Friday, September 16, 2011

One guy did it, the other guy probably didn't and both will probably be executed

The guy that did it is on death row in Texas.  He was supposed to be killed last night but the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay to consider whether he got a fair trial in light of testimony by a psychologist that black people (the defendant is black) are more likely to pose a danger to the public if they are released.

The guy that probably didn’t do it is on death row in Georgia.  He was convicted of killing a policeman.  Of the nine witnesses at his trial, seven have now said they didn’t tell the truth.  One of the other two witnesses is a guy who may well have done the killing.

The Texas guy has had a little bit of fame lately since Rick Perry is running for President and when asked last week if he worried that one of the several hundred people executed while he has been Governor might be innocent said

"No, sir. I've never struggled with that at all. The state of Texas has a very thoughtful, a very clear process in place of which -- when someone commits the most heinous of crimes against our citizens, they get a fair hearing, they go through an appellate process, they go up to the Supreme Court of the United States, if that's required.

"But in the state of Texas, if you come into our state and you kill one of our children, you kill a police officer, you're involved with another crime and you kill one of our citizens, you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas, and that is, you will be executed."

Fair enough I suppose; but, the current guy is one of six defendants who had the same psychologist give the same prejudicial testimony – the other five got a new trial.  And that “very thoughtful” process includes the governor’s consideration of a stay or clemency just before the scheduled execution – Governor Perry has been a tad busy this week running for President out of state.

Since from all accounts, the Texas guy is guilty, he doesn’t make an appealing poster child for opponents of the death penalty.

But the guy in Georgia has been in the spotlight for some time now and is a more attractive cause.

The U.S. Supreme Court gave him a hearing before a U.S. District Court Judge last year.  The Judge set an impossible standard to throw out the verdict – actual innocence.  In other words, though the state had to prove its case “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the guy had the burden to prove that there was absolutely no doubt that he was innocent.  He didn’t meet that burden and is scheduled to be killed next week.

Yesterday death penalty opponents delivered petitions with over 600,000 signatures on them to Georgia’s Pardons and Paroles Board. Former FBI Director William Sessions sides with them.  Writing about the absolute innocence conundrum he said:

“Some of these same witnesses also had testified at Davis’ trial but have since recanted their trial testimony. The judge at the evidentiary hearing found their recantations to be unreliable and, therefore, found Davis was unable to “clearly establish” his innocence. The problem is that the testimony of these same witnesses, whom the judge had determined were less believable, had been essential to the original conviction and death sentence.”

Former United States Attorney and U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, a death penalty advocate, wrote an editorial advocating clemency. “[I]mposing an irreversible sentence of death on the skimpiest of evidence will not serve the interest of justice. By granting clemency, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles will adhere to the most sacred principles of American jurisprudence, and will keep a man from being executed when we cannot be assured of his guilt.”

Execution doesn’t rehabilitate, it doesn’t deter.  If vengeance is a legitimate goal I suppose the practice has a purpose.  But even assuming that purpose, doesn’t life without parole accomplish the same thing?

Execution seems to me to be a symptom of an atavistic thread in our society.  Early on, it was “us” and “them.”  Our clan against the strangers.  Early society had no time or inclination to rehabilitate and deter.  If someone killed he became “them,” no longer one of us and now a threat to “us.”  Putting utting him in “jail” to protect and to avenge harm to “us” wasn’t an option.

We are no longer hunter/gatherers.  We can put people in jail to protect us from them and that is surely what we should do, especially when we cannot be assured of their guilt.

“In 2007, the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles issued a stay of execution for Davis and took the admirable position that it would ‘not allow an execution to proceed in this State unless and until its members are convinced that there is no doubt as to the guilt of the accused.’”

I hope they keep their word.


fermicat said...

I don't know what to think. The Davis case continually surprises me, every time the DON'T stop the process and reconsider the evidence. Why the hell not? You can't take back an execution, if delivered in error. Society has a duty to make damn sure they got the right guy.

Jeni said...

I totally agree with your post Dave as well as with Fermicat's words too! There is no going back once the accused is dead! And as to Gov. Perry's words -well, probably the less said there from me the better considering the fact I don't think he's playing with a full deck! There are times when some one commits a truly heinous act of violence and it is quite tempting to think that person's head should be served up on a silver platter but then, hopefully, a bit of common sense prevails -for me anyway -and I think that taking a life regardless of what the circumstances are is still just that -taking a life! Whether we think it justified or not, it still never corrects the issue that brought it all about to begin with!