Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Execution of Troy Davis

Last night, the state of Georgia put to death a 42 year old man, Troy Davis, who was sentenced to die for the 1989 murder of an off-duty police officer. Troy Davis was 20 years old in 1989.

The forensic evidence directly linking Davis to the murder was conspicuously absent. Innocence Project attorney, Barry Sheck, has called into question the results of testing on the gun alleged to have been the murder weapon. Indeed, there was no more incontrovertible forensic evidence directly linking Mr. Davis to his alleged crime than there was linking Casey Anthony to the murder of her two year old daughter, but Ms. Anthony was exonerated.

Oh, of course, yes, Casey Anthony is white, and Troy Davis is a man of color who stood trial for first degree murder when he when he was younger than Anthony. Remember, too, that a man of color was accused of having killed a white officer, Mr. McPhail, in 1989 and in the south no less. And, yes, of course race must be considered a factor when considering the disproportionate number of minorities on death row.

Before insertion of the needle, and within minutes of his death, Davis not only continued to proclaim his innocence, and that he was not personally involved in the officer's death, but that he didn't even have a gun.

For months now, many prominent people have called upon the courts to stop Davis's execution in the face of exculpatory evidence. The governor of Davis's home state of Georgia was unable to grant clemency, so Mr. Davis's counsel called upon the Supreme Court to order a stay of execution so that new evidence could be introduced. The Supreme Court ruled against the stay; the lethal injection process began at 10:53 p.m., and at 11:08 p.m., Mr. Davis was declared dead.

In the months and years before the execution, and in hours since, there has been much speculation about whether or not Troy Davis killed the police officer. Many cite the recanting of testimony by seven of the nine witnesses who fingered Davis as the murderer. And, up until his final breath, Troy Davis continued to proclaim his innocence, calling upon friends to continue to search for the truth about who is really guilty of killing that officer back in 1989.

But, in the end, this is not about innocence or guilt. This is about right and wrong. Is it ever right to put a man to death in what a former Jackson warden, Allen Alt, called a premeditated, and scripted way? Does not the executioner also become a cold-blooded murderer? For those who advocate austerity, would it not be a good idea to downsize federal employees whose vocation is taking the life of another?

At a time when another Southern governor, and one who is running for president of the United States, brags about having executed 235 men on his watch, including one who may well be innocent, and then turns around and calls himself a "pro-life" candidate reminds us of just how much hypocrisy, and duplicity we saw during the Olly North, Dan Quayle, "family values" 1990's.

There is another constitutional amendment other than the Second Amendment that tea partiers like Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, and Sarah Palin need to be remember---the Eighth Amendment, an amendment that forbids "cruel and unusual punishment."

What is it if not cruel and unusual punishment to bring a man to within hours of his execution on three separate occasions, and then send him back to death row? What is it if not cruel and unusual punishment to keep someone sedated in the death chamber on a gurney for four hours while waiting to hear back from the Supreme Court about whether there is a stay on his execution? Was Mr. Davis shackled, and gagged? Were his hands and feet bound? Did the sedation manage to arrest his thoughts, or was he still able to dream? Do we really want to know? How perverse is the after-execution account of eyewitness expressions? How devalued is
human life that it must suffer this fate?

What is it if not cruel and unusual punishment to administer a three drug cocktail that, while it may sedate and paralyze a man, may not render him
incapable of pain? What is this if not torture?

In a recent poll, 60% of the American people approve of the death penalty. Even the president is said to approve of the death penalty.

So, it must be asked, who are we now, and what have we become that we can kill from thousands of feet away, and by remote control? Who are we that we own the horror that is Abu Graib, and so-called enhanced alternative interrogation techniques at Guantanamo Bay?

What have we become as a nation that a former vice president, Dick Cheney, can admit publicly, and in his memoir, that he personally approved of the use of waterboarding, a practice long considered torture and abjured internationally, and do so with impunity? What manner of hubris is that? What kind of statement is it that the government awards liability insurance to interrogators to protect them from litigation that may result from their actions? Who are we, and how did we get this way?

In the end, it is not about innocence or guilt, but right and wrong. Have we become such full-throated sociopaths as to applaud the state-sanctioned murder of 235 Texans by its governor?

Nothing good will ever come of the scripted, court-sanctioned murder of a human being, but something must happen. The Supreme Court ruled against lethal injection as cruel and unusual punishment, but it is now time for the Supreme Court to rule on whether capital punishment is itself a violation of the Eighth Amendment.

The Supreme Court must also be asked to consider if holding someone on death row for 22 years, then granting him three stays, and forcing him to lay bound and infused with sedatives for four hours only to be put down with the same chemical used to put down a dog, is this how a government gets to treat one of its citizens? If the Supreme Court can permit this, then we need to create another court to oversee them.

There is not much left to say except to repeat along with Troy Davis "God have mercy on us all." We are all a little smaller in the eyes of the world today.