the reasons as to why the Supreme Court can overturn death penalty decisions in the context of Timothy McVeigh’s sentence.

The court dealing with Davis’ case has now said it is to late for an appeal to be pressed. Too late? We aren’t talking about an entry for a tombola prize here. We are talking about a man’s life. This isn’t about partisan politics. This is about preventing a monumental blunder.

The death sentence remains one of the major factors which makes it hard for this country to accuse other countries of Human Rights violations. It is a barbaric practice which has no place in today’s society. The United States still suffers an inordinately higher number of murders than any other Western modern state despite its affection for capital punishment, which absolutely eradicates any basis whatsoever for the argument that capital punishment has ever, ever deterred a single person from committing a homicide.

Davis is due to be executed tomorrow. By all appearances an innocent man will be put to death by the state. Of course President Bush would have the power to commute the sentence in the light of the new evidence, but he’s unlikely to do that for an African American in Georgia who isn’t part of his personal clique.

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