Friday, September 23, 2011

Dearth Penalty

We woke up Thursday morning with two fewer Americans among us.  On Wednesday evening, Texas executed Lawrence Russell Brewer by lethal injection.  He was one of the white supremacists who dragged James Byrd to his death behind a pickup truck in 1998.

No one doubted that Brewer was guilty of his crime.  He didn't try for any last-minute appeals, never issued protestations of innocence, and went to his death forgiven by the family of his victim, which demonstrated the highest qualities of the Christian lifestyle.

And then, late that same evening, Georgia ended the life of Troy Davis.  Things were not as clear-cut in his case.  For one thing, there was never any physical evidence linking him to the murder of a police officer in 1989.  Witnesses recanted the testimony that had led to his conviction, and jurors expressed their regrets over their decision, given the way things changed after the trial. 

I ask, why the rush to kill the man?  Especially since we cannot be 100% certain that he is a cop killer.  Many people have been convicted of many things, only to have it turn out later that they didn't commit any crime worse than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Marylanders will recall the case of Kirk Bloodsworth, convicted in 1985 for murder, rape, and sexual assault upon a little girl who suffered those fates in the hands of someone else.  In 1985, DNA evidence-gathering did not exist, and Bloodsworth, found guilty because some people went to his trial right here in my home town and said they saw him with the little girl, went up for eight years, two of them on death row, until DNA evidence exonerated him in 1993. He was the first person ever exonerated after a conviction through the use of DNA evidence.  Although it set him free, the State of Maryland was unable to give him his eight years of life back.

Again, back to Troy Davis.  The State of Georgia cannot claim there was evidence that would lead reasonable people to believe in his guilt beyond the shadow of a doubt.  Too many people are saying a mistake was made.  It's becoming apparent that the execution was carried out in order to give "closure" to the family of the slain police officer.  To be sure, let's not forget that Officer Mark McPhail was killed by someone.  We just don't know by whom.  

Officer McPhail
It used to be that proponents of the death penalty would claim that killing people for killing people led to cost savings and also served as a deterrent to others.  The deterrent factor has been pretty much ruled out; as the murder rate continues to soar in most states, we don't see a huge rush of bad people saying, "I was going to kill you, but I fear the penalty attached thereto."  And if prisons are so interested in cutting down on costs, they might cut back on recreational programs, weight lifting, foreign language instruction and so forth, and just house the prisoners.  The emphasis has shifted to giving closure to the families of the victims, but I am certain that, if evidence comes out that clears Davis posthumously, the McPhails will feel very very sad. 

Maybe it's because I try to follow the Commandment against killing people, but I oppose the death penalty, especially when it seems to be used to make one family feel a sense of closure while taking the chance of diminishing another family.   Neither Officer McPhail nor Troy Davis, likely the only two humans on earth to know what happened that night, are coming back to earth to tell us about it.

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