Last Wednesday, after years of psychological torture, 42-year-old Troy Davis was executed by the great state of Georgia — however, he was most likely not guilty.
Anti-death penalty supporters are using his execution to emphasize the need to put a stop to capital punishment. The problem with the Troy Davis trial was not that he was executed, but rather was wrongfully convicted.
For those who do not know, Davis was convicted on flimsy circumstantial evidence before he was sentenced to death. There was no DNA at the crime scene indicating Davis’ involvement. His fingerprints were not found on the murder weapon, which was never even recovered. All the prosecution had to offer were nine eyewitness testimonies and shell casings that may have linked Davis to the murder weapon.
Of the nine witnesses, seven recanted their testimony, adding that they had been pressured by police. Witness Darrel Collins said that he was “scared” because the police threatened to charge him as an accessory, so he told the police what they wanted to hear. Davis’ lawyer Thomas Ruffin described the execution as a “legalized lynching” and stated that he felt sick.
I can understand why he would say that; a man was executed even though no damning evidence was provided to the jury.
The widow of the man Davis was accused of killing issued the following statement: “[Davis] has had ample time to prove his innocence.” She clearly does not understand the American legal process. The state carries the burden of proof, so if the prosecution cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Davis is guilty, he must be assumed innocent.
In light of cases such as this one, I believe that stricter guidelines are needed in cases where people are sentenced to death, instead of life in prison. The amount of solid evidence needs to be greater than it would be in ordinary convictions.
In a move that was almost as unjust as executing Davis, the Supreme Court stayed the execution of Duane Buck in Texas. Buck was convicted and sentenced to death for murdering his ex-girlfriend and another man. He did not deny his guilt, yet the Supreme Court granted him a stay of execution. The reason for the stay was that an expert witness, before sentencing, told jurors that Buck was more likely to murder again because he was black. His attorneys alleged that using race in determining his sentence was unconstitutional.
The expert was right in that the FBI statistics between 1976 and 1995 indicate that offending rates for murder were seven times higher for black defendants. As of 2010, black teenagers committed 11.4 murders on average for every one murder committed by a white teenager, if adjusted for demographic percentages. So, when the expert stated that a black man was more likely to commit murder than a white man, he was looking at the raw statistics. However, Buck was not more likely to commit murder simply because he was a black man. His stay, though unwarranted in my opinion as he did not deny his guilt, is useful in underscoring the exigency of focusing on the root causes of crime. The government should focus on improving people’s lives, environment and education if it wants to lower crime rates and not imprison more minorities for their perceived dangerousness.
President Jimmy Carter, who was involved in the Davis case, stated that “one of our fellow citizens can be executed with so much doubt surrounding his guilt, then the death penalty system in our country is unjust and outdated.” Carter ignored, however, the death penalty cases that were just and involved men proven to be guilty beyond any reasonable doubt, like Duane Buck.
Anti-death penalty proponents may feel that it is morally wrong or not cost effective to have the death penalty, but they should not use the Davis decision to justify abolishing capital punishment. Troy Davis’s execution should be used to highlight the injustice of the lax evidence requirements and perfunctory processes that allow men like Davis to be wrongfully convicted in the first place.
Ondo is a member of the class of 2014.