Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Last Chance to Stop the Unjust Execution of Troy Davis

A brief appeal from my pal, René Najera:

Throughout my life, I have gone back and forth on the issue of the death penalty. Back in Texas, death sentences were carried out often while I was living there. Every couple of weeks, it seemed, the local media covered an execution, showing pictures and video of protests outside the prison. Some people would protest that the death penalty was archaic and unnecessary in a modern era and a modern country. Others would protest that the most horrible crimes needed the absolute punishment. For some time, I agreed with the latter. I agreed that some crimes were so heinous and unforgivable so as to deserve the death penalty. I saw the death penalty as a clean and almost surgical procedure and an unfair way for someone to exit this world when compared to how then killed someone else.

As I grew and matured, I came to see the death penalty as something else altogether. It doesn't stand for justice anymore, in my mind. As far as I am concerned, it is plain vengeance. The families of the victims demand it not because they want justice. They just want someone, anyone, to pay for the crime which took their loved ones away. I see it in the faces of the mothers, fathers, and siblings who are interviewed after a big case is closed and the verdict calls for death. And I see it when those same families show up to witness the execution.

I just don't believe in vengeance. I believe in justice.

Look at the case of Troy Davis, a man convicted of murdering a police officer 20 years ago. Seven of the witnesses who testified against him recanted their stories. Some of those witnesses stated that they were coerced by police to say what they said in court. There is no physical evidence linking Davis to the murder, not even a murder weapon, let alone intent. Further, one of the jurors has come forward stating that evidence in the case did not present the whole picture of what happened. And another person has been suspected of being the murderer for quite some time now. (I checked the Wikipedia entry against sources, and they all check out. You can read it here.)

At the very least, Troy Davis deserves a new trial.

Why not a full exoneration? Well, because a grand jury did indict him, and another jury did find him guilty. There was evidence against him, and not all the witnesses changed their stories. As Amnesty International has stated, there is just too much doubt about the validity of the evidence that led to the conviction.

There is also a bigger picture look at this case as well. In the bigger scheme of things, if Davis is executed and later found to be innocent because someone confesses to the crime or some other evidence is found that exonerates him, that will cast an enormous cloud of doubt over the entire justice system. It would be a cloud bigger than the one that hangs over it today as a disproportionate number of people from minority backgrounds get convicted at a higher rate and with harsher sentences. As a society, we need to trust our justice system. We need to know that the police will not make up charges against us so that we can report the real crimes to them and live in peace and prosperity. We need to trust our judges to take into account all the evidence so that we can hold responsible all the people who would do harm to us and our country. And we need to know that juries will not be manipulated by District Attorneys who want to score political points.

We need to know that not one innocent person spends one day in jail or, worse, is executed. Otherwise, we're pretty much screwed (to put it mildly). We're no better than a Banana Republic or a Failed State...

When asked about the attention the Davis case is attracting, the mother of the victim answered: "I just think they should stay away. They don't know the case, they're just running their mouths," says Anneliese MacPhail, the slain officer's mother. "It's none of their business. They don't know all the circumstances."

No, we don't, Mrs. MacPhail... As a country, a society, as human beings, we desperately need to.





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