Monday, June 1, 2009

Bad Use of the Death Penalty

Former Republican turned libertarian Bob Barr has an op-ed in today's New York Times called, "Death Penalty Disgrace." Since I'm in favor of the death penalty, I started reading it expecting to strongly disagree. Instead, what I found was a case where the death penalty shouldn't have been applied, and shouldn't be carried out.

Troy Davis was sentenced to death for murdering an off-duty police officer back in 1989. According to Barr, he was convicted only on the testimony of supposed eye-witnesses.
With no murder weapon, surveillance videotape or DNA evidence left behind, the jury that judged Mr. Davis had to weigh the conflicting testimony of several eyewitnesses to sift out the gunman from the onlookers who had nothing to do with the heinous crime.
Now, seven out of nine of the witnesses have changed their story. But a law that Barr helped write has blocked Davis from bringing the new evidence of his innocence to light. In my opinion, the death penalty was inappropriate in this case from the beginning. Imposition of the death penalty should only be done in cases where guilt is clear: a positive DNA match, a criminal literally caught in the act, an un-coerced confession, a criminal openly bragging about the crime, etc. In these types of situations I am all for swift executions and limited appeals.

But testimony of witnesses who don't even all agree is simply not reliable enough to send someone to his death. How many times do witnesses change their stories? Davis should never have been sentenced to death. Hopefully the Supreme Court will intervene and prevent a possibly innocent man from being executed.


Check the comments for the other side and more detail about the case.


  1. Troy Davis: Both sides need to be told
    Dudley Sharp, contact info below

    Anyone interested in justice will demand a fair, thorough look at both sides of this or any case. Here is the side that the pro Troy Davis faction is, intentionally, not presenting.

    (1) Davis v Georgia, Georgia Supreme Court, 3/17/08
    Full ruling

    " . . . the majority finds that 'most of the witnesses to the crime who have allegedly recanted have merely stated that they now do not feel able to identify the shooter.' "One of the affidavits 'might actually be read so as to confirm trial testimony that Davis was the shooter.' "

    The murder occurred in 1989.


    "After an exhaustive review of all available information regarding the Troy Davis case and after considering all possible reasons for granting clemency, the Board has determined that clemency is not warranted."

    "The Board has now spent more than a year studying and considering this case. As a part of its proceedings, the Board gave Davis’ attorneys an opportunity to present every witness they desired to support their allegation that there is doubt as to Davis’ guilt. The Board heard each of these witnesses and questioned them closely. In addition, the Board has studied the voluminous trial transcript, the police investigation report and the initial statements of all witnesses. The Board has also had certain physical evidence retested and Davis interviewed."

    (3) A detailed review of the extraordinary consideration that Davis was given for all of his claims,
    by Chatham County District Attorney Spencer Lawton

    Troy Davis' claims are undermined, revealing the dishonesty of the Davis advocates . Look, particularly, at pages 4-7, which show the reasoned, thoughtful and generous reviews of Davis' claims, as well a how despicable the one sided cynical pro Troy Davis effort is.

    (4) Officer Mark Allen MacPhail: The family of murdered Officer MacPhail fully believes that Troy Davis murdered their loved one and that the evidence is supportive of that opinion.

    Not simply an emotional and understandable plea for justice, but a detailed factual review of the case.

    Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
    e-mail 713-622-5491,
    Houston, Texas

    Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS, VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.

    A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.

  2. If you read all the material, you know that Davis’ defense counsel , during the trial, questioned all of the eyewitnesses, very strongly, on the issue of whether they were coerced or intimidated.
    All of the eyewitnesses said that there was no coercion or intimidation, of any kind.

    At trial, their identifications were solid, without a hint of coercion or intimidation.

    Now, years later, folks are alleging police intimidation.

    Although, all prior testimony and indications was that there was no intimidation, let’s imagine, now, that there was police intimidation of eyewitnesses.

    Ask: "For what possible reason would the police intimidate eyewitnesses to identify one suspect over the other?" There is no reason, at all.

    Secondly, that intimidation does not carry over to the trial.

    The eyewitnesses were interviewed, extensively, by the prosecutors prior to the trial and there was no mention of intimidation or coercion, there, either, just as there was a denial of intimidation or coercion by those same witnesses at trial.

    One of the things the appellate judges are looking at is that Davis’ attorneys waited, for 5 years, to bring up these “recantations”.

    First, that strongly indicates that Davis’ attorneys didn’t give them much credibility, themselves. That is the only reason for the delay.

    Secondly, and obviously, we all have to consider that the intimidation and coercion of witnesses can, also, occur long after a trial and that saving the life of a person on death row, either guilty or innocent, provides motivation to do so.

    So, here, there is motivation for the intimidation and coercion of eyewitnesses.

    Most, if not all, of the appellate judges in this case, have been around a long time and certainly, they have seen both credible and non credible recantations and forgetfullness by witnesses from trials, that were many years in the past, as in the Davis case.

    I think we all know that to be true.

    Regarding the physical evidence. Davis was identified as the one with the gun and the two shootings and the bullets were tied to the same gun, and the two shootings were tied to Davis.The gun wasn’t recovered.

    Davis was postively identified and convicted in his first shooting of that night, which he intended to be a murder, fortunatley that vicitm, shot in the head, as well, survivied.

  3. Thanks for posting all that information.

    You obviously know a lot more about this case than I do, since I was going just by what I read in the Barr article.