A Georgia man is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on Tuesday for killing a police officer in 1989, even though the case against him has withered in recent years as most of the key witnesses at his trial have recanted and in some cases said they lied under pressure from police.
Prosecutors discount the significance of the recantations and argue that it is too late to present such evidence. But supporters of Troy Davis, 38, and some legal scholars say the case illustrates the dangers wrought by decades of Supreme Court decisions and new laws that have rendered the courts less likely to overturn a death sentence.
Three of four witnesses who testified at trial that Davis shot the officer have signed statements contradicting their identification of the gunman. Two other witnesses -- a fellow inmate and a neighborhood acquaintance who told police that Davis had confessed to the shooting -- have said they made it up.
Other witnesses point the finger not at Davis but at another man. Yet none has testified during his appeals because federal courts barred their testimony.
"It's getting scary," Davis said by phone last week. "They don't want to hear the new facts."
The case goes on to detail the confused nature of the case against Davis, the pressure the police and prosecutors brought to bear on his case, and the difficulty he had finding a lawyer who would argue his appeals. In other words, all of the ingredients are present for an innocent man to wind up on death row. Judges who believe that their job is to adhere to law and procedure, as opposed to actually doing justice, are denying his appeals. I'm sure they soothe their consciences by telling themselves that the man probably is guilty, that they're obeying the letter of the law (the "just doing my job" defense), or denying inconvenient facts that argue for lenience. An innocent man may be put to death, and yet somehow no one will feel even a twinge of guilt about it.
And this is why the death penalty must be abolished. Until you have a system in which guilt can be established perfectly, with one-hundred percent confidence, there should be no capital punishment. Without such a system, innocent men and women will always end up in prison, and subject to the arbitrarily imposed death penalty. A horrific crime was committed in this case, and a man died who should still be alive today. But what ends are served by executing a man whose guilt is in doubt, while possibly allowing the real killer to walk the Earth a free man? Those who support the death penalty make emotional appeals to the horrors of crimes committed by those who are (rightly) sentenced to die, but nothing is more horrible than death imposed in slow motion by the tyrannical and beauracratic machinery of the state. The death penalty is an imperfect tool, and can't be trusted in the hands of those who wield it because they admit to no error. Cases like this make that quite clear, but who can say how many more potentially innocent men or women will be executed before it's obvious to everyone?
If you oppose the execution of a potentially innocent man, I urge you to take action here. A simple letter from enough people may make a difference.