A broken legal system.

AP photo of Troy Davis

Todays execution of Troy Davis illustrates just how rotten, unjust and broken the US legal system is. It’s a system that can convict a man to be executed, who is by no means clearly guilty. A system still prejudiced by race. A system seemingly too broken to be fixed.

It’s amazing to think that this morning while I leisurely sipped my flat white and perused the daily papers in the warm spring sunshine, another man half a world away was, in extraordinarily cruel circumstances, awaiting his execution.

Troy Davis was convicted for the 1989 murder of off duty police officer Mark MacPhail. The Georgian justice system sentenced him to execution by lethal injection which after three attempts, was to finally be carried out today.
Davis has been in a state of limbo, lasting almost 15 years, during which he was granted three stays in his execution. He was at one stage only two hours from his death before a delay was granted. His last few hours were no less dramatic with his planned 7pm execution delayed three and a half hours for a final ruling by the Supreme Court. But in a controversial decision, the Supreme Court rejected his appeal. He was executed at 11.08pm (local time).

The case has been so controversial because of its glaring inconsistencies and the lack of solid evidence. There has never been any video footage, DNA evidence or even a weapon linked to Davis. Seven out of the nine witnesses changed their original testimonies after the trial and there were claims of police witness coercion.

In an editorial, The New York Times said:

The grievous errors in the Davis case were numerous, and many arose out of eyewitness identification. The Savannah police contaminated the memories of four witnesses by re-enacting the crime with them present so that their individual perceptions were turned into a group one. The police showed some of the witnesses Mr. Davis’s photograph even before the lineup. His lineup picture was set apart by a different background. The lineup was also administered by a police officer involved in the investigation, increasing the potential for influencing the witnesses.

Davis claimed his innocence to the very end. In his final statement, he addressed the MacPhail family saying: “Despite the situation you’re in, I’m not the one who did it,”.
Witnesses quoted him saying that while he was sorry for their loss, he “did not take their son, father and brother”. He said that ‘the incident that night was not my fault, I did not have a gun”.

Madison MacPhail, sister of murdered cop Mark MacPhail, speaks about her brother.

To me, at least, it’s clear. Troy Davis should never have been executed. Davis may have been guilty, but what is more important is that he may not have been. The serious lack of evidence and disputed witnesses seriously undermined the case. The fact is that a case so clearly muddied should never have resulted in a conviction – let alone a death sentence.

His execution seriously undermines American legal institutions and raises uncomfortable questions about the death penalty. And it undermines the campaign to stop death sentences used in other countries, like Iran.

I just hope that Troy Davis did not die in vain. While his death sheds light on a terrible and antiquated practice, I wonder how long the outrage will last. Thirty four people have been executed this year – almost a third of them in Texas – and it’s very hard to summon the energy to care because the fact is that generally they’ve committed horrible, heinous crimes. But whether it’s Lawrence Brewer being executed or Troy Davis, it’s an unnecessary and evil practice that needs to end.

I don’t have any illusions about much change coming from Davis’ death. And like most of the interwebz, I’m one of the fleeting indignants: here today, gone tomorrow. But something should change… and I hope it does.

What does everyone out there think? Does anyone deserve the death penalty? Should it remain in place? Is it ever justifiable?