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Musings on two executions
September 23, 2011 - Stephen Browne
Troy Davis and Lawrence Russell Brewer were put to death on Wednesday in Georgia and Texas respectively.
Davis, an African-American, was convicted of the murder of an off-duty police officer. Brewer, a white supremacist, was convicted of murdering a black man by dragging him to death behind his pickup.
Davis' execution garnered a fair amount of publicity because of claims there was evidence or lack thereof to cast doubt about his guilt.
There was never any doubt about Brewer's guilt, he said numerous times he'd do it again - but claimed he wasn't technically guilty because his victim had been killed by his friend before they dragged him.
Davis' execution was attended by protestors. Brewer went to his death unmourned and without protest.
It appears that most Americans are in favor of the death penalty, in some circumstances at least. Polls show most Europeans are too, though the European Union makes membership conditional on abolishing capital punishment.
For a long time I was what I called a "lukewarm opponent" of the death penalty. Meaning I don't have a problem executing scum like Brewer, but the possibility of being wrong about men like Davis is terrifying.
What if you make a mistake and execute an innocent man? Wouldn't the prosecutor, judge, and jury be morally guilty of at least manslaughter?
Ever hear of Joyce Gilchist? She's a former forensic chemist who worked for the Oklahoma City police department for 21 years. Her testimony resulted in 23 people being sentenced to death, 11 of whom have been executed.
Now it's known she falsified an awful lot of her results. The mess is still working it's way slowly through the courts, but several men have been released from prison, and a couple from death row, some after as long as 15-20 years. At least one person executed based on her testimony was almost certainly innocent.
By my lights that makes her a murderer, and a serial killer at that - and yes, I think she should be executed. If we reserve the death penalty for particularly heinous crimes, surely murder through abuse of authority threatens the fabric of our civilization more than any common murder ever does. Gilchrist however has yet to spend a night in jail and is currently suing Oklahoma City over her firing.
Nonetheless it wouldn't bother me so much not to have capital punishment if life imprisonment were the other option. But a while back I realized something when watching "Law and Order." I think this is one of the better lawyer shows on television, in terms of how realistic and informative it is within limits imposed by PC and popular taste.
What I noticed was a lot of cases were settled with plea bargains. So I started asking how many serious cases are pleaded out in the real world. Answers from lawyers and prosecutors indicated around 90 percent!!!
That's when I realized why we have to have a death penalty on the books. If we want to put somebody away for life, we have to have something more to put on the table. Otherwise the only incentive for the accused is to fight it out in the courts.
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