Saturday, October 1, 2011

My Response to Charles Lane’s Washington Post article on Troy Davis

After Troy Davis was executed, I was touched at the photos of protesters crying over his death. Yes, we should cry that the death penalty was used in this case. We should cry that our country has used capital punishment so often.

We should cry that Troy Davis is dead. We should mourn for life lost. Most importantly, we should cry for Mark MacPhail, the off-duty police officer who was murdered.

But don’t conflate tears over Troy Davis’ death with crying over a man who was innocent of the crime for which he was convicted.

Save those tears for Cameron Todd Willingham, who was convicted and executed for murdering his children by arson. Before Willingham’s execution, evidence pointed to the fire being accidental, not deliberate. We should cry that then-Texas Governor Rick Perry, when presented with a request to stay the execution in order to review new findings proving innocence, refused the stay and allowed Willingham to die. Cry that Willingham was executed as an innocent man.

In reading Lane’s article (linked above) and others written about the Troy Davis case, I believe Davis was guilty of murder. But he should not have been given the death penalty.

Lane’s article likewise agrees that the death penalty never should have been sought in the Davis case. In fact, I am eager to read Lane’s book “Stay of Execution: Saving the Death Penalty from Itself” – I am still not sure if I think that capital punishment should ever be used, but if it is, it should only be in the “worst of the worst,” as Lane argues (see link to book review here:

Compare the murder for which Troy Davis was convicted with the horrific triple-murder Steven Hayes was convicted of – and yet both men are sentenced with the death penalty? There is no comparison.

Not that there is good murder or bad murder – every life is precious (even that of a murderer) and every murder is wrong. But when torture is involved – and death by fire is certainly torture – the crime of murder is aggravated. (I was relieved to read that the poor Petit girls died of smoke inhalation and not of the fire itself, as I had originally thought, but the terror those girls went through is unspeakable and the murderers’ evil intent was to burn the girls to death).

I would like us to get away from the idea of using the death penalty as punishment.  The death penalty should only be used to protect society, and to protect other prisoners.  This is why I don't agree with using mental illness as a defense - to me, someone who is not aware of right or wrong is more dangerous than someone who knows what they're doing is wrong.

In deciding the death penalty, judges should ask if the person will be a danger to others, his fellow inmates, the prison guards.  Someone who can kill someone by fire or any other way of torturing someone to death, is capable of the ultimate cruelty and is truly a danger to everyone.

Now, I think Davis was basically a good person who got into trouble and made mistakes, the most grievous being that of killing MacPhail, but Davis was not a monster. He was 20 at the time of the murder, and subsequently spent the latter half of his life in prison (I don’t even have time here to go into how badly our prison system needs to be reformed). I am sure he was not the same man when he was executed that he was the night of the murder – who of us remains his 20-year-old self? Impossible.

Perhaps that is why he claimed innocence – do we not often feel a separation from our younger selves? Often when I think of things I did as a teenager and young adult, I don’t recognize the person who did those things. That person is frequently a stranger to me.

Troy Davis never should have been sentenced to death. Troy Davis should still be alive. But so should Marc MacPhail.

So let’s continue to cry. Cry that we kill each other in legal punishment in order to deter more of us from killing each other. Cry that our fellow human beings murder each other in the first place. Cry and protest over every murder. Be outraged every single time someone is murdered.

Our tears should be relentless. Our tears should never stop.