Saturday, September 17, 2011

The kill or not to kill? That is the question!

"I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice."
-- Abraham Lincoln

As most of us age, we become rigid in our beliefs, morals and opinions -- myself included. I can be persuaded to change, but admittedly the evidence required to do so is great. Why? Probably because I find it frustrating to admit that I was wrong. I suppose others struggle with the same problem (at least I hope so).

However, exceptions can be found to most rules. For me, the issue I can't decide is that of capital punishment. The harshest criminal penalty our justice system can mete out is the forfeiture of life.

Justice is about creating fairness, balancing the scales. Crimes should require a punishment that is fair, and many would argue certain acts dictate justice requires a life for a life. To restore balance to society, the criminal who killed must also be killed. I understand the logic behind that belief.

Yet, to punish a criminal for taking life by requiring theirs feels hypocritical. To show that killing is wrong, the state will now kill you. Also, society presumes all murderers are beyond redemption of any kind. Such a notion is flawed, even if rooted in good intention.

The most frustrating element behind capital punishment, though, is death's finality. Yes, certain criminals are so heinous, that death is the only measure to provide justice. But what if the state executes an innocent man or woman? How can we, as a society, tolerate such an injustice?

This question leads me to the case of Troy Davis, from Savannah, Georgia. He was 22 years old in 1991, when he was convicted of murdering an off-duty police officer. Davis' conviction was based on the testimony of multiple witnesses, but no physical evidence. He is scheduled for execution this Wednesday evening.

Since his incarceration, an astounding 10 witnesses have recanted their testimony, claiming police forced them into their previous statements.1 This fact alone should be enough to stop an execution of a man who may be innocent.

Additionally, one juror from the Davis case, Brenda Forrest, has come forward and stated she would never have voted 'guilty' based on information provided today, noting, "If I knew then what I know now, Troy Davis would not be on Death Row. The verdict would be 'not guilty.' "2

Davis' case has received support from Amnesty International, the NAACP, and various high profile figures across the world. Individual supporters include: Pope Benedict XVI, President Jimmy Carter, former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr (a strong supporter of capital punishment), and former FBI Director and judge, William Sessions.

Is Troy Davis a wrongfully convicted man? I do not know. He may be guilty. But with witnesses recanting and no physical evidence, enough doubt exists to whether Davis was responsible for the murder.

I am still uncertain about my position on capital punishment, but I believe the legal system ought to prevent a miscarriage of justice and Davis' execution should be postponed -- indefinitely.


1"Troy Davis Case: Thousands Protest in Georgia to Oppose Troy’s Execution," International Business Times, September 17, 2011.

2CNN Transcripts

1 comment:

  1. Just a few months ago, I was like you..sort of "on the fence". I still have a few hangups - what about individuals like Hitler, or Osama bin Laden, whose imprisonment would have only inspired loyalists, and whose escape would cause another crisis?
    I decided that these rare instances are not sufficient to grant such a terrible power to the state, over life and death. The more I thought about it, the more the other reasons some might support the death penalty seemed fragile.
    1.) The illusion that life prisoners are dead weight to the state, and that killing them is cost efficient. In fact, after all trials, appeals, and other legal process are completed, it costs more to have them executed.
    2.) The death penalty is a deterrent. (I believe I've already sent this to you..
    3.) The death penalty gives closure to the families of victims. So rather than accepting the sad reality of grief and mourning for one family, we impose it on another as well, in vengeance. The death penalty doesn't punish the victim - its the families left behind who suffer. Fortunately, some families are realizing the futility of perpetuating violence as a punishment.

    Furthermore, the way the death penalty is implemented in most states makes us more disillusioned with the notion of death, and almost dehumanizes the criminal. The executioners are often in another room, where the chemicals are deployed at the press of a button. In some states they devised a system where two prison employees press a button; one will dispense the chemicals, but they will never know which one actually killed the prisoner. I understand this could be a traumatizing task... But the casual, "guilt-free" attempt to disregard human life made me question: if it something so terrible that we can not face it, and we cannot bring ourselves to take responsibility for it, is it something we should be doing?