The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia

Troy Davis is dead, executed within the past two hours by the state of Georgia after a last-minute appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court resulted in denial of a stay. Family members of the murder victim reportedly smiled when his death was announced. This NPR page, apparently a liveblog leading up to Davis’s execution, is a reasonable source of information. Here’s an excerpt regarding the basics:

If you’re not familiar, Davis was convicted of the 1989 murder of an off-duty police officer. But his conviction was based on eye witness accounts and no physical evidence. Through the years, some of the witnesses have walked back their testimony and doubts have emerged about the case.

So much so that the Supreme Court gave Davis a chance to prove his innocence. The AP reports that was the “first time it had done so for a death row inmate in at least 50 years, but he couldn’t convince a judge to grant him a new trial.”

I tend to believe, based on reports since Davis’s trial, that he may have been telling the truth about his innocence. But this goes right to the point of why (as regular readers know) I oppose the death penalty under all circumstances: even in cases in which all legal procedures are followed to the letter, the decision to execute someone or not execute him can easily come down to the whims of one or a few people, some of whom have unpleasant political motivations for never commuting a death sentence or granting pardon to anyone, evidence of possible innocence notwithstanding.

There are many other compelling arguments against the death penalty, but on an evening like this one, in which two men were scheduled for execution (I do not know yet if the other one died or not), I’d like to leave the focus on the virtual certainty that if we keep performing state-sponsored killings in the U.S. at the rate we’re going (several dozen executions each year since 2006), we will with virtual certainty kill innocent people, if we haven’t already. No human judicial process is perfect, and imperfections in this one sooner or later cost the lives of innocent people.

Another time, I’ll talk about the other thing the death penalty costs, which is an unbelievable amount of money compared to jailing someone for life without parole. Another time…

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  • MandT  On Thursday September 22, 2011 at 1:11 am

    With law as an artifact of commerce, legal resolution becomes a commodity affordable only by the wealthy and consequently injustice becomes common place and the rule of law, dissolute.

    • Steve  On Thursday September 22, 2011 at 8:28 am

      MandT, the irony is that in 18th-century America, one of the French writers who toured America (sorry; don’t remember which one) asked one “peasant” (i.e., farmer at work outdoors) about who received “high justice” and who received “low justice,” and the farmer proudly answered that in America there was no high, no low; everyone received the same justice. Accurate or not, the farmer’s statement leads one to think that Americans at one time believed that justice was the same for all of them. Now I can’t imagine that anyone believes that.

      That said, in Troy Davis’s case, the problem is largely political, because I’ve seen it happen with Rick Perry and GeeDubya Bush too. Remember the Tea Party debate crowd who cheered Perry’s execution record? That’s what I mean. Some people think that’s a record he can be proud of, not something to be regretted. Such people are sick fucks, but they are out there, and they turn elections..

  • MandT  On Thursday September 22, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    Just the thought of a single innocent life murdered for political gain, is enough to set the collapse of all justice, while the ghouls applaud and pray at the lynching. You would think that 6 millions such deaths in Europe within our lifetime would be enough example.

    • Steve  On Friday September 23, 2011 at 8:45 am

      MandT, the more history I read, the more I realize how much fearmongering has always been in the American toolkit. The ghouls, the murderers, the outright liars… they’ve always been here. But for me, the crux of my opposition to capital punishment is the inevitability of error even by people of good will: one innocent person executed is one too many, and the system is run by fallible humans who will inevitably make a great many more errors than just one.

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