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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Death penalty: closure?

I was reading Evanier a while ago, who wrote: "One of the arguments for the Death Penalty has always been that it provides a sense of justice and closure to the loved ones of the victim of a murder. This article which claims otherwise is by Donald A. McCartin (a Conservative Judge) and Mike Farrell (a Liberal actor) who happen to be friends. They used to debate the issue but now are on the same page."

There are some bits on the New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty website that speak to that point, such as here and this one.

But the single person who has had the most profound affect on my thinking on the topic has to be Bud Welch, whose daughter Julie was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing of the federal building. I have seen him speak in person in Albany (NY) along with Manny Babbitt, Gary Wright and David Kaczynski in a forum not unlike this one. Bud, in particular, gave a moving story about his move from his need for vengeance. Specifically, he spoke of the community of OKC survivors and family members of victims. Before Timothy McVeigh was executed, they could get along with their different points of view about the death penalty. But after McVeigh was killed, they seemed to shun Welch, as though the execution lacked the closure they thought they would get, and Welch’s opposition to the death penalty was a reminder of that fact.

I'm intrigued by the number of countries that have banned the death penalty. I suppose the United States (and China, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan) could be right and the rest of the world wrong. But I doubt it.

A most pressing issue on this front takes place this evening. After the Georgia Supreme Court denied a stay yesterday, at 7 pm EDT today, Troy Davis will be executed for the murder of a police officer, a crime he almost certainly did not commit. Six days later, the US Supreme Court will decide whether to hear his appeal. People across the country and around the world, from the Libertarian candidate for President and former Georgia congressman Bob Barr to Pope Benedict XVI, from Bishop Desmond Tutu to former President and Georgia governor Jimmy Carter are calling for a stay of execution. As Barr put it in his letter to the parole board: "The doubts about the Davis case have not been resolved, and fears that Georgia might execute an innocent man have not been allayed."

This is certainly true. Of the nine witnesses who testified at Davis' trial, seven have recanted their testimony, some alleging that they were threatened with jail time if they did not cooperate with prosecutors. No murder weapon has ever been found. Several witnesses have now said another man has admitted to being the actual killer. Interestingly, this man, who was at the scene and is one of only two witnesses not recanting his story, is said to have been seen with the same caliber gun used to murder Officer Mark Allen MacPhail minutes before the shooting.

As one letter writer noted: "In order to be sentenced in this country, a person must be guilty beyond all reasonable doubt. The standard when the irreversible death penalty is applied should be higher, not lower."



Uthaclena said...

...about that "sense" of "Justice and closure"...:
I think that statement is just a cover for the emotional satisfaction that is actually being sought... which is revenge. The "balancing the scales" of justice is nothing more than the primitive concept that 'you hurt me, now I hurt you.' Understandable, perhaps, but ultimately useless. This "need" is so great that proponents of revenge are sometime willing to overlook niceties such as whether you've 'got the right guy,' or even guys... after all, most of our nation supported Bush's lie-based invasion of Iraq because someone had to pay for Sept. 11, and apparently any swarthy furriners would do.

I am not 100% opposed to the death penalty, because I do think that there are a very few mad dogs whom it is simply too dangerous to keep alive, and if they ever got loose they would be a clear threat to society ( Lemuel Smith comes to mind). But for the most part that is not the case.

Roger Owen Green said...

Troy Davis' execution stayed by the Supreme CT 2 hours before he was scheduled to die: