Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Godspeed, Troy Davis

The Troy Davis case is one we death penalty opponents have pointed to for years. One of my first ever blog posts was about that case, written for a different site but eventually transferred to this blog. I have revisited the case over the years here. You can search through my archives to find those posts. I am frankly too tired and beaten down to do that work for you right now. Because today is the end.

Today is the day I and other abolitionists had hoped would never come. There are no more appeals to be made. There are no more clemency petitions to file. There simply is no more hope. There will not be a last-minute miracle to save Troy Davis from the sentence that a jury imposed on him 20 years ago.

Plenty of courts and attorneys and clemency board members have looked at this case over the years and said, "Well, a jury found him guilty and I don't see any reason not to just go with that." Never mind that members of that jury now disagree. One was quoted recently saying that if she had known then what she knows now, she would never have found him guilty.

The problem with this case, of course, is that a jury did once find him guilty and he cannot now prove his innocence. He can make a very, very compelling case for reasonable doubt. He can point to lots of evidence that another man was the shooter. (A man who is one of only 2 original trial witnesses who have not subsequently said their testimony was the result of police pressure.) But he can't definitively prove this other man was the shooter. And so he loses on review. Because once upon a time a jury convicted him.

And apparently that's good enough for us as a society. We are deciding today, by executing Troy Davis, that we are ok with uncertainty in the process we use to intentionally and with premeditation kill people. So many people want to proclaim that they're only ok with the death penalty in cases where guilt is clear, obvious, 100% certain. But reality doesn't yield those cases very often. And even if it does on occasion, it also quite often yields cases like this. Cases that are filled with uncertainty but which nonetheless resulted in a guilty verdict and a death sentence. Maybe those 12 jurors were once upon a time convinced Davis' guilt was clear, obvious, 100% certain. But they aren't now and our death penalty system, the one that so many people support with this naive notion that we only use it on people who are obviously guilty, offers no way for the jury to now be heard when they say they're no longer certain. In reality, our criminal justice system does not have 100% certainty. So if you support the death penalty, you're supporting this kind of outcome. One where an awful lot of people have an awful lot of reasonable doubt, but once upon a time one random collection of 12 people did not have doubt so we'll carry on with an execution.

Well, I'm not ok with it. This isn't good enough for me. There is nothing that I can do, though. I will wear black today, though I wear black so often no one will realize it signifies anything. And I will continue to fight against the death penalty for all the other Troy Davis' out there with the hope that next time, the ending will be different. But the end is here for Mr. Davis and in this moment I can find nothing more to say than it really, really sucks.

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