‘But what then is capital punishment if not the most premeditated of murders?’

(c) G.Goepfert/Amnesty International

Ben Rowan

The execution of convicted murderer Troy Davis took place on the morning of the 22nd of September in Jackson prison, Georgia, via lethal injection. Davis was arrested in 1989 for killing an off duty police officer, Mark MacPhail, and sentenced in 1991 to death.

The case has had overwhelming publicity and the execution has been condemned by the European Union, NAACP, Amnesty International and various support groups across the world. His supporters number in their thousands and include prominent figures such as Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI and former FBI director William Sessions.

Many are calling the decision to execute Davis judicial lynching after the Supreme Court rejected a stay of execution on Tuesday.

Serious doubts surround the conviction of Davis, and have been exacerbated over the past 22 years as contravening evidence has come to light. The White House has refused to comment saying: ‘It is not appropriate for the president of the United States to weigh in on specific cases.’

Family members of the murdered police officer believe that justice has now been served. ‘He has had ample time to prove his innocence’, MacPhail’s widow commented, ‘and he is not innocent.’

Anneliese MacPhail, the mother of Mark MacPhail, said: ‘All the feelings of relief and peace I’ve been waiting for all these years, they will come later’. She is said to be numb after this morning.

The controversy surrounding Troy Davis is palpable and the fight will surely continue to clear his name. But are people protesting against the death of an innocent man, or simply against the death penalty?

There are various holes in Davis’ conviction: the gun was never found, no forensic evidence was ever collected and seven of the nine eye witnesses have since recanted their statements. There have also been alarming claims of police intimidation coupled with beliefs that his conviction was radially motivated.

But there have been many people who have gone to jail on flimsy evidence who did not galvanise the same support that Davis received. The difference is that Davis’ ruling provided a platform for people to rally against capital punishment in general.

The death penalty has always existed in legal systems across the world, but plans to modernize this approach are thin on the ground.

The writer and philosopher Albert Camus once wrote this:

But what then is capital punishment if not the most premeditated of murders, to which no criminal’s deed, however calculated it may be, can be compared? For there to be equivalence, the death penalty would have to punish a criminal who had warned his victim of the date at which he would inflict a horrible death on him and who, from that moment onward, had confined him at his mercy for months. Such a monster is not encountered in private life.

Aside from being immoral and draconian, the truth is that condemning someone to death through the American judicial system is not even cost effective. In Maryland, a death penalty case costs 3 times the amount of a non-death penalty case or, in other words, $3 million compared with $1 million. The California Commission for the Fair Administration of Justice found that the current judicial system costs $137 million a year, but would cost just $11.5 million without the death penalty.

Even if a prisoner was kept incarcerated all his life, from say 21 to 75, it would still be cheaper than condemning him to death. The appeals process, which is completely justified for death row inmates, is extremely expensive and costs the state hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs.

Troy Davis urged his family and supporters to continue to fight to clear his name. The last words of Troy Davis were: ‘I am innocent.’

 

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