Viewpoint: Death sentence raises questions

By Caroline Brewton
Copy editor

The legal team of a man scheduled to die today made his final appeal on the basis of witnesses changing testimony and the lack of DNA evidence connecting him to the crime he is accused of committing: the killing of an off-duty police officer.

His name is Troy Davis, and the government has scheduled him for execution four times in the past four years. The Georgia Board of Paroles and Pardons, which has the power to commute the sentence, was his last chance.

Davis’s plight has sparked widespread and international media attention. Among those pleading for clemency are Pope Benedict XVI, the head of the Catholic Church, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, and Bianca Jagger, the Council of Europe’s ambassador on the death penalty.

I do not know whether Davis is guilty or what part he played in the crime for which he was sentenced to die. It is for the jury to determine that based on the evidence presented.

But the evidence presented in this case does not seem to equal a guilty verdict. Several witnesses for the prosecution have recanted their testimony since the trial, and suspicion has moved to another man present at the murder scene. There is no DNA evidence, and the murder weapon is missing. The U.S. Supreme Court itself issued an order for a lower court to review the evidence, an action it has not taken in about 50 years.

However, the Georgia court reviewing Davis’ renewed case ruled against him. And now that that parole board has denied his request, it appears that Davis’s 18-year stint on death row is about to end.

“A future was taken from me. The death penalty is the correct form of justice,” said Madison MacPhail, the daughter of the slain police officer, who was just a toddler when the crime took place.

It is apparent from this comment, and others like it from the family and friends of the victim, that this solution will bring them peace. But at what price? But what about Davis’ family? In robbing Davis of his life, regardless of guilt, they rob his friends and family of their own loved one. The death penalty is not a crime against the accused, it is a crime against his family. Grief should not be repaid with grief. And if Davis is, in fact, innocent, his death will be a waste.

Any system so flawed as to allow an innocent life to hang in the balance must be reconsidered. Any system that punishes the family of a guilty man must be rethought. And any system that gives others the right to decide who lives and who dies must be rejected.

How could the government-sanctioned killing of a man send the message that killing is wrong?

In the meantime, in Georgia, a man waits to die, and we all wait with him.

Caroline Brewton is a sophomore journalism major from Beaumont and is a copy editor for the Lariat.