Thursday, September 22, 2011

Getting Away with Murder

Something must be said about the murder of Troy Davis by the state last night.

The Burning House is quite comfortable calling this a murder. Not an "execution," the word we are supposed to use to legitimize taking life when the state instructs us that a human being is worth killing. It's not "capital punishment," since no capital was harmed in the process and Troy Davis was not decapitated. Troy Davis was murdered by a series of lethal injections. The process may well have been extremely painful, but there would be no sign of it to a witness because of the heavy dose of sedatives used in the process. Read an eyewitness account of a lethal injection here.

Nineteen years ago, Troy Davis was convicted of murdering a police officer. His trial is not what we would hope for, if we desire justice. He was convicted on the basis of testimony of 9 witnesses, seven of whom later recanted their testimony under allegations of witness intimidation by another suspect (who might have been the killer). There was no physical evidence tying him to the crime.

We like to think we are a civilized people, and only execute the guilty. In order to maintain this illusion, we need to uphold a rigorous process for establishing guilt, and reserve the death penalty for cases where a rigorous trial has established guilt beyond any reasonable doubt. This is a bare minimum standard for accepting a death penalty in a civilized society, and even then there is a debate to be had about the morality or the wisdom of taking life.

Clearly, something was very wrong with the Troy Davis trial. His execution was halted four times, the last one taking place minutes before his murder by the state of Georgia. He was already strapped to a gurney awaiting the first injection when the Supreme Court considered a final, desperate appeal by Davis's attorneys. Despite the dubiety of Davis's trial and conviction, the reasonable doubt over whether his guilt had been proven in a fair trial, the Supreme Court decided there would be no recourse but to allow Georgia to proceed on its violent course.

The family of Officer Mark MacPhail made vengeful remarks perfumed with sentiments about "healing" and prayer. We wonder if they think they know what really happened in that parking lot in 1989, or if this blood vengeance really settles a score or brings them (or Mark) any peace. They cannot, for we cannot, even know if this was the man who murdered Mark.

The Governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal, was himself a criminal prosecutor and later a judge in juvenile court. Does he really think Davis got a fair trial? Does he feel justice truly was done?

Here is the inescapable problem with capital punishment. This is a case that is very hard to dress up in ideas of "justice," "healing," or "deterrence." To call this "an execution" is to dress the murder up in pieties that will never fit. No one can claim with 100% assurance that this was the right man without lying to themselves.

In the presence of real doubts, why did the state proceed to murder Troy Davis last night in Georgia? If we desire justice, this wasn't it. So what is the desire being expressed here, when government employees willfully murder a man with the full knowledge that he might be innocent of the crime for which he was convicted?

Who really got away with murder last night?


Petteri Sulonen said...

It is worse than murder. Murder is not committed in the name of justice.

Anonymous said...

There will be those who think it is Justice and those who believe the exact opposite. Either way with this murder it will not bring back Mark...

Adam said...

I've never understood how the death penalty is any real punishment. There isn't anything after death for someone to feel a punishment. And for Christians, according to their beliefs, if the accused asks God for forgiveness before they are executed, then they get to go to heaven early. Where is the punishment?

There is no justice in death.

quid said...

The execution...unspeakable. You have made all the salient points, remarkably.