Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Death Penalty, Back in the News

by Holly Hughes

It’s been a busy week for the death penalty in American jurisprudence.  We seldom hear so much about it from simultaneous corners.  From Texas to Georgia to Connecticut, we have seen it take center stage this week. What I find fascinating are the varied reactions to each of these individuals cases.

Troy Davis was convicted nearly two decades ago for the murder of off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail.  In the ensuing twenty two years since that murder, Davis’ case has been heard by twenty eight different courts, including the Supreme Court of the United States.  His legal team sought clemency from the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Parole Board twice.  Thanks to the advent of social media Troy’s case generated enough attention to collect over 600,000 signatures calling for a stay.  There were protests staged at the Georgia State Capitol Building and the Georgia Diagnostic Classification Prison where Davis’ execution was carried out.  Former Presidents and Popes weighed in.  

A lot of the news coverage stated emphatically that there was no physical evidence.  Other media outlets briefly acknowledged that there was some, ie: the shell casings, which matched  casings from another shooting that Davis had been convicted of.  Much was made about the seven recantations, but little was mentioned about the fact that it took seventeen years for those recantations to occur.

I am not weighing in on the guilt or innocence of Troy Davis.  I have not read the transcripts, nor watched any interviews of witnesses.  I am simply commenting on the fact that most of the reporting on this particular case was inaccurate or incomplete at best.  However, it garnered a lot of attention and gave opponents of the death penalty a great deal of ammunition in their argument against the death penalty.

At the same time, in Texas, another man was scheduled to be, and ultimately was, executed.  We didn’t see this one widely reported.  In fact, it passed relatively unnoticed.  On the very same day that Georgia executed Troy Davis, the State of Texas put to death Lawrence Russell Brewer.  Brewer was convicted of the horrific murder of James Byrd, Jr. back in 1998.  Brewer, along with his two co-defendants in the case, committed unspeakable violence against Mr. Byrd simply because he was African-American.  It was a hate crime pure and simple.  But there was nothing pure or simple about the inhuman acts perpetrated against Mr. Byrd.  He was beaten unconsciousness, urinated on, tied by the ankles with a heavy chain and drug behind a truck until his arm and head were severed from his body.  

While Texas and Georgia were carrying out death sentences, Connecticut was seeking to have one handed down.  This brings us to the case of Joshua Komisarjevsky.  This is the monster who broke into the Petit family home, beat Dr. Petit unconscious and tied him up.  Once that was done, he then, along with his co-defendant, Stephen Hayes, sexually assaulted the Doctor’s wife and two daughters, the youngest of which was eleven years old.  When that was done, Komisarjevsky took Mrs. Petit to the bank and forced her to withdraw fifteen thousand dollars.  As if all of these abuses were not enough, when they returned to the house, these two monsters tied all the women to their beds and set the house on fire, burning them alive.

Prior to this case, the State of Connecticut was debating abolishing the death penalty.  These crimes put a quick stop to that.  In the face of such evil, the people decided  they needed the death penalty, they wanted the death penalty and they were going to seek the death penalty.  They got it.  Last year, co-defendant Stephen Hayes was sentenced to death.

So, the question that arises is: why did we not see 600,000 signatures calling for a stay for Lawrence Russell Brewer?  Why are there no protests outside the Connecticut courthouse where prosecutors are currently seeking the death penalty against Komisarjevsky? Now, the easy answer is “there was little to no evidence against Troy Davis.”  Well, who gets to make that decision?  A jury of his peers, yes, his peers.  Seven of the original twelve jurors were African-American.  

Twenty eight different courts reviewed this case and felt that the evidence was strong enough, even in light of the late-in-the-day recantations. From a purely pragmatic standpoint, allowing social media to dictate who gets executed and who doesn’t turns the justice system into nothing more than a version of Survivor (no pun intended).  No one should be voted off the island but people who weren’t even involved in the game.

Again, I cannot say whether or not Troy Davis was guilty.  I am simply asking the question, “what can we learn” from this past weeks’ multiple death cases.  If you believe the death penalty is wrong, then it’s wrong for everyone, including the monsters who commit unspeakable horrors against their fellow human beings, sometimes for no other reason than prejudice.

If the problem is with the application, then how do we fix it?  Lobby legislatures?  Call for one uniform application of the death penalty, which would be forced on all states by the federal government?  I don’t pretend to have the answers.  I will leave that to minds greater than my own.  But I find it an interesting dichotomy that the folks who oppose the unequal application of the death penalty are themselves unequal in their passion of whom they choose to rally for.


A Voice of Sanity said...

In your other two cases there is little doubt of the guilt of the accused. In the Troy Davis case we have the weakest of weak cases, repeatedly affirmed by superior courts. This doesn't support Davis' guilt, it raises serious doubts about the competency of these courts and jurists, doubts supported by other infamously incompetent decisions.

As for the period of time before the suborned perjury was revealed, I note that once one woman lays a case of sexual assault oftentimes other women will come forward, many times years afterwards. We see a similar effect in other cases, no one wants to be first. People tend to groups (or mobs).

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Anonymous said...

AMEN Holly ! That is exactly what I was thinking when all the hullabaloo concerning the Davis case was going on here in GA. With 28 courts looking at the case again after the conviction it's hard to believe it was pass all of them if everything didn't fit.
It reminds me of the Casey Anthony trial. I've wondered so many times why that case so much attention when there were many others out there that was just as bad. Many children died in that three years in the care or in the hands of thier parents but the Anthony case was the only one that was put in everybody's face for three years by the media. The media would not let it go. They got every peice of information they could sniff out on that case and puclicized it at least weekly, if not daily. Sometimes I think the media just likes to stir .... and you know the more you stir it, the more it stinks.

Max O. said...

The Petit family home invasion is absolutely horrendous. After hearing about the story our family decided to invest in a home security system. I know it would make our home a fortress but it helps me sleep better at night. Men like that do not deserve a second chance.

Mickey Polansky said...

I am an author and wrote the novel "Referendum For Murder" by Mickey Polansky. In the novel, I show action by the people in Wisconsin in trying to bring back the death penalty. Wisconsin abolished the death penalty in 1853 after it's first state sanctioned execution. The death penalty has always crept to the surface of politics since then but never survived. In 2005, a resolution was created and passed which caused an advisory referendum to appear on the Nov. 2006 election on whether the lawmakers should consider the death penalty coming back. The resolution passed and the advisory referendum passed. A bill was created but it died a slow death.

Please go to by website www.mickeypolansky.com and read for yourselves. The book I wrote although is fictional but very entertaining. It's a "kick 'em while they're down type of novel. It's also a book about political unrest and the clashes between the people and the government in Wisconsin. Gee, isn't that what the nation saw in Feb/Mar
of 2011. A must read novel
Mickey Polansky