Georgia execution demonstrates why death penalty must be repealed
Like many Americans, most Coloradans favor the death penalty. They just don’t like killing people.
How else to explain why, despite numerous death-penalty sentences, the last execution in the state was Gary Lee Davis in 1997?
Davis’ execution was the first in 30 years.
It became so difficult to get Colorado juries to impose the death penalty that the Legislature decided in 2002 to require three- judge panels to pass sentence in death penalty cases. Juries would still determine guilt or innocence, but a panel of three judges would determine the sentences.
As death penalty attorney David Lane wrote at the time, “The only reason for doing this was that prosecutors found it too difficult to convince 12 citizens to kill one of their fellow human beings.”
Lane predicted the Supreme Court would find that only a jury can be trusted to determine if the facts of a case warrant the death penalty. With that decision, Lane wrote, the Colorado three-judge panel would be discarded and once again, Colorado will be without a death penalty, sparing the lives of at least three current death row inmates.
And so it came to pass. In 2003 the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that only juries could impose the death sentence.
While this ruling establishes the people’s power to judge their peers, it does nothing to increase the chances of a just outcome.
One week ago, the world watched with fading hope as another prisoner named Davis calmly waited in a Georgia prison death chamber during four final hours of uncertainty after his appointed time to die.
With his final hope extinguished when the Supreme Court turned down his attorneys’ final plea for time, Troy Davis composed himself for death last week.
In his final moments, looking at the family of the man he was executed for killing, he spoke these last words: “I’d like to address the MacPhail family. Let you know …, I’m not the one who personally killed your son, your father, your brother. I am innocent.”
He explained, “I had no gun,” and asked the victim’s family to search for the truth of their son’s death.
The victim’s family was unmoved, but the people watching and listening around the globe and the nation believed him. Davis’ case became a cause for the national and international anti-death- penalty movement because an alarming volume of evidence raised questions of his guilt.
Davis was convicted of killing a policeman who came to the defense of a homeless man under attack by two assailants. With no physical evidence linking Davis to the shooting, he was convicted almost entirely on the basis of eyewitness accounts by nine individuals.
Seven of the nine witnesses against Davis recanted or contradicted their testimony, some complaining of intimidation by police officers. Other witnesses have implicated Davis’ original accuser, who was with Davis at the scene of the crime, as the killer.
The case attracted worldwide attention, resulting in an outpouring of support for Davis from notable world leaders to ordinary people around the world. Thousands of letters appealing to Georgia to spare Davis’ life poured in from all over the world. Amnesty International held vigils at American embassies all over the world the night Troy Davis died.
“Everyone who looks a little bit at the case knows that there is too much doubt to execute him,” said Amnesty International’s Nicholas Kraymeyer.
The failure of the system to render justice in the Davis case, said a New York Times editorial, reveals the impossibility of articulating “legal standards for states to follow that would ensure the fair administration of capital punishment and avoid the arbitrariness and discrimination that led (the U.S. Supreme Court) to strike down all state death penalty statutes in 1972.
“As the unconscionable execution of Troy Davis in Georgia last week underscores,” the editorial said, “the court has failed because it is impossible to succeed at this task. The death penalty is grotesque and immoral and should be repealed.”
The death penalty will never meet constitutional requirements in Colorado or this nation. It is time we demand an end to state executions in our name.