Tuesday, September 27, 2011
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.Tweet