Archive for Sunday, October 26, 2008

Death penalty decisions far from perfect

October 26, 2008


This is a rewrite.

In the column originally prepared for this space, I said that Troy Davis was scheduled to die Monday - to be killed, actually, by an executioner for the state of George.

But - stop the presses! - that's no longer accurate. On Monday, Davis, 40, will still be alive. Or at least, he won't be dead because of anything the state did. That's because on Friday, an appeals court granted him a stay. If his next round of legal actions is unsuccessful, Davis will once again face death.

This is Davis' third stay, his third hairsbreadth escape from execution. If there is any justice, it will be his last. Meaning not that he will be killed, but that he won't, that the state of Georgia will finally come to its senses.

Davis was convicted in the 1989 death of Mark MacPhail, an off-duty Savannah, Ga., police officer who was trying to break up a parking lot altercation when he was shot. But Davis is connected to the crime by no forensic evidence whatsoever. He stands condemned solely on the word of nine witnesses, seven of whom have since recanted. Two of the seven say they were intimidated into lying by police. Of the two who have not recanted, one is a man named Sylvester Coles, who is said by some witnesses to be the real shooter.

For many of you this is an old story. I've written about it before, as have others.

Luminaries like Jimmy Carter and the pope have also spoken out on Davis' behalf. Is it too much to hope somebody will finally listen?

Understand: I oppose the death penalty for many reasons.

In the first place, it is biased by race: Offenders whose victims were white are more likely to be put death than those whose victims were of some other race.

In the second place, it is biased by gender: Male offenders are more likely to be put to death than females who commit similar crimes.

In the third place, it is biased by class: Those who can afford high-priced lawyers are more likely to escape execution (paging O.J. Simpson) while those who can't are more apt to wind up in the death house.

In the fourth place, it has no deterrent effect.

In the fifth place, it is more expensive than the alternative: Life in prison without parole.

In the sixth place, it is wrong - and not just wrong, but crude, cruel and immoral. No government should arrogate unto itself the right to put its citizens to death.

But you know what? Put all those reasons aside. Because the thing that troubles me more than all of them combined, the thing that makes Davis' case an abomination, is the simple possibility, indeed, the likelihood, that we will get it, have already gotten it, flat-out wrong.

Who can doubt? There are few things less perfect than human beings, after all, yet that's what is required for anyone to feel even marginally sanguine about this custom of state-sponsored death: perfection. We need to believe that in this most somber of endeavors, unlike in all others, human beings will somehow magically make no mistakes, get everything right, be flawless.

I would not wager the change in my sofa cushions on the ability of government to spell my name without error. Yet day after day, we blithely wager the lives of other people on the ability of government to administer justice without error.

It's a delusion that does not bear scrutiny; if you look too closely, the facade cracks and you are forced to ponder what's being done in your name. So most of us would, I expect, look the other way, think not too long upon it, if Troy Davis were put to death, proclamations of innocence on his lips as they have been for almost 20 years.

Maybe you're telling yourself, Pitts has no idea whether Davis is innocent or not.

Well, you're right. I don't know, you don't know.

And that's the point.

- Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald.


Ralph Reed 9 years, 6 months ago

yankeevet (Anonymous) writes:"Who cares:::::.this guy writes about some dum (sic) stuff::::::.."***yankeevet, would you say the same thing if Troy Davis were white and another ethnicity?***I'm me. Who are you behind your hood of anonymity?

yankeevet 9 years, 6 months ago

Who cares................this guy writes about some dum stuff....................

Flap Doodle 9 years, 5 months ago

"In the fourth place, it has no deterrent effect."However, it does eliminate recidivism.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 5 months ago

"Nope. Never been arrested, questioned, or detained. Worst I've had is a couple of speeding tickets, and even those were for less than 15 over the speed limit."Your protestations of innocence are of no use. Not even if you have witnesses. You've been convicted, and it's against all principles of "justice" to reconsider on any grounds. Your death sentence must be upheld. Perhaps in your next life you'll choose your moniker more carefully.

humble_simpleton 9 years, 5 months ago

The Death penalty is based on the recurring acts predicted by the jury. In other, simpler words, if they are going to kill again, then we should stop them first. Our own constitution is based of the concept that those who have the ability to prevent a wrong, then have the responsibility. The Bible even goes so far as to say that if you do not prevent your brother from a serious crime, then you are guilty of the crime itself. In regard to your "humane" comment, leathal injection is more humane than I believe anyone of these murder-rapists deserve. Your fifth arguement is totally untrue. If we are paying with our tax dollars to feed, house, and guard them for life, how is that less expensive than terminating the abomination that they have become. This specific case of Davis could be a sad one, but no one knows other than God himself. Finally your arguement about biasm is not thought through. There is no relevancy or correlation between ethnicity or sex. Once again the decision is based on the probability that they will kill again, not the fact that they are a white male. The fact of the matter is that if they kill multiple people, which is the only way to get on death row, they do not deserve to live in america or anywhere else.

helter_skelter 9 years, 5 months ago

"state of George." ???I got as far as that typo before I stopped caring. If the first paragraph has a typo like that, I'm not even going to bother reading further.And for my two cents' worth: execute killers. Execute child rapists and pedophiles. And if it costs more to execute them than it does to warehouse them for the rest of their disgusting lives, we're probably doing something wrong.

ebyrdstarr 9 years, 5 months ago

humble, you are wrong. One does not need to kill more than one person to land on death row. And future dangerousness is not a factor that a jury in Kansas can consider when deciding whether to impose the death penalty.Helter, just to be clear, you think that providing due process to defendant's sentenced to death is too expensive and therefore wrong? Your argument that we should all wait until a loved one of our own is murdered is tired and unpersuasive. Ever heard of Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation? That's just one organization of such families who oppose the death penalty.

helter_skelter 9 years, 5 months ago

Nope. Never been arrested, questioned, or detained. Worst I've had is a couple of speeding tickets, and even those were for less than 15 over the speed limit.I'm just a HUGE backer of the death penalty, and more specifically, expanding the scope of its coverage.For those of you anti-death penalty proponents: wait until it happens to you. Wait until your 3-year-old daughter or sister gets raped. Wait until your 97-year-old grandmother gets bound, gagged, beaten, degraded, and killed. Then come and tell me that the piece of refuse that did the act is worthy of your compassion and deserves to spend the rest of his life living on your dime. He can sit in jail for the rest of his life watching cable TV, reading magazines, playing in the prison's courtyard, eat 3 squares a day, and can get his boo boos treated all on your dime. Until that time: line 'em up and execute 'em. A bullet costs less than a buck.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 5 months ago

"helter_skelter"With a name like that, you must have done something extremely heinous, and therefore deserving of execution. I could be wrong, but it'd be too expensive to determine that for sure. Sorry.

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