There is nothing moral or just about the death penalty – certainly not the way it is implemented in America, and anyone who says otherwise is either deluding themselves or trying to get elected by appearing tough on crime. Take Troy Davis, for example, a 43-year-old black man from Georgia who has spent the past 20 years of his life on death row for allegedly shooting and killing a white off-duty police officer – a crime he very well may not have committed.
According to Amnesty International, the case against Davis consisted entirely of witness testimony, which contained inconsistencies even at the time of the trial. Since then, all but two of the state's non-police witnesses from the trial have recanted or contradicted their testimony. Many of these witnesses have stated in sworn affidavits that they were pressured or coerced by police into testifying or signing statements against Troy Davis. One of the two witnesses who has not recanted his testimony is Sylvester "Red" Coles – the principle alternative suspect, according to the defense, against whom there is new evidence implicating him as the gunman. Nine individuals have signed affidavits implicating Sylvester Coles.
Despite the fact that the case against Davis has largely fallen apart, the courts have not been inclined to grant Davis a new trial or evidentiary hearing. At a minimum, there's enough doubt as to Davis' guilt to commute his sentence. And even with prominent politicians and public officials such as former President Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI and Desmond Tutu lobbying on his behalf, Davis continues to languish on death row at a Georgia prison.
Unfortunately, Davis' journey to death row and his impending execution are indicative of the many failings of the capital punishment system in America, a system sorely lacking in justice and riddled by racial prejudice and economic inequality, not to mention outright corruption.
As it now stands, America's Western allies have abolished the death penalty, leaving America as one of only three industrialized democracies still carrying out capital punishment. Internationally, the U.S. ranks fifth in terms of the number of prisoners put to death, putting America in such ill-esteemed company as the regimes of China, Iran, North Korea, and Yemen. In fact, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, wasted no time in pointing out the hypocrisy of the U.S. executing Teresa Lewis last year while criticizing Iran for stoning a woman convicted of adultery.
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John W. Whitehead is an author and constitutional attorney, who founded The Rutherford Institute in 1982. The Rutherford Institute is a civil liberties organization that provides free legal services to people whose constitutional and human rights have been threatened or violated. "When founding The Rutherford Institute, my goal was to create an organization that would defend people who were persecuted or oppressed without charging them for such services. The Rutherford Institute exists to ensure that people are treated fairly in the courts and are free to express themselves without fear."
Thanks, John, for permission to print this article.