Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Two deaths

"Many that live deserve death. And some die that deserve life. Can you give that to them? Then be not too eager to deal out death in the name of justice, fearing for your own safety. Even the wise cannot see all ends.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Two men are scheduled to be killed by their respective states tonight.  In Georgia, Troy Davis is scheduled to die for the death of a police officer 22 years ago.  In Texas, Lawrence Brewer is scheduled to die for the horrific killing of James Byrd, Jr. in Jasper, Texas in 1998.

Many people, including myself, have taken up the cause of Troy Davis and have petitioned Georgia to stop his execution.  Davis has steadfastly maintained his innocence and investigations over the past 22 years have cast considerable doubt on his conviction.  At least seven out of nine eyewitnesses have recanted their testimony and one of the remaining witnesses may very well be the actual murderer, according to some evidence. Still, every legal avenue to stop the execution and/or overturn the conviction has met with a stone wall.  The Supreme Court has refused to take further action.

There is more than reasonable doubt in this case, just as there was in the case of Cameron Todd Willingham who was executed in Texas for starting a fire that killed his children.  Texas killed Willingham anyway and he went to his death proclaiming his innocence.  Rick Perry claims he doesn't lose any sleep over Willingham's death and he probably doesn't, even though it seems quite likely that he signed the death warrant of an innocent man.  The governor of Georgia seems cut from the same cloth as Perry and I doubt that he will suffer any sleepless nights over Davis, but he should.

As for white supremacist Lawrence Brewer, there is no doubt that he tied James Byrd, Jr. to the back of a pickup and dragged him to his death.  There seems little to recommend clemency for him.  Actually, there is nothing to recommend clemency for him.  And yet, what good is achieved by one more death?  Will it bring Mr. Byrd back?  No more than Troy Davis' death will bring back his alleged victim.

The death penalty is a horrendous act of institutionalized killing that makes murderers of us all.  Even if the acts of some deserve death, one innocent person executed is too many, and there have been many, based on too much evidence to be discounted.  A truly civilized society finds other ways to mete out justice and to bring closure to those who have suffered or been wronged.  In our society, though, we love our death penalty and we cling to the illusion that it somehow makes us safer.  And we cheer wildly when the number of executions authorized by a certain candidate for president is mentioned.  But, then, whoever said we were civilized?

UPDATE:  At almost literally the last minute, the Supreme Court is hearing an appeal on Troy Davis' behalf and Georgia is delaying his execution pending a decision from that court.  It is now two hours past the time when his execution was to take place.  A decision from the Supreme Court is expected tonight.

In Texas, despite pleas for mercy for James Byrd's killers from the Byrd family, Lawrence Brewer has been executed tonight.

UPDATE 2: The Supreme Court ultimately refused to issue a stay of execution for Troy Davis and the State of Georgia killed him around 11:00 EDT.  His last words were "I am innocent."

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