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Troy Davis execution imminent
September 20, 2011 8:27 AM   Subscribe

In 1991, Troy Davis was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1989 murder of policeman Mark MacPhail in a Savannah, Georgia parking lot. Since then, seven of the nine prosecution eyewitnesses have recanted all or part of their testimony, with some citing pressure from the police to make false statements. An exception is Sylvester "Redd" Coles, who made the initial report of Davis’s guilt, and is regarded by the defense as the chief suspect. New witnesses have sworn affidavits that Coles confessed the crime to them. An array of figures have called for a stay of execution, including death-penalty supporters Senator Bob Barr and former FBI director William S. Sessions. Today, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles denied clemency; barring action from the District Attorney, Davis is set to be executed by lethal injection tomorrow at 7pm. [Previously]
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 (432 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
the rage, it burns.
posted by sweetkid at 8:32 AM on September 20, 2011 [5 favorites]




I have no idea of whether or not this man is guilty. But the death penalty is wrong.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:36 AM on September 20, 2011 [51 favorites]


Oh, I'm sure he's guilty of something.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:39 AM on September 20, 2011 [11 favorites]


Troy Davis' sister on "Democracy Now":

AMY GOODMAN: Kimberly Davis, your brother Troy is in isolation right now, is that right? He can talk to family, non-contact visits. He can’t talk to the press?

KIMBERLY DAVIS: No, ma’am, he can’t talk to the press. And actually, we went to see Troy on last Saturday, and we’re going back again this weekend to visit him. But we still can’t have contact visits. ... when we got there, it was — the way they had Troy, the gate — we was actually able — it was little holes in the gate. And he actually stuck his finger to the gate, and he told my niece, he said, "Now, Kerstin, stick your finger here." And she stuck her little finger to the gate, and she touched his hand, and he touched her hand. And, you know, it almost brought tears to his eyes, because he said that this is the first time in two years that he was able to touch her. And when the guard opened up the flap to put his food through the flap, my niece actually almost stepped on the guard’s foot, but she stuck her hand in the flap, and she grabbed Troy’s hand. And she told me she said, "Uncle Troy," she said, "I love you so much." And he said, "I love you, too." And he said, you know, that was something that was touching for him, because that was his first time in almost two years of being able to touch her.


Every time I think that I can't be a little more heart-broken and disgusted by this country, or turn away a little bit more in despair, it proves me wrong.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:41 AM on September 20, 2011 [29 favorites]


Seriously? This is abhorrent. How can you possibly advocate killing somebody based on unreliable witness 'evidence'. What a joke.
posted by defcom1 at 8:41 AM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


This burning car is getting heavier and heavier by the minute.
posted by swift at 8:41 AM on September 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


I have no idea of whether or not this man is guilty. But the death penalty is wrong.

So true. John 8:7

No, I can't understand how any self-described "Christian" can support the death penalty, or even wash his hands on such matters.
posted by Skeptic at 8:42 AM on September 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


Wasn't Georgia once considered a shining exemplar of the "New South?"

meet the "New" South same as the Old South.
posted by Max Power at 8:43 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Coles is set to be executed by lethal injection tomorrow at 7pm

I think that should say Davis is set to be executed, not Coles.
posted by kingbenny at 8:43 AM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Cameron Todd Willingham, a white man, was executed in Texas when there was evidence that he was innocent. Let's try to keep this about saving a life and not about race.

Why? The racial bias of the death penalty is well documented. For example:

"Fewer than 40% of Georgia homicide cases involve white victims, but in 87% of the cases in which a death sentence is imposed the victim is white. White-victim cases are roughly eleven times more likely than black-victim cases to result in a sentence of death." -Source
posted by entropone at 8:45 AM on September 20, 2011 [49 favorites]


What a mess. Keeping the guy on death row this long is bad enough.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 8:45 AM on September 20, 2011


relevant
posted by SueDenim at 8:46 AM on September 20, 2011


I think that should say Davis is set to be executed, not Coles.

Sorry. Administrator, please hope.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:47 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


One of the questions the victim's mother has asked is why the 7 witnesses took 17 years to recant their testimony. I think this issue is far more complicated than "let's execute the black man," but I really couldn't tell you what the Board of Pardons and Paroles discussed to come to this decision. Nobody can.
posted by litnerd at 8:48 AM on September 20, 2011


Shameful.
posted by quodlibet at 8:51 AM on September 20, 2011


One of the questions the victim's mother has asked is why the 7 witnesses took 17 years to recant their testimony.

Shawn Drumgold was imprisoned for 14 years for the murder of Darlene Tiffany Moore in Roxbury, MA largely due to eyewitness testimony that was later recanted by witnesses who claimed police coercion. Drumgold's conviction was vacated and he was set free about 7 years ago. It happens.
posted by nathancaswell at 8:52 AM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


entropone: "Why? The racial bias of the death penalty is well documented."

Fuck it then. Make it about race. I just hope the people on his legal team are actually thinking about how to get a stay of execution and keep a human being alive rather than spouting knee-jerk ideology.
posted by falameufilho at 8:54 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


The number one reason I am opposed to the death penalty is that it is irreversible in the inevitable event of error.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:55 AM on September 20, 2011 [62 favorites]


One of the questions the victim's mother has asked is why the 7 witnesses took 17 years to recant their testimony.

I won't question a mother's grief, but that question is irrelevant whether you are for or against the death penalty. In any criminal case, it is for the accused to be proven guilty, not the other way around. Nobody ought to be convicted to jail, let alone death, on the basis of retracted witness statements, regardless of how long it took for the witnesses to retract themselves.
posted by Skeptic at 8:55 AM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


I understand of course that witness recantations happen. But how were these witnesses able to go to sleep every night for seventeen years, knowing they sent an innocent man to his death, if they were coerced? And why, so many years later, did they decide to do the right thing and recant?

Like I said, this is the victim's mother's question--it isn't coming from me (I heard a clip on the radio this morning). But I think it's a legitimate question to ask.
posted by litnerd at 8:56 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Traditional values" in the US can be summed up as the belief that government gets everything wrong except harsh criminal sentences.
posted by tyllwin at 8:57 AM on September 20, 2011 [89 favorites]


Thank you for posting about this - I have been wanting to but a) figured I couldn't do it without getting really angry and ranty and b) thought it might be bordering on self-post since I worked at AI recently - they have a good set of short videos on the case, if folks are interested.
posted by naoko at 8:59 AM on September 20, 2011




entropone: "Why? The racial bias of the death penalty is well documented."

Fuck it then. Make it about race. I just hope the people on his legal team are actually thinking about how to get a stay of execution and keep a human being alive rather than spouting knee-jerk ideology.

falameufilho, if "well-documented" is now a facet of "knee-jerk ideology"... I guess our languages must be parallel but non-colinear.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:01 AM on September 20, 2011 [18 favorites]


I have no idea of whether or not this man is guilty. But the death penalty is wrong.

The death penalty is not always wrong, but it's wrong in this case.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:02 AM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Fewer than 40% of Georgia homicide cases involve white victims, but in 87% of the cases in which a death sentence is imposed the victim is white. White-victim cases are roughly eleven times more likely than black-victim cases to result in a sentence of death.

It would be interesting to pick that statistic apart. What are the aggravating circumstances that make homicides "eligible" for the death penalty in Georgia? And what proportion of murders of whites and blacks include those "aggravating" circumstances?

Maybe prosecutorial and juror discretion is hopelessly tainted by conscious and unconscious racism. On the other hand, it might just be that, statistically, white people tend to be murdered in different ways, for different reasons, than black people. Either way, it would be helpful to go a little deeper into the statistics.
posted by BobbyVan at 9:03 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I understand of course that witness recantations happen. But how were these witnesses able to go to sleep every night for seventeen years, knowing they sent an innocent man to his death, if they were coerced?

Because if the police department did in fact coerce these individuals into making false statements, said police department is still there. And they still have guns. And they still have any other leverage that they held over the recanters at the time.

And why, so many years later, did they decide to do the right thing and recant?

Someone among them was brave enough to do it first, leaving the door open for others to follow.
posted by delfin at 9:08 AM on September 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


Fuck it then. Make it about race. I just hope the people on his legal team are actually thinking about how to get a stay of execution and keep a human being alive rather than spouting knee-jerk ideology.

I hope that too. It doesn't have to be about either one or the other. But there is a metanarrative to the story of Troy Davis's mistreatment at the hands of the legal system.
posted by entropone at 9:09 AM on September 20, 2011


But how were these witnesses able to go to sleep every night for seventeen years, knowing they sent an innocent man to his death, if they were coerced? And why, so many years later, did they decide to do the right thing and recant?


I can't answer the first question but I can speculate on the second. In the Drumgold case, Ricky Evans recanted only after Detectives Callahan and Walsh retired. It was also shortly after an article came out in the Boston Globe questioning many aspects of the prosecution's original case. He basically chalked it up to guilt, said it was gnawing on him.
posted by nathancaswell at 9:09 AM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I should have clicked on the link in this comment. They did a multiple regression analysis that showed that the race of the victim was a very good predictor of whether the death penalty would be imposed--even when controlling for the aggravating factors involved in the crime.
posted by BobbyVan at 9:10 AM on September 20, 2011 [15 favorites]


Wasn't Georgia once considered a shining exemplar of the "New South?"

Oh no, didn't you hear? They shot that lame horse the day they decided that Max Cleland wasn't "Patriotic" enough.

Sometimes I get so mad at Georgia that I wish Zombie Sherman would come back and finish the job! Then I take a hot bath and a xanex and let calgon take me away.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:12 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


The death penalty is not always wrong, but it's wrong in this case.

Can you allow a system where the death penalty is used frequently, even when it's not always right? How many innocents' murders do you wish to perpetrate in the process of getting some bloody vengeance on someone who murdered the innocent?
posted by FatherDagon at 9:12 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


So so sad for my state right now.

No, I can't understand how any self-described "Christian" can support the death penalty, or even wash his hands on such matters.

Well, they probably skipped all that Jesus stuff and went straight to Paul.
posted by nzero at 9:13 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Stupid. Completely and absofarkinglutely absurd.

So Duane Buck gets off, despite absolute certainty that he really did it, because a witness for his own defense brought up race.

Yet Troy Davis, not clearly guilty, get to fry?

Yes, Virginia, there is Justice.
posted by pla at 9:14 AM on September 20, 2011


Problem is, any time you let someone who might be innocent off the hook you are publicly admitting that the system isn't perfect. That has the rather ugly side effect of encouraging other people who might be innocent to try the same shenanigans. Pretty soon you're only executing people who definitely aren't innocent.
posted by pjaust at 9:14 AM on September 20, 2011 [19 favorites]


How many innocents' murders do you wish to perpetrate in the process of getting some bloody vengeance on someone who murdered the innocent?

69,105.

(reflex, sorry)
posted by delfin at 9:14 AM on September 20, 2011


Yeah Jesus was just too much of a pussy.
posted by Flashman at 9:15 AM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


The death penalty is not always wrong, but it's wrong in this case.

And in all the other cases we uh, hope it's not wrong. Right?
posted by odinsdream at 9:18 AM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Nobody ought to be convicted to jail, let alone death, on the basis of retracted witness statements, regardless of how long it took for the witnesses to retract themselves.

I agree, but this quote from the HuffPo link above gave me pause (emphasis mine),
But the judge overseeing the hearing, William T. Moore Jr., decided that in order to overturn the original jury verdict, Davis needed not only to cast doubt on the evidence against him, but to provide "clear and compelling" proof of his innocence. In an August 2010 ruling dismissing Davis' appeal, he declared that while the state's case "may not be ironclad," Davis failed to make a showing of "actual innocence" and thus should not be granted a new trial.
I honestly didn't know that a judge could decide this.
posted by gladly at 9:19 AM on September 20, 2011 [9 favorites]


more like mark mc...

uhhhhh lets see
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 9:20 AM on September 20, 2011


Funny how those same conservatives who claim to have no faith in the government to do ANYTHING right suddenly are convinced of the state's infallibility when it comes to putting people to death.

I am begging every Mefite who's against the death penalty -- or even those of you who support the death penalty but agree that there's just too much doubt here -- to do what you can in the next 24 hours to try to stop this.
posted by scody at 9:20 AM on September 20, 2011 [17 favorites]


...proof of his innocence.

Wow, what a dick.
posted by odinsdream at 9:21 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wow, gladly, that seems to plainly go against the 'innocent until proven guilty' principle that guides our legal system (or is supposed to). If the information that made you guilty no longer exists, you shouldn't have to prove you're innocent! Of course, I'm sure everyone here agrees with me! UNBELIEVABLE.
posted by PigAlien at 9:22 AM on September 20, 2011


Wasn't Georgia once considered a shining exemplar of the "New South?"

Around Atlanta maybe, but there's still plenty of Old South left, particularly near Savannah.

And people please, the death penalty in the US is both wildly unfair and poorly applied to everyone AND particularly unfair and poorly applied to anyone on the more chocolately side of the skin tone spectrum. Let's not even start on the odds if the defendant also happens to be poor.
posted by Panjandrum at 9:25 AM on September 20, 2011


scody: " I am begging every Mefite who's against the death penalty -- or even those of you who support the death penalty but agree that there's just too much doubt here -- to do what you can in the next 24 hours to try to stop this."

Thanks for that link, Scody. Was wondering if any action was possible that might save him.

To save everyone time, this is the last graph at that link.
For more information on Troy's case and to keep posted on what you can do today and tomorrow, visit the CEDP website at http://nodeathpenalty.org. Send your messages urging reversal to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole -- Call 404-656-5651, e-mail webmaster@pap.state.ga.us and fax 404-651-8502.
posted by zarq at 9:26 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


zarq : Thanks for that link, Scody. Was wondering if any action was possible that might save him.

Seriously? Unless you have the ear of either Nathan Deal or Barry O, save your energy for the next battle. No one but those two have the power to act rapidly enough at this point to matter.
posted by pla at 9:30 AM on September 20, 2011


Christ. I can't believe that they actually denied clemency.

This saddens me deeply. Troy's been on my radar for a couple of years now, after hearing this State Radio song about his plight. I've been spamming my Facebook with info about his case for months now. It probably wouldn't have made any difference, but if the media had picked his story up more than a few days before the parole hearing I'm sure AI would have gotten hundreds of thousands of more signatures.
posted by Kevtaro at 9:32 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


The number one reason I am opposed to the death penalty is that it is irreversible in the inevitable event of error.

Nah, that distinction is too neat and is uncompelling. How do you meaningfully reverse a 20-year prison sentence? Even a fine can only be partially "undone"; stigma and liquidity damage remain. Oppose the death penalty if you will -- I do not happen to -- but I don't think this is a good reason to oppose it.
posted by foursentences at 9:34 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I honestly didn't know that a judge could decide this.

The issue is that the US judicial system treats the jury as supreme. Appellate courts do not deal with finding of fact, only with findings and application of law and procedure. Thus, they'll reverse if they find the trial was conducted wrong, but they will not simply discard a jury's verdict, even if there is some question about the evidence. They will want "clear and compelling" evidence that the jury came to the wrong verdict before they will reverse a jury's conviction.

This is by design. The safety valve here is not in the judiciary, it is in the executive -- an executive with the power of clemency should step in. However, it appears that in Georgia, this power is vested in a board which just said it will not offer clemency.

Unfortunately, every system has a failure mode, and it does appear, to me, that this case has hit one of them. It's why I'm against the death penalty -- there is no way to fix the error, should it be proven that there was an error, and the penalty is not applied in a fair manner.
posted by eriko at 9:34 AM on September 20, 2011 [11 favorites]


You know who else liked the death penalty?
That's right: Pontius Pilate.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 9:36 AM on September 20, 2011 [12 favorites]


Nah, that distinction is too neat and is uncompelling.

What, life and death?!
posted by TheAlarminglySwollenFinger at 9:37 AM on September 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


Even a fine can only be partially "undone"; stigma and liquidity damage remain.

Yes, but you can at least offer compensation, you can at least try to make amends. You can give the unfairly convicted at least some time as a free man and citizen.

Dead is forever. The idea that since we cannot perfectly make whole a person unfairly sentenced to life, we can still sentence people to death, even if unfairly, is incredibly repugnant.

At least there's some redemption for the innocent lifer. There's only a moldering grave for the innocently executed.
posted by eriko at 9:38 AM on September 20, 2011 [21 favorites]


What, life and death?!

Good line, but yes.
posted by foursentences at 9:39 AM on September 20, 2011


How do you meaningfully reverse a 20-year prison sentence? Even a fine can only be partially "undone"; stigma and liquidity damage remain.

Even if we agree those punishments can be only partially undone by a pardon, an apology and a shit-ton of compensation, at least they can be partially undone. The death penalty cannot be partially undone.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 9:40 AM on September 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


Cameron Todd Willingham, a white man, was executed in Texas when there was evidence that he was innocent. Let's try to keep this about saving a life and not about race.

So the incident happened in 1991. Is there anybody who lived in or around the Savannah area around this time who can give us a an impression of what was being talked about in the early 90's?

Hmmm....
posted by hal_c_on at 9:41 AM on September 20, 2011


Bob Barr is not now, nor has ever been, a senator.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:43 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


This case is a travesty of justice. Here's another petition site (backed by MoveOn.org) which looks like it is getting close to the goal. Let's hope it works.

The video from Amnesty is also worth watching and sending around.
posted by HE Amb. T. S. L. DuVal at 9:44 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cameron Todd Willingham, a white man, was executed in Texas when there was evidence that he was innocent. Let's try to keep this about saving a life and not about race.

This one time a black dude called a white dude 'cracker', so obviously racism is the same both ways and let's not discuss it as it relates to this racially-charged case.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:45 AM on September 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


Unless you have the ear of either Nathan Deal or Barry O, save your energy for the next battle.

Obama can only pardon people convicted of federal crimes, and Georgia is one of the few states where the governor doesn't have the power to pardon. At this point, Davis' execution can only be stopped by a change of mind from the Board of Pardons and Parole, action from the District Attorney, or a sudden and unexpected move by the state Supreme Court.
posted by steambadger at 9:47 AM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


This is awful. I am so angry at my state and I know Gov. Deal isn't going to do a damn thing.
posted by pointystick at 9:48 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


To comment with less of an snarky one-liner, I see how the math goes in the minds of the politicians and judges: Davis may be innocent of murder, but he's a criminal by profession. If I let him out, he'll probably commit more crimes. When he does, I'l lose my place because I'll be the guy that let him out. Even if he doesn't, I'll get smeared by my political opponents as "weak" and "soft" on crime.

People who use that logic should wrath of an angry God, but everyone who reflexively votes for the "tough on crime" candidate bears a share of the guilt for this innocent man's death.
posted by tyllwin at 9:49 AM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Thanks, steambadger for the governor clarification. Ugh. this is so sad and so very, very wrong. Witnesses & jurors urging the Board didn't do shit. I'm flabbergasted & appalled.
posted by pointystick at 9:49 AM on September 20, 2011


The number one reason I am opposed to the death penalty is that it is irreversible in the inevitable event of error.

Aren't we supposed to be the civilization that invented formal systems architecture, in which the avoidance of catastrophic failure is a paramount concern?

Come on, this is something we're good at. We do it for nuclear plants, airlines, and the economy, right?
posted by maniabug at 9:52 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


If someone is in prison and we find out that they're innocent, they can be let out. It's not perfect, obviously, because they still served time for a crime they didn't commit. But the penalty ends once the error is discovered and recognized.

If someone is executed and we find out that they're innocent, the penalty cannot be altered. It is irrevocable.

That's "too neat"?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:53 AM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Why is the United States so terrible at not killing innocent people?
posted by swift at 10:03 AM on September 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


Aren't we supposed to be the civilization that invented formal systems architecture, in which the avoidance of catastrophic failure is a paramount concern?

Come on, this is something we're good at. We do it for nuclear plants, airlines, and the economy, right?


I think there's a decent argument that we have invented a criminal justice system that avoids catastrophic failure; it's just that the definition of catastrophic failure is backwards.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:03 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


One of my clients worked on the Amnesty Internation video. Here are some other videos:

About The Case

About Troy's family
posted by bq at 10:04 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


No, I can't understand how any self-described "Christian" can support the death penalty, or even wash his hands on such matters.

>>>Well, they probably skipped all that Jesus stuff and went straight to Paul.

I've seen comments like this quite a few times on Metafilter, and they always mystify me. Where does this stereotype of Paul come from? His letters are the clearest teaching about grace, mercy, and forgiveness in the New Testament. Paul writes things like For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14) and But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22). For that matter, Jesus says things like "the wages of sin is death," or "don't fear the one who can destroy the body but cannot harm the soul, fear him who can throw body and soul into hell." Or here's this bit from Luke 13, where some people actually ask for Jesus' perspective on a recent set of death penalty cases:

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

I agree that, taken as a whole, the New Testament evidence leans against the death penalty. But it's not like Jesus is all sweetness and gentleness and Paul is nothing but death and law. If anything, it's easier to make the case to flip those stereotypes around.

I realize I'm continuing a derail here, but seriously: where do you guys come up with this stuff? It's really okay not to make references to the Bible if you don't know it that well.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:09 AM on September 20, 2011 [37 favorites]


As infuriating as it is to see such inhuman behavior on the part of judges, parole boards, and prosecutors toward people who seem very obviously innocent to our naive eyes, there are reasons they end up acting this way.

Many people, especially people attracted to the practice of criminal law, regard the law with an almost religious awe; the law is the law because individual people are venal and unreliable (and it's worth bearing in mind that prosecutors and judges see a disproportionate number of people of whom this is true), but the system of law channels the actions of unreliable people into a result that can be used to guide society.

For people who fetishize the system this way, a conviction is the closest thing to true knowledge of which humans are capable, and to cast doubt on a conviction doesn't just say something about the case, but about the entire system which created it. Thus, it's not about the witnesses recanting or the new evidence that emerges, it's about one's ability to have faith in a system to which one has devoted one's life, without which men might be little better than animals. A person faced with such a conflict in beliefs is capable of a truly staggering amount of doublethink.

And this is where we get things like the so un-American sounding need for proof of innocence to revisit a verdict, or the accountant from Hell-like dictum that appeals courts can revisit only the way the case was tried, not the facts introduced into evidence even when small children can see that those facts were plainly wrong. Those limits are required by the system, and without the system, it doesn't matter who is guilty or innocent because we would have no way to know.
posted by localroger at 10:11 AM on September 20, 2011 [9 favorites]


I don't want to derail this thread any further, so I'll restrain my response to the following.

[Lesser] punishments can be only partially undone by a pardon, an apology and a shit-ton of compensation, [but] at least they can be partially undone.

Families of unjustly executed people sure seem passionate about getting pardons and apologies and compensation, even decades later . I can't imagine that either the wrongfully-imprisoned, or the family of the executed, is completely satisfied when they get their apology: each has unjustly and permanently been stripped of (some) life and dignity. Any criminal system which deigns to punish is going to be susceptible to this problem. It is tragic, but it is not specific to the death penalty.
posted by foursentences at 10:12 AM on September 20, 2011


Actually the New Testament has little to say about how a government should be run. That's more of an Old Testament thing.
posted by rahnefan at 10:13 AM on September 20, 2011


On re-reading my own comment, I would like to clarify that I have no such charitable feelings toward Rick Perry. I think that guy just gets a little charge out of singing death orders.
posted by localroger at 10:13 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Now a singing death order is just twisting the blade.
posted by rahnefan at 10:14 AM on September 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


Incidents of death row inmate exoneration.
Possible incidents of post-execution exoneration.

Whatever happens, I'm glad this case is so high-profile.
posted by zennie at 10:16 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I apologise for calling Bob Barr a Senator.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:26 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I can't imagine that either the wrongfully-imprisoned, or the family of the executed, is completely satisfied when they get their apology: each has unjustly and permanently been stripped of (some) life and dignity.

I can guarantee you that the family of the executed is less satisfied, what with the intentional murder of their loved one and all.
posted by zennie at 10:27 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


So the incident happened in 1991. Is there anybody who lived in or around the Savannah area around this time who can give us a an impression of what was being talked about in the early 90's?

The murder of the cop, Mark MacPhail, was in 1989. Davis was sentenced to murder in 1991.

I live in Savannah, though wasn't around at the time. The locals say and still feel the outrage that a cop, by all counts a good man who was acting in a helpful fashion, was essentially executed (his gun was never pulled). MacPhail was intervening in an argument in a Burger King parking lot, when someone there just shot him, in the heart and face.

He was the son of an Army Colonel, did six years as Army Ranger and returned to Savannah to be a policeman. At the time of his death, he had a two year old daughter and a infant son. That outrage over his death is justified, IMO. It was a tragedy, one that set another tragedy in motion.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:27 AM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Any criminal system which deigns to punish is going to be susceptible to this problem.

As opposed to ones that don't!? Think I'll file that one under "not even wrong"...
posted by TheAlarminglySwollenFinger at 10:30 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can't imagine that either the wrongfully-imprisoned, or the family of the executed, is completely satisfied when they get their apology: each has unjustly and permanently been stripped of (some) life and dignity.

Yeah, but the system that failed is publicly admitting that it failed, and that (in my opinion) is the point of getting the apology.
posted by Specklet at 10:46 AM on September 20, 2011


I have actually studied the New Testament at University, so I'm not speaking out of ignorance, or parroting others' comments.

First to address the Jesus verses you quoted (if that's the best you can come up with, it's not very convincing):

"the wages of sin is death" - Jesus is clearly referring to a universal principle, not to how one should behave towards others.

"don't fear the one who can destroy the body..." A strong case can be made that Jesus' entire ministry was dedicated to the promotion of non-violent resistance and the verse you quoted is no different. The case is exactly the opposite of how you're trying to represent it, he is very obviously saying not to worry about those who would do violence to you but to focus on how you are living.

On Paul:

First of all, my observations that zealots tend to rely on Paul more heavily than Jesus is purely empirical. Most of the Christian evangelicals I know who espouse ridiculous, non-Christian ideology tend to rationalize it with verses occurring after Luke. However, I don't think it's just a coincidence. Paul presents the faith as very black and white- you're either for us or against us, and there's very much an "us." There are plenty of verses (I'm sure you can find them yourself) that talk about throwing people out of the church if they deviate from whatever current church policies are. I don't think it's a huge leap to extrapolate from there that if the balance of political power falls to an ideological majority following Paul, that any outsiders (non-believers, sinners, etc...remember those guys Jesus was eating lunch with?) will be second class citizens.
posted by nzero at 10:50 AM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


And anyway:

1 Corinthians 5:4-5

4 So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,[a][b] so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

Oops.
posted by nzero at 10:58 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Actually the New Testament has little to say about how a government should be run.

See Yesterday's WaPo
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:59 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


The death penalty is not always wrong, but it's wrong in this case.

And in all the other cases we uh, hope it's not wrong. Right?
posted by odinsdream at 9:18 AM on September 20 [2 favorites +] [!]


Sorry in the case of Gacy, Bundy, Alcala----it was/is the right thing.

For this case though, I don't agree.
posted by stormpooper at 11:00 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thank god we're derailing this discussion of our current laws into a critique of a book thousands of years old written by multiple authors and translated hundreds of times. As anyone knows, arguing about the bible is always fruitful.
posted by odinsdream at 11:00 AM on September 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


Yeah, its so divergant to turn a discussion about societal ethics and morals into a discussion about the root of said moral code.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:03 AM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


As a society, we're a little more mature than the lady who berated me and my 3-month-old at the bakery a few months ago that all laws come from God, etc. etc.

Root of the moral code indeed.
posted by odinsdream at 11:15 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends."
—Gandalf (Book One: Chapter II)

I prefer The Lord Of The Rings to the Bible. It's a lot less confusing.
posted by lordrunningclam at 11:16 AM on September 20, 2011 [62 favorites]


the root of said moral code.

Haha, very droll. Must remember that one!
posted by TheAlarminglySwollenFinger at 11:17 AM on September 20, 2011


Bob Barr is not now, nor has ever been, a senator.

Speaking of thanking Jesus for things. . .
posted by Ironmouth at 11:21 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, its so divergant to turn a discussion about societal ethics and morals into a discussion about the root of said moral code.

The Bible is far from the "root of said moral code". Our legal system is strongly influenced by Anglo-Saxon law, and many of our most cherished institutions (the common-law and monetary-damages systems in particular) have little or nothing to do with the Bible.
posted by vorfeed at 11:26 AM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


If you watch the amnesty international videos I think you can see what really happened. The homeless man bought some beer. "Redd" wanted some of his beer. He refused. Security guard intervenes so "Redd" decides to shoot the officer. The next day as he talks to police he gives the wrap to Davis.
posted by Meatafoecure at 11:28 AM on September 20, 2011


Sorry in the case of Gacy, Bundy, Alcala----it was/is the right thing.
Sorry, it was/is not.

See how convincing an argument that is?
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:31 AM on September 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


Our legal system is strongly influenced by Anglo-Saxon law, and many of our most cherished institutions (the common-law and monetary-damages systems in particular) have little or nothing to do with the Bible.

Yes, yes, sure, reality and actual history may say one thing, but this is Georgia we're talking about here. You think those things have anything to do with where people perceive their moral code to originate?

Incidentally, moral code and legal systems are two different cans of worms, not necessarily rooted in the same place.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:35 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish : If someone is executed and we find out that they're innocent, the penalty cannot be altered. It is irrevocable.

You also can't give someone back 20 years of their life, usually from the (otherwise) best years of their life. You can't "partially" undo lost time by paying someone off, however much it may help (the more shallow among) us sleep better to know that we paid someone like Robert Lee Stinson a whopping $1000 per year for his 23 spent in a cage.

I have to agree - Saying you can't undo the death penalty amounts to nothing but an intellectually lazy argument on a topic that has no actual right or wrong answer.
posted by pla at 11:39 AM on September 20, 2011


Reversible error isn't about the length of time in prison...its reversing the conviction and sentence. You can't reverse death.
posted by agregoli at 11:40 AM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Any criminal system which deigns to punish is going to be susceptible to this problem. It is tragic, but it is not specific to the death penalty.

This is true, but also irrelevant. The argument that you are attempting to dismiss says that, while it's never possible to fully recompense the wrongly imprisoned, it is possible to make amends. It is never possible to make amends to those who have been executed.

I regard the ability to make amends as being very important to a system of justice. Do you?

You quoted someone else making the same point, and then responded by repeating yourself. Please don't do that again.
posted by LogicalDash at 11:41 AM on September 20, 2011


If you want to come up with a system of punishment that can be completely undone in the event of an error, and isn't just "pay restitution and go home," be my guest. In the meantime, given that we don't have the powers of clairvoyance and telepathy required to separate the guilty from the innocent with 100% confidence, I'll take a system where the response to error can at least be "we can't undo the past, but we'll stop punishing you now" instead of "we already killed an innocent man, but now we'll say nice things about him."
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:45 AM on September 20, 2011 [10 favorites]


From Amnesty International: sign the petition and/or contact Chatham County (Savannah) District Attorney Larry Chisolm's office: Phone: 912-652-7308, Fax: 912-652-7328.

From TroyAnthonyDavis.org/National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty:
Right now, please immediately act and urge the parole board to reconsider their decision. Please politely e-mail the board members at Clemency_Information@pap.state.ga.us or fax their office at (404) 651-8502.
[...]
Today is a Day of Protest to express our outrage at the recent decision to deny Troy Davis clemency. And on Wednesday (Sept. 21), we're calling for a Day of Vigil on Troy's impending execution date.

Everyone is encouraged to wear a black armband, with "not in my name!" written on it.

In Atlanta, there will be a protest rally at the state capitol tonight at 7pm EDT (Washington Street side).

In Washington, DC, we'll be back at Tivoli Square (Columbia Heights Metro stop) tonight at 6pm EDT.

Everywhere else: protests are encouraged. Check with your state coalition to see what plans they have.
posted by nicebookrack at 11:55 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


You can't "partially" undo lost time by paying someone off

This morning I savagely took a bagel from the bagel store. Nothing can undo my eating of their delicious bagel; I was reduced to giving them $1.99 in a hollow attempt at compensation.

Actually, every day our civil courts contain victims whose lives are improved and whose suffering is partially mitigated due to the awarding of just compensation. Notably, none of those people have previously received lethal injections.

however much it may help (the more shallow among) us sleep better to know that we paid someone like Robert Lee Stinson a whopping $1000 per year for his 23 spent in a cage.

So give him $100,000 per year. It is beyond me why you would argue that people's lives cannot be somewhat improved by freedom, money and acknowledgement of their innocence. Death prevents this.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 11:56 AM on September 20, 2011 [13 favorites]


And this article broke my heart:
"Explaining the Death Penalty to My Children: A family struggles to understand why Georgia prisoner Troy Davis is scheduled to be executed, even though the case against him has fallen apart"
The next morning, the first words out of my daughter's mouth, sitting up in her bed, were about Troy Davis.

"You know how we were talking about Troy last night? How does that work?"

"I'm sorry," I had to say, "how does what work?"

"Well, how do they kill him? Will he just stand there and have to -- let them kill him?"
posted by nicebookrack at 11:56 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Psychopathic murderers can still provide some value to the world. They shouldn't be let out in public, of course, because that would be too risky for the public. But if they want to spend the rest of their days writing or doing mathematics, whatever, they can do that in prison.

Since we might get some value out of letting them live (albeit in suboptimal conditions), the question becomes why we shouldn't. A lot of people seem to have some kind of moral intuition that killing psychopathic murderers is intrinsically right. I don't see any difference between that and plain revenge; perhaps you're not the party who was murdered, but we'd still call it revenge if it was one of the murderer's friends or loved ones who did it, and we'd still call it revenge if they hired someone else to do it, so it seems to me that it's still revenge when the criminal justice system does it.

I don't find revenge to be a very compelling basis for a theory of justice. I think it works better if you start from the premise that the most just outcome is the one that helps the most people, and the most just law is the one that produces the greatest proportion of just outcomes.
posted by LogicalDash at 12:06 PM on September 20, 2011 [18 favorites]


LogicalDash-

Well stated, sir. Well stated indeed.

I think the counterargument that a lot of right-wing types might offer is "we don't want to pay for him to live." Considering what they're willing to pay out for lesser crimes to stay in prison, this argument rings a bit hollow to me, but I think it would be their first go-to.

That or the "it's just what's right, the bible says" one, but that one's a lot harder to argue, since it's belief-based.
posted by Archelaus at 12:12 PM on September 20, 2011


The argument that you are attempting to dismiss says that, while it's never possible to fully recompense the wrongly imprisoned, it is possible to make amends. It is never possible to make amends to those who have been executed.

Yes, but what you're missing about that is the fact that not everyone who gets the death penalty is necessarily innocent. If you're against the DP because of its irreversibility, then what you're worried about is false convictions rather than the death penalty as such. What about cases where guilt is undisputed? Whether due to guilty pleas in court, unapologetic confessions, or an overwhelming body of evidence, there are many cases where the criminal conduct is agreed upon by all parties. Then the argument arises about whether it's cruel & unusual or whether there should be such a thing as a death penalty at all, but the argument from reversibility is wholly irrelevant.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:12 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm opposed to the death penalty. However I think that if you must have it, save it for cases where there is evidence the accused did the crime. Examples of things that are not evidence:
- Eyewitness testimony. People lie.
- Confessions. Again, people lie.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:15 PM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Anigbrowl: Okay, now how do you create a legal standard for that? Is a "not guilty" plea enough to disqualify a case from consensus-of-guilt? If so, why would anyone ever plead guilty? How much evidence is enough to convict but not really super-overwhelming to the point of consensus?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:18 PM on September 20, 2011


2bucksplus: "I have no idea of whether or not this man is guilty. But the death penalty is wrong.

The death penalty is not always wrong, but it's wrong in this case.
"

If the death penalty is wrong in this case, then it's wrong in all cases. Executing an innocent human being isn't something that can be un-done.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 12:19 PM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: we might get some value out of letting them live.
posted by rahnefan at 12:21 PM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


You think those things have anything to do with where people perceive their moral code to originate?

You think perception has anything to do with "the root of said moral code"? Most people don't have more than a passing familiarity with the Bible, to the point where they think various points of extra-Biblical morality (a common one: "God helps those that help themselves") are in it somewhere. That doesn't mean it is actually "the root of our moral code", any more than Confucianism is the root of those stupid "Confucius say" jokes.

Incidentally, moral code and legal systems are two different cans of worms, not necessarily rooted in the same place.

Sure, but the very same applies to our moral code. The Judeo-Christian tradition is a product of, and deeply embedded in, traditions which came before it, and our moral code is also a product of modern and post-modern secular values, many of which openly contradict the supposed "root" of our beliefs. When you suggest that our "moral code" is Christian-full-stop, you are seriously wrong, and I don't care who "perceives" otherwise.
posted by vorfeed at 12:25 PM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


what you're worried about is false convictions rather than the death penalty as such. What about cases where guilt is undisputed?

As holy zarquon points out, you're creating a false standard here. In the eyes of this state's legislature, Davis's guilt is undisputed. Which is exactly the problem.
posted by TheAlarminglySwollenFinger at 12:30 PM on September 20, 2011 [5 favorites]



The death penalty is not always wrong, but it's wrong in this case.
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:02 PM on September 20 [2 favorites +] [!]


There's no backsies. The death penalty is absolute. So if it's wrong once, it's always wrong.
posted by dazed_one at 12:35 PM on September 20, 2011


If you're against the DP because of its irreversibility, then what you're worried about is false convictions rather than the death penalty as such

There does not, cannot, and never has existed a criminal justice system that never produces false convictions.
posted by LogicalDash at 12:38 PM on September 20, 2011 [12 favorites]


What about cases where guilt is undisputed? Whether due to guilty pleas in court, unapologetic confessions, or an overwhelming body of evidence, there are many cases where the criminal conduct is agreed upon by all parties.

anigbrowl, those cases represent a small fraction of the convictions, and therefore are not a useful argument for the death penalty.

In particular, both of your first two examples assume that confessions are always truthful, when there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. Innocent people sometimes plead guilty in (false) hopes of lesser charges, due to coercion, or even due to insanity.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:42 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am not personally against the idea that certain people like John Wayne Gacy or Jeffrey Dahmer deserve to die. However, I'm against ever giving the State the idea that it is OK to kill anyone, even Gacy or Dahmer, for the simple reason that such an organization will always take the inch you gave it and claim a mile.

I think people who are for the death penalty are generally motivated by a resentment of the idea that someone that evil is not only still walking around, but we are paying for his food and shelter while non-evil people have to work and contribute. (Dahmer was especially annoying in this regard, bragging about how much fun he was having in prison. Someone took care of that though.)

The thing is, because the DP is so final, the way we apply it with all these years of double-double-triple check appeals also makes the process more expensive than just locking someone up for life. And even this ridiculously complex and expensive process gives us the occasional atrocity. So do we streamline it and make this monster we created likely to eat even more innocent people? Or do we make it even more expensive in a Zeno's paradox like attempt to make it even safer?

Unfortunately, the safest way to keep a monster from eating innocent people is to not feed it anybody. Even if Jeffrey Dahmer is having a blast in prison, at least he's not killing anybody else himself. That might be the best outcome we can hope for.
posted by localroger at 12:52 PM on September 20, 2011 [14 favorites]


Psychopathic murderers can still provide some value to the world. They shouldn't be let out in public, of course, because that would be too risky for the public. But if they want to spend the rest of their days writing or doing mathematics, whatever, they can do that in prison. Since we might get some value out of letting them live (albeit in suboptimal conditions), the question becomes why we shouldn't.

Not really, no. You could argue that we might get benefit from just about anything, but it doesn't follow that we should do that by default. We might get benefit from letting that house burn down, but does that mean we should hold off on calling the fire department? Of course not, because the benefit is typically speculative whereas the cost is known.

Only where the probability of gain * the size of the gain exceeds the (certain) cost of the loss does it make sense to avoid execution on these grounds. One example might be where you have a person you know to be a heinous terrorist, but you are desperately anxious to discover the identity of his co-conspirators. Another might be the case where someone is actively seeking martyrdom for political reasons and you fear the execution would result in massive political instability. There are a lot of reasons why you might make an economic argument against the death penalty...but as with the reversibility argument, there are also a lot of cases where the prospect of any future benefit is remote, so that's not a very strong argument against it either.

I'm not a fan of the death penalty, by the way. I think it undermines the criminal justice system by legitimizing an avoidable death under some circumstances, compared to a blanket prohibition on the taking of life other than in cases of self-defense. However, I don't see it going away without a constitutional amendment; the founders clearly contemplated the possibility of capital crimes because they wrote them into the constitution. The termination of life can not have seemed inherently cruel or unusual to them, or they would have removed the provision for capital punishment when they added the bill of rights. And the forensic argument is irrelevant because you can always find cases where culpability is not in dispute, as mentioned above.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:07 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


The forensic argument is crucial because you can always find cases where culpability is in dispute, as mentioned above.

Crucial.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:13 PM on September 20, 2011


--Psychopathic murderers can still provide some value to the world. They shouldn't be let out in public, of course, because that would be too risky for the public. But if they want to spend the rest of their days writing or doing mathematics, whatever, they can do that in prison.

[off-topic] It's in part thanks to a psychopathic murderer that we have the Oxford English Dictionary! [/off-topic]
posted by nicebookrack at 1:14 PM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Examples of things that are not evidence:
- Eyewitness testimony. People lie.
- Confessions. Again, people lie.


Those things most certainly are evidence. They're not proof, because sometimes people lie. On the other hand, people also tell the truth. It makes no more sense to assume all eyewitness or confessional testimony is false than it does to assume it is always true. This is why the trier of fact (usually a jury) has to weigh the evidence.

As holy zarquon points out, you're creating a false standard here. In the eyes of this state's legislature, Davis's guilt is undisputed. Which is exactly the problem.

Don't be ridiculous. Davis says he's not guilty, thus his guilt is disputed. I'm talking about those cases where someone admits to guilt, or the evidence is so abundant as to be indisputable by any reasonable person. My point is that arguments about innocense are an attack upon false convictions, not upon the death penalty itself.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:17 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


There does not, cannot, and never has existed a criminal justice system that never produces false convictions.

That's true, but it does not follow that all convictions are false.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:21 PM on September 20, 2011


"so abundant as to be indisputable by any reasonable person"...in other words, so convincing that no reasonable person could doubt that it's true? That's what you need just to get a conviction. If the prosecution's case isn't convincing to a reasonable person, the defendant needs to be let go, not sentenced to life in prison!
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:24 PM on September 20, 2011


"That's true, but it does not follow that all convictions are false."

No, but if you want to have a system capable of handling errors effectively, you must assume that any given case has a chance of being decided in error.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:25 PM on September 20, 2011


In particular, both of your first two examples assume that confessions are always truthful, when there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. Innocent people sometimes plead guilty in (false) hopes of lesser charges, due to coercion, or even due to insanity.

They assume no such thing. I am not making an argument for the reliability of confessions; I am saying that there are cases where the commission of a capital crime is not actually in dispute, and that in such cases the arguments about innocence and reversibility become irrelevant.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:29 PM on September 20, 2011


That's true, but it does not follow that all convictions are false.

No one is saying that all convictions are false. Just that the certainty of some of them being false should, by all rights, preclude the legal execution of any convict.
posted by lydhre at 1:30 PM on September 20, 2011


I'm against the death penalty for a number of reasons. Any state with sufficient resources to operate a prison would be better off abolishing it.

That said, there is no reason for an eruption of outrage over this particular execution. Troy Davis does not warrant any more of a campaign to save his life than any other death row inmate. Unlike Gary Graham, there is little cause to question his conviction. The shell casings from where Officer MacPhail was shot matched the shell casings from where Michael Cooper was shot. Troy Davis was present at both locations, Sylvester Coles was not. And then there's the bloody shorts that were ruled inadmissable evidence. There's an argument to be made that prosecutors were pursuing the death penalty with too weak a case, but this hand wringing about sending a "possibly innocent" man to his death is of a piece with the theatrics of Mumia Abu-Jamal's trial and appeals.
posted by BigSky at 1:32 PM on September 20, 2011


They assume no such thing. I am not making an argument for the reliability of confessions; I am saying that there are cases where the commission of a capital crime is not actually in dispute, and that in such cases the arguments about innocence and reversibility become irrelevant.

So you are proposing a system where the death penalty applies only to those cases?

I'm not sure you are thinking it through. Either the system is imperfect and we must allow for the execution of innocents, or ...?
posted by mygoditsbob at 1:33 PM on September 20, 2011


Why not at least have a higher evidentiary standard for death penalty cases? Instead of "beyond a reasonable doubt," juries would have to be convinced "beyond any doubt."

Heck, if you really wanted to get serious about it, impanel a special "grand jury" to review convictions for death-eligible cases and have them determine sentencing (not the trial court). Make the standard "beyond any doubt." Yeah, people would complain about being put on the "death jury," but if we as a society are going to be imposing the death penalty, we should confront our decisions.

And speaking of confronting our decisions, allow adults with drivers licenses to log-in to a special website to watch videos of executions. If we as a society need to hide "the machinery of death," we shouldn't be tinkering with it.
posted by BobbyVan at 1:34 PM on September 20, 2011


Obviously, we should just invoke the death penalty when we're super sure. Duh.
posted by lydhre at 1:35 PM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


They assume no such thing. I am not making an argument for the reliability of confessions; I am saying that there are cases where the commission of a capital crime is not actually in dispute, and that in such cases the arguments about innocence and reversibility become irrelevant.
...
So you are proposing a system where the death penalty applies only to those cases?


I don't know whether or not he's proposing said system but it sounds, if a judicial system must exist at all, like very fair system to me. I think angibowl's being pretty reasonable in the face of a good bit of unrealistic, even circular, logic i.e. "If one person is potentially innocent then we can't convict or shouldn't sentence anyone, ever."
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:37 PM on September 20, 2011


No wait guys I figured it out. We can totally have the death penalty, but the executioner is chosen by lottery from the general population, and afterwards must live out the rest of their live in exile on a remote island somewhere.
posted by odinsdream at 1:38 PM on September 20, 2011


anigbrowl even...
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:39 PM on September 20, 2011


I don't know whether or not he's proposing said system but it sounds, if a judicial system must exist at all, like very fair system to me.

Until you have to actually define the limits of said system and deal with (a) the problem of quantifying the difference between "beyond a reasonable doubt" and "indisputable by any reasonable person"; and (b) the catch where, if protestations of innocence are enough to rule out the death penalty, no one who knows how the system works will confess to a capital crime before, during or after trial.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:42 PM on September 20, 2011


"If one person is potentially innocent then we can't convict or shouldn't sentence anyone, ever."

Nobody is saying that. The death penalty is unique in the legal system in that once it is invoked and executed, it cannot be undone.

Imprisonment can be terminated once it becomes clear that it is unjustified.

The jury based criminal justice system is so far from perfect that it cannot be allowed to apply a sanction such as the death penalty. I've seen it close up. It's not as just and noble as one would like to think. Everything right and wrong about humans is made manifest in a jury room. We aren't good enough to make death penalty decisions.
posted by mygoditsbob at 1:45 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


"so abundant as to be indisputable by any reasonable person"...in other words, so convincing that no reasonable person could doubt that it's true? That's what you need just to get a conviction. If the prosecution's case isn't convincing to a reasonable person, the defendant needs to be let go, not sentenced to life in prison!

You're missing the point: sometimes the factual evidence is overwhelming. As others have pointed out, any criminal justice system is likely to produce a certain number of false convictions - whether due to error, prosecutorial misconduct, jury bias and so on. In this Tory Davis case, a lot of the testimony is based on eyewitness evidence, and we all know that such evidence has issues of reliability.

But there are cases where the factual evidence isn't in dispute, and neither are the integrity of the investigative or the legal processes. And you have to take those into account when you're considering the death penalty as a matter of policy. I'm not saying 'you have to have the death penalty because some people are guilty.' I'm saying that 'Because some people are guilty, you have to consider that fact when deciding how to argue against the death penalty.' You're always going to have some cases where the maximum penalty available is appropriate, so if that penalty happens to be the death penalty, what do you do then?
posted by anigbrowl at 1:47 PM on September 20, 2011


Anigbrowl:

Any system you want to propose will have cases that sit on the border between overwhelming and some doubt. What do we do about those cases that are merely "whelming."
posted by mygoditsbob at 1:51 PM on September 20, 2011


Why not at least have a higher evidentiary standard for death penalty cases? Instead of "beyond a reasonable doubt," juries would have to be convinced "beyond any doubt."

The juries were evidently convinced "beyond any doubt" in the trials of the West Memphis Three, based largely on a false confession and a propensity for Metallica.
posted by scody at 1:56 PM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm talking about those cases where someone admits to guilt, or the evidence is so abundant as to be indisputable by any reasonable person. (emph. mine)

There's a huge hole in that "or" there, and it's the one that twelve reasonable people and the abundant evidence pointing to Davis being guilty all jumped through in order to convict him.
posted by rtha at 1:57 PM on September 20, 2011


I could have sworn there was something in western jurisprudence about whether it's better to punish the guilty as much as you can or to keep the innocent safe.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:01 PM on September 20, 2011


Holy Zarquon: are you referring to this perhaps?
posted by RolandOfEld at 2:04 PM on September 20, 2011


It occurs to me that there was a time in history when the death penalty was justified. Governments were weak and without modern security technologies. You could never be confident that a dangerous criminal wouldn't escape, or that his allies wouldn't bribe the guards. It was impossible to simply jail the person posing the threat to society and be sure that the threat was gone. That time is over. If you go to a modern maximum security jail, you are not getting out without the government's permission. The necessity of life imprisonment for certain individuals remains; the necessity of the death penalty does not.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 2:04 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I suspect that different evidentiary standards are something that we would all like to think are effective in establishing a higher bar to higher level penalties imposed by the legal system.

Having spoken with jurors on a number of occasions following a trial and having watched the deliberations of many mock juries, it is my sense that most jurors fail to differentiate between the various proof standards in a way that would give judges, lawyers, law professors and the general public great concern.
posted by mygoditsbob at 2:04 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


More about this.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:05 PM on September 20, 2011


The juries were evidently convinced "beyond any doubt" in the trials of the West Memphis Three, based largely on a false confession and a propensity for Metallica.

I was being a bit facetious in my comment, especially about the special "grand jury" that would render death penalty sentencing and the uploading of execution videos to the internet.

I'd love it if someone wrote a Platonic-style dialogue about how to design a judicial system that would impose the death penalty in a just manner without accidentally executing the innocent. My instinct is that it would become such an imposing and complicated process that we'd recoil from it the same way we reject Socrates' communal wives.
posted by BobbyVan at 2:06 PM on September 20, 2011


there have been many cases where people have admitted to guilt because of police interrogation tactics. i was just listening to a TAL the other day on this where a teenage boy was coerced by police who fed him details because they told him he could go home to his grandma if he would just sign the paper. he implicated two other boys in his confession of the murder of woman. most recently on MeFi there was the big thread about the West Memphis Three where one of the defendants was coerced by police to admitting all sorts of stuff - in reality the full tape shows the police feeding him information when he was getting details wrong.

these police are not necessarily bad, they were doing a job - trying to get the bad guy and they thought they had him. this is not a knock against police.

so just because someone admits they are guilty doesn't mean they are. in fact the TAL episode i think was about why people admit to guilt when they are not. very often they think they can just tell the judge "look, i just said that so i could go home, here's what really happened/i'm innocent/etc", but it doesn't work that way.

also, sometimes evidence can seem to be convincing, but is wrong. All that Cameron Todd Willingham stuff - in recent years it's been shown that the "evidence" was in fact faulty.

humans are falliable. we make mistakes. the death penalty is too final a mistake to make.
posted by sio42 at 2:11 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


But how were these witnesses able to go to sleep every night for seventeen years, knowing they sent an innocent man to his death, if they were coerced?

When police fabricate evidence and coerce witnesses, they normally do it in the belief that their suspect is guilty. There doesn't seem to be any reason to suppose that the witnesses believed Davis to be innocent, despite the fact that they knew their own testimony to be false. It's no excuse for what they did, but people are capable of all kinds of self-justification lying in bed at night.
posted by howfar at 2:15 PM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I am saying that there are cases where the commission of a capital crime is not actually in dispute, and that in such cases the arguments about innocence and reversibility become irrelevant.

Got an example?
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:15 PM on September 20, 2011


When I was much younger, I was fully for the death penalty. I firmly believed that some people out there just straight up deserved to die. Child molesters and serial killers could not be redeemed in my eyes and could only be imprisoned for as long as it took for them to die. Anything else would just be asking for another crime to happen.

Then in college, one of my dear friends was murdered. Once his killer was caught and went on trial, a curious feeling came over me. The thought of his murderer being killed to pay for his crimes didn't comfort me, it didn't make the pain of losing a friend go away. In fact, it made me kind of sick to my stomach that the killer's parents, friends and family would have to go through the pain we were going through.

At the trial, my friend's mother put it more plainly. She said, "Why should another mother's son be lost for this horrible tragedy? Nothing will make this right. Death never rights any wrong."

Now granted, I don't think the killer should ever taste free air and unless something very unusual happens he will die an old man in prison. But that's far less about punishment and much more about preventing him from murdering someone else.
posted by teleri025 at 2:20 PM on September 20, 2011 [17 favorites]


America's major downfall is that it cannot be seen to be wrong.
posted by oxala at 2:32 PM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


An obvious example would be this guy in Norway, Anders Brievik; lots of witnesses, vast quantities of forensic evidence, the police find him with the murder weapons in his possession, he has written a detailed explanation of his plan and motivations in advance, and he frankly admits to having placed and detonated bombs and murdered a large number of people individually. (Norway does not have the death penalty, but that's beside the point.)

Serial killers also provide examples; some 2-3% of them turn themselves in, surprisingly, and about half of those plead guilty (as opposed to claiming insanity). Others are convicted because there is such an abundance of forensic evidence, such as videos they have made of themselves killing for pleasure or similar. I'd rather not cite particular cases, both because they are so gruesome and because it would be a derail to associate that with Davis' case, where there is a question of about the reliability of his conviction.

Once again, I am well aware that unreliable convictions are a major problem. I'm just saying that opposition to the death penalty means having to wrestle with the cases where the crimes are very extreme but the conviction is reliable. Most people prefer not to do that because those cases are extremely distressing.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:56 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


> I'm just saying that opposition to the death penalty means having to wrestle with the cases where the crimes are very extreme but the conviction is reliable. Most people prefer not to do that because those cases are extremely distressing.

"Wrestle"? Why wrestle? The death penalty is simply wrong, even in cases like that. Sure, tons of people deserve death. There are a lot of individuals now living in the US who definitely deserve a horrible death - some of these psychopaths are even prominent political figures, FFS! - but we live in a rich society where your chance of being killed by a random stranger is extremely small, and the spiritual and ethical cost to our society of the death penalty is much greater.

This is why almost all "civilized" countries gave up the death penalty in the previous century - because it costs us more than it gains us.

In this case, I'm really not convinced that the candidate is in fact innocent. I do believe that a lot of the evidence was faked by police; my confidence in the morality of the police in the US and their respect for the law and the Constitution is about zero; but if I had to bet, I'd bet that the subject is "probably guilty" because of some pretty good evidence against him that still remains.

But "probably guilty" is not good enough - even for a jail sentence, the gold standard is "beyond reasonable doubt'. And this is why I signed petitions demanding a stay of execution and apparently these petitions were heard.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 3:13 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]






anigbrowl, the problem with trying to draw a line between death-doubtful cases and death-OK cases is that no matter how you draw it, there will be a line, and no matter where you draw it, there will be cases that are uncomfortably close to it.

Now, the law being what it is, human common sense cannot be applied in those situations. That is in fact exactly the situation the case at hand is in. The law must apply the same to everyone, and in fact the most serious challenge to the death penalty comes from the rather easily statistically proven fact that it isn't applied the same to everyone, and you're much more likely to end your life with a needle in your arm strapped to a gurney if you're black than if you're white. Even the law itself recognizes that that is wrong.

But the law itself is mechanical and deliberately stupid, so that it will hopefully be fair if not clever. So you have to ask yourself if it is really a good idea to set up what amounts to an amazingly complicated Rube Goldberg machine designed to determine matters of truth and innocence, and make it possible for that machine to kill someone. Because that's what ultimately happens; once a thing is a matter of law it's no longer really in human hands at all. Do we want a thing like that to be able to kill people?

(And, incidentally, the framers' answer to this lack of humanity in the judicial system is supposed to be the executive's ability to pardon. That would in this case be the parole board who apparently fell asleep at the wheel.)

Frankly, I don't want the government killing people at all unless they are in the process of attacking us and can't be stopped any other way. It's far too willing to take rights we give it and creatively extend them, which is how pornographic websites get shut down by laws that were passed only, only, only crossmyheartandhopetonotgetreelected to stop funding of terrorists.
posted by localroger at 3:24 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would be for the death penalty if there is some technological solution where we all have to flip a switch before someone's execution can proceed. It is now such a sanitary, hands-free process that it seems difficult to carry out without acknowledging some loss of humanity on our own part. If we each had some obligatory role to play, perhaps we would have to confront the matter of innocence more closely.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:24 PM on September 20, 2011


(And, incidentally, the framers' answer to this lack of humanity in the judicial system is supposed to be the executive's ability to pardon. That would in this case be the parole board who apparently fell asleep at the wheel.)

They didn't so much fall asleep at the wheel as have a huge institutional leaning toward the prosection's viewpoint. Per the AP, the board's made up of: a former Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent, the ex-chair of a Georgia prosecutors group, the former head of the Georgia Department of Corrections, the former head of the state’s juvenile justice program and a retired state legislator (Republican, natch).
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 3:36 PM on September 20, 2011


"Wrestle"? Why wrestle? The death penalty is simply wrong, even in cases like that. Sure, tons of people deserve death. There are a lot of individuals now living in the US who definitely deserve a horrible death - some of these psychopaths are even prominent political figures, FFS! - but we live in a rich society where your chance of being killed by a random stranger is extremely small, and the spiritual and ethical cost to our society of the death penalty is much greater.

'Wrestle' in the sense of constructing an argument. I happen to agree with your position, but the way you state it is completely contradictory - how can the death penalty always be wrong if some people do in fact deserve a horrible death?

As I pointed out above, you can't really abolish the DP in the USA without a constitutional amendment. Since the constitution clearly contemplates the possibility of capital sentences but does not forbid them, arguments about whether the DP is cruel and unusual revolve around the manner of its administration and the proportionality of its application. As long as this is the case, then capital sentences remain available as a penal maximum, and sooner or later someone will commit a crime that breaches some criminal maximum so blatantly that prosecutors and courts will have little other choice than to respond in kind, and then you're back to square one.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:37 PM on September 20, 2011


"Many that live deserve death. And some die that deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then be not too eager to deal out death in the name of justice, fearing for your own safety. Even the wise cannot see all ends."
posted by bq at 3:37 PM on September 20, 2011


Interestingly for the discussion about doubt, sentencing, and the death penalty: yesterday was the 24th anniversary of the arrest of Colin Pitchfork, the first man to be convicted of murder based on DNA evidence. I say it's interesting, and that's because Richard Buckland had already confessed to the murder. It must have come as quite a shock to him.

Also, William Heirens.
posted by Jehan at 3:44 PM on September 20, 2011


I'm just saying that opposition to the death penalty means having to wrestle with the cases where the crimes are very extreme but the conviction is reliable.

It really doesn't. We have supermax prisons. (24-hour isolation presents its own set of problems, morally, but not having the death penalty doesn't mean yup-he-totally-did-it-no-doubt murderers running free.) And even if we didn't have supermax prisons, the way to avoid "wrestling" with the question of what to do about no-doubt-about-it murderers is the same: keep them locked up, and keep them in solitary if they really present a danger to other prisoners and guards. Shit, in California we lock guys in the hole because they won't admit to or renounce being in a gang - non-murderer guys who stay in the hole for *years.* Surely we can do this with actual murderers if we feel so strongly about it.
posted by rtha at 3:45 PM on September 20, 2011


anigbrowl, the problem with trying to draw a line between death-doubtful cases and death-OK cases is that no matter how you draw it, there will be a line, and no matter where you draw it, there will be cases that are uncomfortably close to it.

I entirely agree. My point is that abolition also requires addressing cases that are not close to the line, but lie so far beyond it that the quality of the conviction is not really in question. I mentioned Brievik above for just this reason - there's a universal consensus that he's a mass murderer by any rational definition of the term. If Norway had the death penalty available, how could a prosecutor or a sentencing judge not reach for it in such a case? This is why I don't think a moratorium goes far enough (although it's a good thing whenever a state does put one in place). Without an actual constitutional amendment, the DP will always remain available as an option, so arguments for abolition have to be universal rather than probabilistic.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:56 PM on September 20, 2011


How is "the state can't be trusted with the death penalty because of the probabilistic concerns, and 'clearly guilty of an incredibly heinous crime' is such a vague standard that it would be a joke in court" not a universal argument?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 3:58 PM on September 20, 2011


I'm against the death penalty because not only is it irreversible it's inhumane. Why should the State kill?

In Australia I don't think the death penalty lobby even exists. It's outside of acceptable discourse, even for the most heinous crimes.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 3:59 PM on September 20, 2011


Where the fuck is Errol Morris when you need him?
posted by ubermasterson at 4:08 PM on September 20, 2011


I'm boycotting Georgia. I will not buy anything made in Georgia, to the best of my knowledge. I will detour around the state if driving south or north and it is in my way. I will travel to see my family in Florida either by train or by plane and, if I am laid over in Atlanta, I will not spend a cent there.
How 'bout it, folks? Let's make this one cost 'em....
posted by girdyerloins at 4:10 PM on September 20, 2011


Oh, and while I'm at it, Texas can jolly well secede from the union, as well.
posted by girdyerloins at 4:12 PM on September 20, 2011


If Norway had the death penalty available, how could a prosecutor or a sentencing judge not reach for it in such a case?

Easily. I imagine it would go something like, "I hereby sentence Anders Brievik to life imprisonment without parole."
posted by LogicalDash at 4:15 PM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


The shell casings from where Officer MacPhail was shot matched the shell casings from where Michael Cooper was shot.

Actually, the ballistics evidence is pretty questionable as well.
posted by naoko at 4:15 PM on September 20, 2011


Yeah, because the entire state is responsible for the decisions of five people. Their state's economy should suffer as punishment.
posted by litnerd at 4:16 PM on September 20, 2011


I hope that when they put that man to death his innocence is proven unequivocally that there is such a shitstorm leveled at the Georgia Board of Corrections, and death penalty advocates are made out for the ridiculous inquisitors that they are, that a solid and sustainable movement to abolish this wasteful, hubristic, and ineffective penalty pulls this backwards country into the 21st century. At least in one regard.
posted by TheTingTangTong at 4:17 PM on September 20, 2011


Re: LogicalDash - In the same vein as which, Paul Bernardo, who videotaped himself raping and murdering three young girls and may have killed as many as seven more, will live out his natural life in a Canadian prison. Society continues unabated.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 4:17 PM on September 20, 2011


Amanda Knox is totally innocent. I mean, what a railroad there.
posted by elder18 at 4:29 PM on September 20, 2011


In the same vein as which, Paul Bernardo, who videotaped himself raping and murdering three young girls and may have killed as many as seven more, will live out his natural life in a Canadian prison. Society continues unabated.

And his wife Karla, just as guilty as Paul, was freed some years ago. What a travesty.
posted by Justinian at 4:34 PM on September 20, 2011


If Norway had the death penalty available, how could a prosecutor or a sentencing judge not reach for it in such a case?

Easily. I imagine it would go something like, "I hereby sentence Anders Brievik to life imprisonment without parole."


On what basis? In what way does his conviction fall short of deserving the maximum penalty available (assuming the hypothetical availability of the DP in Norway, and that Brievik doesn't retract his claims of culpability or sanity). If his crime doesn't deserve the maximum penalty, what does? Remember, the judge's job in this situation is to judge the appropriate penalty for the crime, not make a judgment about penal policy.

Re: LogicalDash - In the same vein as which, Paul Bernardo, who videotaped himself raping and murdering three young girls and may have killed as many as seven more, will live out his natural life in a Canadian prison. Society continues unabated.

Sigh. Canada doesn't have the death penalty. Fortunately for Brievik, neither does Norway. But the USA does, and it's baked in at the constitutional level (not all crimes are federal, but it's easier to look at things from the top down because the final appeals usually are). Abolition in this case means a constitutional amendment, and a constitutional amendment is not going to happen without a strong positive argument for why people like Brievik or Bernardo should not get the death penalty in jurisdictions where it is available.

Pointing out that 'society continues unabated' in Canada despite the unavailability of the DP there doesn't seem like a very strong argument. After all, society continues unabated in the US despite its existence.
posted by anigbrowl at 4:43 PM on September 20, 2011


In Australia I don't think the death penalty lobby even exists. It's outside of acceptable discourse, even for the most heinous crimes.

Yes, it is, apart from the occasional kneejerk reaction by online commenters. It would certainly not get public support and no major party would sanction it. There's a story behind that which might be of interest.
posted by andraste at 4:50 PM on September 20, 2011


The TL:DR on Ronald Ryan, the last person executed in Australia, being that there were serious doubts about his guilt and a massive public outcry against the execution, but the state premier was determined to carry out the execution and did so. That's what led to the abolition of the death penalty here.
posted by andraste at 4:56 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


It is probably worth noting that not only does Norway not have the death penalty, they also do not have indefinite life sentences; IIRC the longest possible sentence for any crime is in the mid 20 year range, and sentences for multiple crimes run concurrently. Their prisons are also much more humane than most, resembling island camps more than blockhouses. It will be quite interesting indeed to see what they do with Brievik. A convenient dodge would be to put him in a mental hospital but I have the feeling they're going to be too proud of their system to cheat it quite so nakedly.
posted by localroger at 4:57 PM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


anigbrowl:

To the extent that you are arguing that some people deserve to be executed, I can appreciate the argument.

What we are really discussing here is how to establish a system that will always select guilty people for execution. It is my sense that human beings are incapable of creating such a system. To the extent that the system could potentially execute one innocent person, it fails and is unjustifiable.
posted by mygoditsbob at 5:09 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


By statute in California, perjury that results in the death penalty is itself eligible for the death penalty.

I wonder if the same is true in Georgia?
posted by vorpal bunny at 5:17 PM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


perjury that results in the death penalty is itself eligible for the death penalty

Because if circumstances have just proven that two wrongs don't make a right, certainly three or four wrongs will do the trick.
posted by localroger at 5:19 PM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


But the judge overseeing the hearing, William T. Moore Jr., decided that in order to overturn the original jury verdict, Davis needed not only to cast doubt on the evidence against him, but to provide "clear and compelling" proof of his innocence. In an August 2010 ruling dismissing Davis' appeal, he declared that while the state's case "may not be ironclad," Davis failed to make a showing of "actual innocence" and thus should not be granted a new trial.
I honestly didn't know that a judge could decide this.


According to a law student I just exchanged emails with, it works that way because of The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act - this isn't entirely clear to me though - any other lawyers want to weigh in?
posted by naoko at 6:12 PM on September 20, 2011


I simply don't believe that the world is just, or that humans can administer justice. At the same time, I understand that the notion of justice is central to human psychology, so that a justice system of some kind has to exist in any forseeable society.

Killing a human is wrong. Killing a human to point this out is no exception. It is both wrong and absurd when done by someone professing Christianity. It is worse when conducted by the state, which is not a human, but an abstraction.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 6:14 PM on September 20, 2011


localroger, Norway has a long-term preventive detention option called containment (you may need to use Google translate).

To the extent that you are arguing that some people deserve to be executed, I can appreciate the argument.

No, I'm not arguing that at all. I'm saying that: a) some people deserve the maximum penalty available within a judicial system because their crimes are so heinous and so far beyond question of having taken place; b) in the US, that maximum penalty is going to be death until such time as the Constitution can be amended; therefore c) a campaign for an abolition amendment will need to state a clear case for why the DP should not be available for any crime, ever.

What we are really discussing here is how to establish a system that will always select guilty people for execution. It is my sense that human beings are incapable of creating such a system. To the extent that the system could potentially execute one innocent person, it fails and is unjustifiable.

But a lot of people don't share your sense of this. A large group of people think the government is infallible in penal matters, as discussed above; another large body of people think that execution is a perfectly reasonable punishment as long as you're careful enough. Not only is it hard to change the mind of so many people, but the argument from governmental fallibility fails in exceptional cases such as those where the killer approaches the police rather than being the subject of an investigation.
posted by anigbrowl at 6:39 PM on September 20, 2011


The fact that things like the death penalty, winner take all elections, and (some say) corporations as people are enshrined in either the Constitution or Supreme Court case history is not a feature, it is a bug. I often make the case that the US is running Democracy 1.0 with no service packs, and other countries have done much better at implementing truly diverse representation. Unfortunately, the framers of our system saw a lot of threats and built in safeguards that now make upgrading rather difficult.
posted by localroger at 6:47 PM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Pointing out that 'society continues unabated' in Canada despite the unavailability of the DP there doesn't seem like a very strong argument. After all, society continues unabated in the US despite its existence.

Funny, from here it looks like society is executing somebody on the basis that just because all the eyewitnesses against him turned out to be liars doesn't mean he's not guilty anyway.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:18 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Having spoken with jurors on a number of occasions following a trial and having watched the deliberations of many mock juries, it is my sense that most jurors fail to differentiate between the various proof standards in a way that would give judges, lawyers, law professors and the general public great concern.

I don't trust average people to pick the best American Idol contestant. Why should they be trusted with life & death?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:43 PM on September 20, 2011 [6 favorites]




According to ajc.com, Davis is asking to be allowed to take a polygraph and have it considered by the board.
posted by pointystick at 8:39 PM on September 20, 2011


All that matters is that it's better to be wrong that to admit that you're wrong. All this teaches us is that humility is the ultimate weakness.

These are all the wrong fucking lessons.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:22 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


The fact that things like the death penalty, winner take all elections, and (some say) corporations as people are enshrined in either the Constitution or Supreme Court case history is not a feature, it is a bug.

True enough, but it's not going to fix itself.

I'm going back to my books for the evening, but those who are interested in the subject might find the results of the Gallup survey on the DP of interest. As best I can tell, Americans are more concerned with the administration of the penalty than its fact. Interestingly, opposition to the DP seems to have peaked right before a rise in crime that started in the 60s. I suspect that the fastest way to get rid of the death penalty is to get crime rates back down.

Funny, from here it looks like society is executing somebody on the basis that just because all the eyewitnesses against him turned out to be liars doesn't mean he's not guilty anyway.

Well, it's not that simple. I don't expect you to read all 170 pages of the district court's opinion (part 1, part 2) but you should at least the parts about recantation starting on page 125 or the summary beginning page 166. The claims about changes in eyewitness testimony are considered in great detail, and most turn out to be wildly exaggerated. I'm against the death penalty, but I don't think Troy Davis is innocent.
posted by anigbrowl at 9:32 PM on September 20, 2011


I'm just saying that opposition to the death penalty means having to wrestle with the cases where the crimes are very extreme but the conviction is reliable. Most people prefer not to do that because those cases are extremely distressing.

Not killing people is generally pretty easy to rationalize.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:58 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


but the argument from governmental fallibility fails in exceptional cases

When you are arguing about what policy a government should follow--what laws should be in place--you are not arguing about exceptional cases. You are arguing about the general case.
posted by LogicalDash at 3:00 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


jacquilynne : Not killing people is generally pretty easy to rationalize.

No, actually, not easy.

Only by centuries of social programming to horribly pervert any innate sense of right-and-wrong, of justice, have we managed to convince the man who had some strung-out waste of flesh break in to rape and murder his two daughters, not to round up a few friends to make sure said invader never bothers anyone, ever again.

Instead, we have self-confessed killers, seen by a dozen witnesses including two cameras, living on our dime for 20, 25 years while we pay for appeal after appeal before finally hoping some bleeding-hearts don't step in to screw up the final act of real justice at the last minute.

Put bluntly, sometimes "justice" means killing someone - And not always in a nice way.
posted by pla at 3:29 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, that's when people are using "justice" to mean "revenge".
posted by LogicalDash at 4:03 AM on September 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


Put bluntly, sometimes "justice" means killing someone - And not always in a nice way.

"You think so? Then take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder, and sieve it through the finest sieve, and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy. And yet, you try to act as if there is some ideal order in the world. As if there is some, some rightness in the universe, by which it may be judged. "

"There is no justice. There is just us."
posted by Silverdragonanon at 4:13 AM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


I hope the executioner in Georgia's state prison is having a shitty morning today, thinking about how he's going to be asked to kill an innocent man in less than 12 hours.
posted by BobbyVan at 4:51 AM on September 21, 2011


Why would you hope such a thing? It's not the executioner's fault.
posted by agregoli at 6:01 AM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


People arguing for the death penalty always come across like a toddler trying to convince his mom why he shouldn't have to go to school that day

"Well what if, well what if it's a serial killer who confesses and gives video evidence of his crimes and walks in and is like 'hello I'd like to die for my crimes please' then can we kill him? Ok how about if he's like, 'i have a atomic bomb and i'm gonna blow up the world unless you give me the chair, what about then? Come ON you guys never let me kill ANYONE!!"
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 6:37 AM on September 21, 2011 [12 favorites]


Why would you hope such a thing? It's not the executioner's fault.

Not to Godwinize the thread, but that argument totally failed at Nuremberg. I would guess BobbyVan expressed that sentiment in the hopes that whoever has the awful job of pressing the big button on the kill-o-matic will at least have the humanity to doubt and be humble about what he is doing, rather than acting like a fucking robot.
posted by localroger at 6:41 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


An obvious example would be this guy in Norway, Anders Brievik

So you don't believe that mental incapacitation is a mitigating circumstance? Plus, we know all the problems cited earlier: eye witness reliability, false confessions, etc.

I think you need to try again.
posted by Mental Wimp at 7:08 AM on September 21, 2011


I have sympathy for such a person, not scorn. It's not an enviable job, to be sure.
posted by agregoli at 7:10 AM on September 21, 2011


(And comparing an executioner to a nazi? Com'on)
posted by agregoli at 7:11 AM on September 21, 2011


Yeah, that's when people are using "justice" to mean "revenge".

There is no clear distinction between the two. The desire for revenge underlies much of our notion of justice. Look at the emphasis in both on debt and bringing balance, that is making things even between offender and victim. Retribution, one of the justifications for punishment, differs from revenge only in that it's the state taking action instead of the offended party. Revenge is not defined by the most excessive examples, and the desire for revenge doesn't make someone monomaniacal. They may simply wish to see the wrong they have suffered finally addressed.
posted by BigSky at 7:14 AM on September 21, 2011


I would put the executioner pretty far down the culpability food chain in this case (well below the judges, prosecution and lying witnesses).

But we're all moral agents, and you can't simply rely on orders from authorities to justify your actions if you independently think them to be deeply wrong. If I were the executioner, I'd be calling in sick today.
posted by BobbyVan at 7:17 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


@BobbyVan: Exactly. We are all moral agents and it is the responsibility of the executioner to refuse to execute Mr. Davis.

I'm about halfway convinced that the situation with the death penalty is so bad that it is time to admit that the government has completely failed in it's responsibility and that people of good moral character need to pitch in money to hire mercenaries and break people like Davis out of prison. I'm not fully convinced, but the fact that the government is about to simply execute an almost certainly innocent man is so obscene that I think the case for direct paramilitary intervention is pretty strong.

There comes a time when we have to admit that phone calls and petitions don't work and that we must move on to more direct action. I'm not convinced that time is now, but I'm close to it.

@agregoli: As for the executioner and everyone else directly involved, yes I do hope they discover their moral clarity and refuse to carry out their orders. If they do execute Davis I hope they suffer for their immoral decision. We declared at Nurmburg that "just following orders" is not a valid defense, so I must disagree with you.

It is the executioner's fault. Not solely, but the executioner bears ultimate responsibility for their own actions, thus if they do actually carry out their immoral orders and execute Davis (which seems likely), I say they are at fault. The executioner could refuse.
posted by sotonohito at 8:05 AM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Instead, we have self-confessed killers, seen by a dozen witnesses including two cameras, living on our dime for 20, 25 years while we pay for appeal after appeal before finally hoping some bleeding-hearts don't step in to screw up the final act of real justice at the last minute.

Put bluntly, sometimes "justice" means killing someone - And not always in a nice way.


If this is your position, I'd assume you're also of the mind that exactly how we kill people should be determined by the crime. For instance, this guy should get shot, while serial rapists should get raped to death, or something. Is that what you're getting at? Eye for an eye, and all that?
posted by odinsdream at 8:23 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, but you are assuming the executioner believes he's innocent. If that's not the case, he would feel no obligation to halt the performance of his duties.
posted by agregoli at 8:31 AM on September 21, 2011


And comparing an executioner to a nazi? Com'on

If you are killing a potentially innocent person because you're ordered to and that's your job and you're fobbing off the morality of what you do to your boss, I don't think it matters much to the person you kill who you work for.
posted by localroger at 8:32 AM on September 21, 2011 [5 favorites]




My two cents. I agree with the sentiments expressed in this thread that the Death Penalty is perfectly OK in theory, but current practice means we ought to get rid of it. I have gone back and forth on this over my life but for me the critical point was when the O. J. Simpson prosecutors decided not to go for it. I cannot offhand think of a more horrific crime than murdering your wife and making your two small children motherless. If you are not going to go for the death penalty there, because of pragmatics and political considerations and other bureaucratic horseshit, then clearly the penalty is not necessary to keep the civilization ongoing. It is a no-brainer.
posted by bukvich at 8:53 AM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]



A Circle of Prayer

I can't believe this is actually going to happen.
posted by bq at 8:58 AM on September 21, 2011


LogicalDash : Yeah, that's when people are using "justice" to mean "revenge".

You say that like they differ.

In our modern, oh-so-peaceful-and-enlightened society, we simply substitute "confinement" for "cut off his right hand". Personally, I'd consider the later the less cruel option, but if you can define justice in a way that doesn't involve revenge, you've crafted a pleasant fiction to make you feel better about taking away peoples' one truly limited personal resource - Time.


Mental Wimp : So you don't believe that mental incapacitation is a mitigating circumstance?

When the dog goes bad, you put it down. Doesn't matter how many tricks it knows.
posted by pla at 9:06 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


people aren't dogs.
posted by bq at 9:19 AM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


bq : people aren't dogs.

Very true. Dogs don't actually behave in a way we could call "evil".

We still put down the ones that, whether due to training or hunger or illness, attack humans.
posted by pla at 9:48 AM on September 21, 2011


And yet we don't put down the ones that attack badgers, or raccoons, or in extreme cases cows (granted those attacks are rarely successful, and often hilarious). Could it be because we think human life is important?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:03 AM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


When the dog goes bad, you put it down. Doesn't matter how many tricks it knows.

Well, that clarifies your misanthropy.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:50 AM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Troy Davis: 10 reasons why he should not be executed
4. Of the two of the nine key witnesses who have not changed their story publicly, one has kept silent for the past 20 years and refuses to talk, and the other is Sylvester Coles. Coles was the man who first came forward to police and implicated Davis as the killer. But over the past 20 years evidence has grown that Coles himself may be the gunman and that he was fingering Davis to save his own skin.

5. In total, nine people have come forward with evidence that implicates Coles. Most recently, on Monday the George Board of Pardons and Paroles heard from Quiana Glover who told the panel that in June 2009 she had heard Coles, who had been drinking heavily, confess to the murder of MacPhail.
Glover was just on CNN claiming that Coles threatened to kill here if she said anything.
posted by homunculus at 11:47 AM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


(An obvious example would be this guy in Norway, Anders Brievik)
So you don't believe that mental incapacitation is a mitigating circumstance? Plus, we know all the problems cited earlier: eye witness reliability, false confessions, etc.


I see no evidence (so far) of mental incapacity. That's a 'no true scotsman' fallacy, as in 'no person of sound mind could do such awful things, therefore no responsibility attaches to his acts.' In any case, the point about Brievik was not that he should get the death penalty, but that there was no question about his being the person who killed a whole lot of other people. Unusual and/or extreme cases like this matter, not because they dictate what general policy should be but because they help to delineate the scope of general policy. Not every case is factually controversial; that would require that the police never arrest the right person, which is just as improbable as the idea that they always arrest the right person.

I'm about halfway convinced that the situation with the death penalty is so bad that it is time to admit that the government has completely failed in it's responsibility and that people of good moral character need to pitch in money to hire mercenaries and break people like Davis out of prison. I'm not fully convinced, but the fact that the government is about to simply execute an almost certainly innocent man is so obscene that I think the case for direct paramilitary intervention is pretty strong.

Mercenaries? You're unhinged.

In any case, I question the basis of your assertion that he's 'almost certainly innocent.' Not one person in this thread has bothered to address the actual testimony in Davis' case, and it's probably a safe bet that none of the people who are proclaiming his near-certain innocence here could name a single one of the witnesses offhand. The news and blog reports on this case are worse than useless, they are wholly misleading.

Take just one example, Antoine Williams' testimony. He signed his original statement to police without reading it - because he's illiterate. Bad, right? But irrelevant, because he has never contested the content of that statement when it was read back to him. Some aspects he says he does not remember, such as his claim (at the time of the original investigation) that he was 60% sure about his identification of Davis as the shooter: "Q: Do you remember telling [Detective Ramsey] you were 60 percent sure that Troy Davis was the person that shot Officer MacPhail? A: I maybe did, ma'am. I can't remember. Being honest, I can't." His affidavit claimed that he felt pressured by the prosecution during Davis' original trial. Also bad. But on cross-examination (during the District Court hearing), he said this:
Q: But it's your testimony the police never pressured you to say anything in those two statements from August 19th or August—
A —Ma'am, nobody never pressured me, ma'am. just . .
Q: And nobody suggested for you to say anything specific?
A: No, ma'am, never.
How many of the news reports, blogs etc. mention that Antoine Williams' hearing testimony flatly contradicted the testimony in his affidavit? What about the fact that Dorothy Ferrell, who claimed misdentification and coercion at the original trial, was at the District Court to give testimony but Davis' attorneys chose not to put her on the stand, even though they were warned by the court, and acknowledged, that the court would by law have to discount her affidavit testimony significantly if she did not take the stand? Why was there no real effort to get Sylvester Coles (the person Davis claims shot McPhail) in front of the court? Davis' attorneys claim they attempted to serve notice on him the day before the evidentiary hearing but that he was 'out' and they couldn't locate him. This is despite Davis knowing both Coles' work and home addresses, and having months of notice of the evidentiary hearing. Davis' attorneys never even asked the court to subpoena his testimony (ie by having a US Marshal serve notice to testify). If the court had issued a subpoena and Coles had failed to appear or fled town, then that would have strengthened Davis' case. But they didn't bother to apply for a subpoena, because:
(note 87) As Mr. Davis explained, Mr. Coles will likely deny his involvement in the crime and proffer some explanation for the confessions, or outright deny that he made them. (Evidentiary Hearing Transcript at 158-59.) However, the Court is not required to accept such testimony at face-value. In the end, Mr. Davis appeared to forget that the witness stand is the crucible of credibility; and his reluctance to put Mr. Coles to the test robbed the Court of its ability to accurately assess Mr. Coles's claim that he did not shoot Officer MacPhail.
It makes no sense to bring a defense witness to court but then refuse to put that person on the stand, or to claim that someone else committed a crime but decline the court's assistance in getting hold of that person. I also think Judge Moore was pretty well aware of the issues regarding reliability of eyewitness testimony, coercion, and their implications for the potential execution of the innocent; his analysis begins with a detailed review of appellate procedure in death penalty cases, 8th amendment jurisprudence, advances in forensic science, and the standards for post-conviction exculpatory evidence in all 50 US states. It's like a 35-page primer in building criminal appeals around newly available factual information, citing statute, precedent, law review articles, and even the New Yorker.

This is where the innocence argument goes wrong. I'm opposed to the DP for reasons I've outlined above, and being opposed means standing up for the idea that even people who are indisputably guilty of the most heinous crimes should not be put to death in an organized fashion. I don't think the death penalty should be available to judges/juries/prosecutors in the first place. However, it does not follow that everyone who gets the maximum penalty must be innocent; some people clearly are not. I seriously doubt that Troy Davis is innocent, and think the abolitionist movement is scoring a massive own goal with these continuous claims that he is. Instead of parroting baseless claims that the system is fucked and just ignored or steamrolled Davis's claims of innocence, it would be a lot more productive to articulate why the right to life should be upheld even in the case of those who have blatantly disregarded the same right in others. In the meantime, the legal position of the US in general and the apparent sense of most US citizens is that the state owes everyone the right to humane treatment, but not necessarily a right to life.

If you want to be against the death penalty, then be against the death penalty - for everyone, no matter how heinous their crimes may be or how clear their guilt. If you want to be against false convictions or miscarriages of justice, there are many more questionable cases than that of Troy Davis.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:52 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Troy Davis: 10 reasons why he should not be executed

Doesn't matter. Davis is bad dog who needs to be put down. Coles, on the other hand...
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:53 AM on September 21, 2011


Revenge vs. Justice

In the last days before execution, many prisoners are put on suicide watch to ensure they are of sound mind and body when they are executed.
posted by zennie at 11:55 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


In any case, the point about Brievik was not that he should get the death penalty, but that there was no question about his being the person who killed a whole lot of other people.

Oh, and I forgot to ask, how do you come by this magical knowledge? Or are you depending upon eyewitness testimony and the assertions of the police? Because, in general, that's how innocent people are put away (or killed).
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:00 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


In the last days before execution, many prisoners are put on suicide watch to ensure they are of sound mind and body when they are executed.

This is one of those details that reveals truth. The death penalty isn't about justice or revenge, much less protecting anybody; it's about demonstrating the mighty and unstopable power of the State.

Which is the most important reason the State should not have this particular power.
posted by localroger at 12:07 PM on September 21, 2011 [11 favorites]


Troy Davis: 10 reasons why he should not be executed

More like '10 reasons you can't rely on the media for accurate legal reporting anymore.' Every single one of those issues other than the last was examined in detail by the District Court, in an opinion that I've linked to above. And yet writers and bloggers keep trotting them out without even bothering to report on why the court did not find them persuasive. Now it's one thing to think the court got it wrong, but to pretend that the court just ignored those claims is simply false.

Now we're veering off into severe straw man territory. Does this mean your argument is that you're willing to kill everyone sentenced to death because at least one of them must be guilty? *sigh* Okay, anigbrowl, if you really want to kill someone, here's an injectable cocktail. Knock yourself out.

How many times do I have to restate the fact that I am against the death penalty? My argument is that innocence or guilt should not be the sole determinant of whether or not the death penalty should be available as an option within the penal system. If you don't understand the argument I'm making then I apologize, but I've explained it 5 or 6 different times now so all I can suggest is that you try rereading the thread.

Oh, and I forgot to ask, how do you come by this magical knowledge? Or are you depending upon eyewitness testimony and the assertions of the police? Because, in general, that's how innocent people are put away (or killed).

Well, let's see. We do have eyewitness testimony from large numbers of people, we have video footage of a man dressed in the same clothes as Brevik shooting at people, we have Brievik's own admissions in court that he did it - indeed a complete absence of denial, and his 1500 page book describing his plans and methods in copious detail. Then there's the gun he has, the ability to match a very large number of bullet casings to the gun, as well as bullets in people's bodies, bomb-making ingredients that are still on the rural property he rented and that match the explosives used in the Oslo bombing and...well, I could go on and on. Would you care to point me to any claims that he did not carry out these acts?
posted by anigbrowl at 12:19 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the District Court's opinion is actually a really interesting read, and the media's insistence that "seven out of nine witnesses recanted" is a pretty crazy misrepresentation of the facts in that regard. But hey, soundbites are more fun than legal documents, so there you go.
posted by Gator at 12:55 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


In the last days before execution, many prisoners are put on suicide watch to ensure they are of sound mind and body when they are executed.

This is one of those details that reveals truth. The death penalty isn't about justice or revenge, much less protecting anybody; it's about demonstrating the mighty and unstopable power of the State.


In Ford v. Wainright (1986), the Supreme Court held that the Constitution forbids the execution of an insane person. Suicidal behavior calls a person's sanity into question, and requires that a psychiatric examination be conducted. Any statutory or substantial deficiencies in such an examination are subject to court challenge and would (AFAIK) result in an automatic stay. 'Sanity' is a legal term of art, not a medical one.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:59 PM on September 21, 2011


We still put down the ones that, whether due to training or hunger or illness, attack humans.

Gary Ridgeway is still alive. Isaiah Kalebu is still alive. They committed horrifying crimes against other human beings. If the crimes they committed are not worthy of the death penalty, then why do we even have it?

If you don't know who those men are, look them up. Read about their crimes. For Kalebu, read the articles that have been posted here on Metafilter about what he did. Really absorb all the detail you can about what those two men have done to other people.

If you can explain why those men's crimes were not worthy of the death penalty, but Troy Davis should die tonight by our collective hand, and have that explanation actually make a damn lick of sense, I will be amazed.

("You", in this post, means anyone who supports the death penalty.)
posted by palomar at 2:34 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


'Sanity' is a legal term of art, not a medical one.

If this term of art does not admit that it can be a completely rational and sane decision to commit suicide in certain situations, such as when you have been locked in a cage by a homicidal tribe that is preparing to ritually kill you and suicide is the only means at your disposal to thwart their will, then that legal term of art has ceased to have anything to do with the English language.
posted by localroger at 3:31 PM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Gary Ridgeway is still alive. Isaiah Kalebu is still alive. They committed horrifying crimes against other human beings. If the crimes they committed are not worthy of the death penalty, then why do we even have it?

They are (by which I mean, worthy of whatever the maximum penalty available is, which in Washington state means the DP). The reasons that they didn't get it are fairly simple.

Ridgeway bargained with prosecutors; in return for his life (in prison, without parole), he would confess to 48 murders instead of 7 that they had evidence to charge him with. From the prosecutor's point, being able to close 41 unsolved murder cases and return the remains to the families of the victims was worth more than any deterrent or punitive value that might result from Ridgeway's execution. This is one of the strongest arguments for the death penalty, and one that I don't at present have a good argument against: because people typically want to live, a prosecutorial waiver can be used as a bargaining chip in an bilateral negotiation (prosecution has criminal in custody, but criminal has information prosecution needs). An argument against this is that the knowledge of such bargains provides criminals with an incentive to go all-in on the theory that they will have increased pre-trial negotiating power. This is a general problem with plea bargains, but has to be weighed against other problems like the societal burden of unsolved murder cases.

In Kalebu's case, there's a long history of mental illness and erratic, violent (but not criminal) behavior preceding his rape/murder attacks. Making a death sentence stick would be next to impossible in a case like that; even if the conviction were upheld, the sentence would almost certainly be overturned on appeal. It would have been a complete waste of time for the prosecution to do so.

I know you were responding to the claim above that excessively dangerous people should be executed for the same reason excessively dangerous animals are put down, and I'm not arguing for the DP, but it was a good question that I thought deserved exploring.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:33 PM on September 21, 2011


Off topic as I have nothing insightful to add to this - but anyone else get a feeling that if this happens, Georgia is about to see rioting?
posted by lpcxa0 at 3:33 PM on September 21, 2011


This morning, a group of retired Georgia corrections officials (including the former director of the GA Dept of Corrections, who also is the former warden of the prison where Troy Davis is held) sent this letter to the Board of Paroles and Pardons and Gov. Deal. In it, they ask the Board to reconsider their decision. The Board has declined to do so.
posted by catlet at 3:36 PM on September 21, 2011


If this term of art does not admit that it can be a completely rational and sane decision to commit suicide in certain situations, such as when you have been locked in a cage by a homicidal tribe that is preparing to ritually kill you and suicide is the only means at your disposal to thwart their will, then that legal term of art has ceased to have anything to do with the English language.

I didn't say that suicidal = insanity in legal terms, but that it gives rise to questions about a person's sanity which require an evaluation to be performed. Suicide is so often pathological that if someone attempted suicide, failed, and was then executed, it's quite possible that the execution would have been an unconstitutional infringement upon the rights of an insane person. So an evaluation of a person's sanity must be performed, even if the result of that evaluation is negative. Also, since the person is in the custody of the prison system and there is all this existing knowledge about the psychology of incarceration, the prison system is legally responsible for preserving the person's life right up to the point of execution, and can be sued if it is derelict in that duty. chances are that you'll have a hard time finding any mental health professional who'll agree that thwarting the state's will by committing suicide in the face of impending execution is rational. In cases where someone persistently attempts suicide, they're usually committed to psychiatric care and re-evaluated periodically.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:42 PM on September 21, 2011


...but anyone else get a feeling that if this happens, Georgia is about to see rioting?

No.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:55 PM on September 21, 2011


It's 7:15 eastern. What has happened?
posted by bq at 4:15 PM on September 21, 2011


It's unclear. There are reports of a temporary stay from the SCOTUS, but it's Twitter.
posted by nonreflectiveobject at 4:17 PM on September 21, 2011


The execution is reportedly being "temporarily delayed" while the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether to get involved.
posted by argonauta at 4:19 PM on September 21, 2011




The Democracy Now! live stream has been helpful for updates.
posted by cloudburst at 4:29 PM on September 21, 2011


Guardian story. I'm surprised the Supreme Court issued even a temporary stay, considering that last April it rejected his previous appeal from the District Court's decision.
posted by anigbrowl at 4:39 PM on September 21, 2011


palomar : If you can explain why those men's crimes were not worthy of the death penalty, but Troy Davis should die tonight by our collective hand, and have that explanation actually make a damn lick of sense, I will be amazed.

You, and probably others, have made a mistake here - I do not believe we should kill Davis. I personally believe we have enough evidence that he may not have done it to at least warrant another appeal.

I meant my post in defense of the death penalty in general. I have absolutely no qualms about putting down those who pose a threat to all of us. I don't, in general, trust the government enough to make that decision, but in some cases (not this one), when we have so little doubt as to make any defense nothing but an absurd appeal to technicalities, fry the motherfucker, and broadcast it on PPV to pay for their incarceration.
posted by pla at 4:44 PM on September 21, 2011


Hearing SCOTUS will announce something by 8.30p. (Presumably eastern time.)
posted by sugarfish at 4:46 PM on September 21, 2011


I have no doubt that there are some people whose crimes merit the death penalty. But I have great doubt that our nation can administer it effectively, fairly, or impartiality. And I don't see a downside to making life without parole the ultimate sentence. If it helps, think of it as a sentence of death preceded by decades of mind numbing boredom.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 4:54 PM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Coincidentally, a man named Lawrence Russell Brewer was executed in Texas about 40 minutes ago. A white supremacist, he and a co-defendant were found guilty in 1998 of chaining James Byrd Jr., a black man, to the back of a pickup and dragging him along a country road until he was dead. Byrd's son was one of the few supporting clemency.
posted by anigbrowl at 5:07 PM on September 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


fry the motherfucker, and broadcast it on PPV to pay for their incarceration.

This is one of the ugliest, most inhumane ideas I have ever seen promoted here. I kind of want to go vomit right now. That anyone would find enough pleasure in taking the life of another human being that they'd actually want to put it on TV and have people pay for it.... I can't imagine being capable of that level of hatred.
posted by palomar at 5:18 PM on September 21, 2011 [8 favorites]


That's a good litmus test for opposition to the death penalty. For my own part, I oppose the death penalty just as strongly in Brewer's case as in Davis'. It is a great injustice that Bewer has been executed.
posted by Justinian at 5:18 PM on September 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


Huffpo live blog for those who can't watch the Democracy Now video feed.
posted by treepour at 5:26 PM on September 21, 2011


That's a good litmus test for opposition to the death penalty. For my own part, I oppose the death penalty just as strongly in Brewer's case as in Davis'. It is a great injustice that Bewer has been executed.

Yes, 100%. As long as the Brewers (or the Bundys, or whomever the chosen factually guilty boogeyman may be) are put to death, the possibility will always -- always, ALWAYS -- exist that the innocent will be put to death as well. It's the ultimate slippery slope.
posted by scody at 5:31 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]




palomar : This is one of the ugliest, most inhumane ideas I have ever seen promoted here. I kind of want to go vomit right now. That anyone would find enough pleasure in taking the life of another human being that they'd actually want to put it on TV and have people pay for it.... I can't imagine being capable of that level of hatred.

I knew her, went to high school with her. I won't claim her as a close friend, not even really an acquaintance. But I knew her. Nice enough girl.

You want to talk about "want to go vomit"? She no longer walks this planet. Her fiance no longer walks this planet. The wastes of carbon and oxygen, and even lowly hydrogen, that killed them both, still do. How's that strike you for justice, eh? You feel "good" about that, Palomar, that no poor misunderstood cold-blooded killers had to suffer as a result of their premeditated killing a cute couple who never did anything to anyone?

They had no reason to do it. They planned it, trapped two kids with a minor car accident, took them to a golf course, and killed them in cold blood.

Dozens of similar stories happen every day. And you would defend the [no English obscenity suffices here] who do such things, knowingly and willfully?

As I said, I didn't really know her all that well. My emotional involvement here extends only to shamefully belonging to the same species as could do such a thing. And some would call me a heartless monster?
posted by pla at 5:44 PM on September 21, 2011


In 2010, 23 countries carried out executions.

China (2000+)
Iran (252+)
North Korea (60+)
Yemen (53+)
United States of America (46+)
Saudi Arabia (27+)
Libya (18+)
Syria (17+)
Bangladesh (9+)
Somalia (8+)
Sudan (6+)
Palestinian Authority (5)
Egypt (4)
Equatorial Guinea(4)
Taiwan (4)
Belarus (2)
Japan (2)
Singapore (1+)
Vietnam (1+)
Iraq (1+)
Malaysia (1+)
Bahrain (1)
Botswana (1)

Are you proud to be a citizen of the #5 killingest nation in the world? I am not. I am not proud at all.
posted by palomar at 5:48 PM on September 21, 2011 [7 favorites]


Are you proud to be a citizen of the #5 killingest nation in the world? I am not. I am not proud at all.

When you say it that way it sounds pretty awesome.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:48 PM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think we can all agree that pla is not as monstrous as those guys
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 5:49 PM on September 21, 2011


Democracy Now says that Troy Davis's plea is being heard by... Clarence Thomas.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 5:55 PM on September 21, 2011


Does anyone read that list and immediately wonder "what the hell is going on in China?"
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 5:55 PM on September 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


Are you proud to be a citizen of the #5 killingest nation in the world?

luckily, there's more to America than that statistic.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:00 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


How's that strike you for justice, eh? You feel "good" about that, Palomar, that no poor misunderstood cold-blooded killers had to suffer as a result of their premeditated killing a cute couple who never did anything to anyone?

pla, when I was five my best friend and her mother were murdered by their estranged husband/father. They were also my neighbors.

When I was 9, my step-cousin was raped, tortured, and murdered.

When I was 12, one of my summer camp friends was abducted and murdered.

When I was 14, a family friend was struck and killed by a drunk driver. She had been on her way to visit us after the death of another family friend who had had cancer. She was pregnant and left behind a six year old son, orphaned. At her funeral, her fiancee tried to climb into the grave with her casket. He killed himself six months later, unable to deal with his grief.

When I was 15-16, seven of my classmates died, one by one, in various horrifying ways. One girl died as a result of being prescribed medication she was allergic to, which should have been caught by a medical professional before she took the meds and stopped breathing forever. One boy was shot and killed by a bystander while pistol-whipping a front desk clerk at the hotel he was robbing. My biology lab partner was murdered 2 days after Christmas for his new shoes and track suit, and left to die in the street in his underwear and socks. One boy died of alcohol poisoning. Et cetera. A new classmate died every month. That year, it was in vogue to sign everyone's yearbook with I SURVIVED XXXXXX HIGH SCHOOL.

When I was 18, one of my coworkers at my after-school job was shot and killed in a drug deal gone wrong.

I think I can stop there, although I have many more deaths to share with you.

I do not support the death penalty, pla, and I have experienced more than my fair share of loss and grief. But I do not support the death penalty.

I admire the pretty strawman you made, though. We both know that my refusal to howl for blood and revenge does not equal a refusal to seek justice.

If you would genuinely want to have executions broadcast live on pay per view, then yes, I consider that monstrous, and I consider anyone supporting that view to be a monster.
posted by palomar at 6:04 PM on September 21, 2011 [31 favorites]


Democracy Now says that Troy Davis's plea is being heard by... Clarence Thomas.

In the alternate universe I prefer to live in, the ghost of Thurgood Marshall would intervene at precisely this moment.
posted by scody at 6:04 PM on September 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


Are you proud to be a citizen of the #5 killingest nation in the world? I am not. I am not proud at all.

Statistics like that don't really mean anything. To give just one example, Saudi Arabia has only about 30m people, so proportionally speaking they execute people about 6 times more frequently than the US. Pride doesn't come into it; different countries have different kinds of legal systems, and there hasn't been any serious effort to amend the US constitution on this topic so far. Strangely, most of the abolition effort goes through the courts, even though there's very little scholarly debate about the legality of execution. Abolition is clearly a policy issue and the only way to make it happen is at the ballot box, although that's likely to take several decades.

Democracy Now says that Troy Davis's plea is being heard by... Clarence Thomas.


Doesn't matter. That just means he was the easiest member of the court for Davis' attorneys to get in touch with. All 9 of them vote on whether to grant certiorari or not.

Does anyone read that list and immediately wonder "what the hell is going on in China?"

Not really. They have the DP for a much broader range of crimes, lack an independent judiciary, and the family has primacy over the individual in Chinese culture anyway. There's also a different concept of the afterlife which is probably a factor for some people. And then the country has 1.2 billion people so you'd have to adjust for that too, both statistically and sociologically. The rate of executions there is actually going down fairly quickly; in 2005, for example, it's estimated that China executed as many as 10,000 people, and 5-6,000 in 2007. So by the end of the decade it will likely be around the same level as in the US.
posted by anigbrowl at 6:07 PM on September 21, 2011


anigbrowl: In Ford v. Wainright (1986), the Supreme Court held that the Constitution forbids the execution of an insane person. Suicidal behavior calls a person's sanity into question, and requires that a psychiatric examination be conducted. Any statutory or substantial deficiencies in such an examination are subject to court challenge and would (AFAIK) result in an automatic stay. 'Sanity' is a legal term of art, not a medical one.

Yes, but wouldn't the psychiatric evaluation to determine sanity have been carried out prior to sentencing? And again at the last stay of execution if necessary? People who are sane five days before execution don't just become not sane.
posted by zennie at 6:11 PM on September 21, 2011


I think I can stop there, although I have many more deaths to share with you.

Holy shit, dude.
posted by cashman at 6:20 PM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


palomar, thank you for that eloquent rebuttal to pla's strawman, which is essentially nothing more than bloodthirsty revenge gussied up as the argument for finality (aka "closure") that has long been treated as some sort of holy moral trump card in the debate about the death penalty. Thankfully, the general decline in support for capital punishment in the past decade and the outcry over Troy Davis suggests that the finality argument is starting to be eclipsed by the accuracy argument:
...in declining to revisit the claims of actual innocence in the Davis case, Georgia was forced to say "that its interest in the finality of its capital judgments is more important than the accuracy of its capital verdicts." That question—why and how many of us are willing to tolerate error to achieve finality—is the real dispute here. And it's why, in the Davis case as in almost all death penalty cases, the two sides have talked past each other for so long.

[...] America's conversation over capital punishment has long been weighted toward the interests of finality. But there is a growing space for reason and doubt and scientific certainty. It's hardly a surprise that prosecutors, courts, and clemency boards favor finality over certainty. That—after all—is the product they must show at the end of the day. But maybe the surprise, and the faint hope, of the massive outcry over the execution of Troy Davis, is that the rest of us have found a way to demand more from a system that has—for too long—only needed to be good enough.
posted by scody at 6:22 PM on September 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


Saudi Arabia has only about 30m people

And one less sorcerer.
posted by homunculus at 6:29 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes, but wouldn't the psychiatric evaluation to determine sanity have been carried out prior to sentencing? And again at the last stay of execution if necessary? People who are sane five days before execution don't just become not sane.

Ford went insane while on death row. I agree it seems unlikely that someone would suddenly become mentally ill just before execution, but I gather it's not so unusual. Of course, if someone became sane again later they could be executed, though I don't know how often this has happened, if at all. Someone with a fatal medical condition or who experienced an injury would be given life-saving medical treatment even if they were due to be executed anyway. It's simpler to have a universal standard of medical/psychiatric care within each jurisdiction. I'm sure you could find historical exceptions though, and for that matter the Supreme Court itself has gone back and forth on death penalty issues multiple times.
posted by anigbrowl at 6:45 PM on September 21, 2011


Oddly enough, the delay seems to be pissing off the locals, on both sides.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:53 PM on September 21, 2011


Fair enough, anigbrowl. What a mess.
posted by zennie at 6:57 PM on September 21, 2011


I don't know the ins and outs of executing folks, but does anyone know if Troy Davis is still strapped to the gurney, all these hours later? Or can he have a sandwich?

I can't imagine the torture. I mean, it probably rules to be alive, but yeah.
posted by black rainbows at 7:09 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oddly enough, the delay seems to be pissing off the locals, on both sides.

I don't think that's odd at all. Can you imagine what it feels like to be a member of that man's family or other loved one and have the torture of not knowing what's going on extended like it has been?

I just listened to a live interview earlier this evening where someone compared it to having the person you care about held hostage with a gun to his head held by a terrorist who keeps pulling the trigger, but so far every time the gun's fired a blank.

Everything about this system is barbaric.
posted by stagewhisper at 7:15 PM on September 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


I don't know the ins and outs of executing folks, but does anyone know if Troy Davis is still strapped to the gurney, all these hours later? Or can he have a sandwich?

I can't imagine the torture. I mean, it probably rules to be alive, but yeah.


No, he's likely still waiting in his cell, but still. I am wholeheartedly, 100%, nothing will change my mind against the death penalty in this country, but I do also think it falls under cruel and unusual punishment that not only are we executing people, but we're drawing it out in this horrendous and inhumane way. That poor man.
posted by sweetkid at 7:17 PM on September 21, 2011


fuck - democracy now says sc just ruled they will not block the execution.
posted by madamjujujive at 7:21 PM on September 21, 2011


Stay is denied per @ajccourts on twitter

:(

.
posted by pointystick at 7:22 PM on September 21, 2011


According to folks I follow on twitter who are at the prison, the stay was rejected.
posted by shiu mai baby at 7:22 PM on September 21, 2011


Well, that's just particularly cruel. Way to twist the knife, SCOTUS.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 7:24 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is sick and barbaric.
posted by madamjujujive at 7:27 PM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't agree about the drawn-out part. If you don't grant motions for reconsideration/appeal/clemency/whatever, there's a failure of due process. If you do grant them, then proceedings have to be put on hold while they're evaluated. Some defense attorneys file early, others make a strategic decision to use up all the time on the clock and file just before a deadline. There was some criticism of the Duane Buck attorneys for doing that last week.

Well, that's just particularly cruel. Way to twist the knife, SCOTUS.

See what I mean? Damned if they do, damned if they don't. If they'd refused to even look at the emergency appeal request people would have been all 'justice denied.'
posted by anigbrowl at 7:28 PM on September 21, 2011


oh hey the supreme court made a monstrously horrible decision that tramples on the hopes and rights of the powerless

are you surprised? i am so surprised right now you guys
posted by Rhaomi at 7:28 PM on September 21, 2011


@CBSAndrew CBS News' Jan Crawford reports NO dissents at Scotus in #TroyDavis case.
posted by madamjujujive at 7:29 PM on September 21, 2011


I am ashamed to be an American today.
posted by palomar at 7:30 PM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Execution expected within a half hour, according to Democracy Now quoting prison officials
posted by madamjujujive at 7:37 PM on September 21, 2011


I'm disgusted. Palomar, you shouldn't be ashamed of anything. It's the disgusting attitudes of others that leads to things like this.
posted by sweetkid at 7:38 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm ashamed too.

I resolve here and now never to spend another dime in the state of Georgia, or to set foot in that state except to change planes, until the death penalty is abolished as the barbaric travesty it is.

Byrd's son was one of the few supporting clemency.

James Byrd's son Ross Byrd is a remarkable man, the closest thing to someone who can convince me Christianity is not pure hypocrisy. He's also not a bad rapper.

Somehow, the song seems appropriate. James Byrd was lynched by white supremacist crackers. Troy Davis is being lynched by the state of Georgia.
posted by spitbull at 7:40 PM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Rest in peace, Troy. I hope you somehow knew how many people were at your side tonight.

.
posted by treepour at 7:41 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is absolutely sickening. The younger sister of a friend of mine was murdered under really horrific circumstances years ago. The killer confessed and the physical evidence was pretty much incontrovertible. At his sentencing, the parents of the victim begged the court not to impose the death penalty, because they understood that more killing would not bring their daughter back or right any wrong. When will we as a people understand this and be as brave as they were?
posted by OverlappingElvis at 7:42 PM on September 21, 2011 [10 favorites]


Somehow, the song seems appropriate. James Byrd was lynched by white supremacist crackers. Troy Davis is being lynched by the state of Georgia.

'Lynched' is not the correct word here. For or against what has occurred, that usage is misleading in this context. /nitpick

posted by RolandOfEld at 7:50 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Though I cry, ‘Violence!’ I get no response; though I call for help, there is no justice.

Job 19:7
posted by swift at 7:51 PM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


No, sorry RolandOfEld, I disagree. I think "lynched" is the right word here. Due process was shown to be a fig leaf. If Troy Davis were not a black man in Georgia, this would not be happening. I stand by the term.
posted by spitbull at 7:52 PM on September 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


If Troy Davis were not a black man in Georgia, this would not be happening. AGREE.
posted by sweetkid at 7:54 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Curious, is it common to convict someone based solely on witness testimony?

I also curious how many of y'all read transcripts from the trial or hearings.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:58 PM on September 21, 2011


GA Dept of Corrections confirms to CNN the execution will begin around 1105 or 1110 PM ET
posted by madamjujujive at 7:58 PM on September 21, 2011


They've created a martyr.
posted by spitbull at 8:00 PM on September 21, 2011


Since I think that most of these things have at least as much to do with class as with race...

If Troy Davis were not a poor black man in Georgia, this would not be happening.
posted by rollbiz at 8:00 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Good point, rollbiz.
posted by sweetkid at 8:01 PM on September 21, 2011


Troy Davis, I am so sorry. It's not enough, but it's all I've got.

.
posted by MissySedai at 8:02 PM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Citations here, here, and here.

Even if you prefer give the tile 'mob' or 'extrajudicial' to the official, legal justice system of Georgia, lynching still has the, quite strong, implied meaning of hanging and/or burning. I'm not a linguist so I'd be glad to hear evidence of this not being true but I think it's just a poor choice and misleading.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:04 PM on September 21, 2011


Thanks for arguing semantics, right now.
posted by rollbiz at 8:08 PM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Roland, let's just go with the cause of death on Troy's death certificate, then:

Homicide.
posted by swift at 8:11 PM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Well, by a strange coincidence, I *am* a linguist.

And by another strange coincidence I have spent years studying the history of lynching in the US and conducting oral history research into family stories about unpunished lynchings in another southern state, and have given academic talks on the subject. I don't need dictionary citations.

Lynching has nothing to do with the method used. James Byrd was lynched by being dragged behind a truck. This is a lynching by lethal injection.
posted by spitbull at 8:11 PM on September 21, 2011 [8 favorites]


.
posted by madamjujujive at 8:13 PM on September 21, 2011


And it's done. :(
posted by deborah at 8:13 PM on September 21, 2011


11:08

.
posted by cashman at 8:13 PM on September 21, 2011


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posted by TwoWordReview at 8:14 PM on September 21, 2011


It's repulsive, every bit of it. The torture being done to Troy Davis, the torture to Troy Davis's family, and the torture of Officer MacPhail's family, who have been used as pawns by the state in their grotesque game of vengeance masquerading as a quest on their behalf for closure. No one wins here, no lives are saved, no truth is glimpsed, no justice served.

The only hope I have is that a new generation have seen capital punishment for the hideous, uncivilized relic that it is, and that we have taken a leap forward in the movement to consign it back to the dark ages where it belongs, and that its apologists will soon be considered with the contempt that they deserve.

Safe passage, Troy. I am sorry we couldn't move this mountain for you. We will keep trying to move it for the Troys who come next.

.
posted by scody at 8:15 PM on September 21, 2011 [16 favorites]


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posted by argonauta at 8:15 PM on September 21, 2011


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posted by ryanfou at 8:15 PM on September 21, 2011


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posted by evoque at 8:15 PM on September 21, 2011


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posted by shesdeadimalive at 8:16 PM on September 21, 2011


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posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:16 PM on September 21, 2011


watching the DemocracyNow stream ... Amy Goodman commenting on how quiet it is with so many people there. it is very quiet and it is kinda eerie. i can't even imagine.
posted by sio42 at 8:17 PM on September 21, 2011


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posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:19 PM on September 21, 2011


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posted by cloudburst at 8:19 PM on September 21, 2011


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posted by sgrass at 8:19 PM on September 21, 2011


Just horrified.
posted by sweetkid at 8:22 PM on September 21, 2011


Now I understand what this means:

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posted by swift at 8:23 PM on September 21, 2011


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posted by Flashman at 8:23 PM on September 21, 2011




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posted by Dasein at 8:24 PM on September 21, 2011


No Justice


No Peace


.
posted by spitbull at 8:24 PM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


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posted by pointystick at 8:25 PM on September 21, 2011


We're coming up on charitable-giving season at work, when the company matches our donations dollar for dollar.

All of my charitable giving this year is going to the Innocence Project and any death penalty abolishment group I can find in our database of qualifying organizations.

I'm also going to start volunteering my time with anti-death penalty groups -- I know UW has a chapter of the Innocence Project, I may start there. If you know of any groups in the Seattle area, holler at me.

To loosely quote from another wrongfully executed man, "Don't mourn... organize."
posted by palomar at 8:25 PM on September 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


Roland: this was a lynching. The Justice system was involved, but there has been no justice here.
posted by ryanfou at 8:26 PM on September 21, 2011




this man who is answering questions about what happened on the DemocracyNow stream keeps using the term "death chamber". i know that it's correct term, but it sounds so strange, like i keep expecting to this be a scene from some dystopic future movie. but it's not. it's now.
posted by sio42 at 8:27 PM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


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posted by uncorq at 8:30 PM on September 21, 2011


I don't need dictionary citations.

Citations are used here alot, it's nice actually. With your background I'd think it'd be easy to discuss things with more than a "it's that way because I say it is" approach. Like I said above, I'll listen, and didn't mean to offend, just going off of what I've seen/read/lived with/heard of from family members.

Lynching has nothing to do with the method used.

I'll agree that so far as the connotation regarding method is secondary to the fact that lynching does imply that the act in question was performed by self-appointed commissions, mobs, or vigilantes without due process of law.

Please note: beware the links, gruesome and heart breaking pictures and facts there.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:31 PM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


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posted by likeatoaster at 8:31 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


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posted by lord_wolf at 8:33 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


palomar, if you're so inclined, you might want to be in touch with the Campaign to End the Death Penalty -- they've been very closely involved with Troy's case for years. (I used to be very active in the CEDP when I lived in Chicago, but haven't been an active member since moving to L.A.... though this execution is making me consider coming out of activist retirement.) They don't currently have a chapter in Seattle, but if you're interested in starting one, I know they'd do everything to help you.
posted by scody at 8:34 PM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


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posted by alexoscar at 8:40 PM on September 21, 2011


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posted by raztaj at 8:44 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Shit, you guys. I spent 4 hours at a vigil in Harvard Square tonight with the local Amnesty International chapter and had finally decided to call it a night just before the Supreme Court's announcement - didn't see it until I got off the T. I cannot even begin to imagine how terrifying and maddening and painful these last few hours in particular must have been for Davis and his family.

.
posted by naoko at 8:45 PM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


. for Mark MacPhail, who was killed while coming to the aid of a homeless man, and who surely deserved better than to be remembered as the inspiration for another man's murder.

. for Troy Davis.
posted by Adventurer at 8:45 PM on September 21, 2011 [19 favorites]


I am not going to sully this thread with a side debate. But the history is relevant here and being clear about it serves the cause of remembering Troy Davis as a martyr to America's racist "justice" system.

We're arguing at different levels, Roland. I don't mean to patronize, but this is not a matter of definitional debate. "Lynching" is not a technical term of art. It's a characterization of the way African Americans (and some other minorities, by extension) have been controlled through the systematic and terroristic use of communal violence against individuals and at least nominally sanctioned as legal by the judicial system in this country since slavery and up to the Civil Rights Era, and as this case demonstrates, right up to Sept. 21, 2011.

Mob-satiating vengeance, judicial or extrajudicial, driven by anger, hatred, and fear of a class of people (racial or otherwise) but exercised on vulnerable individuals without respect to canons of proof or judicial temperament or mercy that are written into the very founding documents of our society (whether you think of that as a constitution or a sacred book, because you can find this in the bible as well as the constitution and the bill of rights) is the thing we're talking about. You can call it whatever you want. There is a particular history of racially targeted mob vengeance against African Americans in the south that came to be called "lynching" in American discourse for complicated reasons. Many of us see the particular brutality and injustice of Troy Davis' killing as continuous with the history of lynching, which very often (contrary to popular belief) had a veneer of judicial legality attached to it throughout the era from Reconstruction to the Civil Rights Act. Lynching methods were and remain quite diverse, and the method does not define the practice. The targeting of a poor African American man, the trumping up of a nonsensical legal case, the pretense to due process, the lack of any reflexive doubt or mercy, and it really doesn't matter if the dead man is at the end of a rope surrounded by crackers with shotguns or lying strapped to a guerney surrounded by crackers in suits and uniforms.

They're still fucking crackers and this is still a lynching. It's a point of conviction, not definition.
posted by spitbull at 8:49 PM on September 21, 2011 [8 favorites]


What good is our justice system if it cares more about definite punishment than accurate punishment? This is something our founders quite specifically argued against, yet here we are.

How did it come to this?

.
posted by Archelaus at 8:54 PM on September 21, 2011 [9 favorites]


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posted by shakespeherian at 8:59 PM on September 21, 2011


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posted by en forme de poire at 9:02 PM on September 21, 2011


I am not going to sully this thread with a side debate.

Don't sell yourself short, material like this is exactly the opposite of what constitutes 'sullying a thread with a side debate'.

I agree, as you state, we seem to be on different levels in what we're discussing. I'm more on the encyclopedia/common usage level and you've presented a, much appreciated, view that includes some higher level concepts that go beyond what most people are going to appreciate or be comfortable with.

The day where the words cracker, nigger, lynching, and biased, racial, spiteful ways of thinking are a thing of the past will be a good day in my book. I hope things will continue to get better (as I think they obviously have since Reconstruction) and that it'll happen within my lifetime. *sigh*, I'll wait and see. Maybe that's the upside of all this, I can't help but hope that people will be brought closer to sanity when they see and consider that a potentially innocent man may have been executed because of his race.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:03 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


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posted by nzero at 9:05 PM on September 21, 2011


I hope he knew how many people were pulling for him.
With sorrow on so many levels,
.
posted by Heretic at 9:09 PM on September 21, 2011


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posted by Token Meme at 9:13 PM on September 21, 2011


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posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:13 PM on September 21, 2011


My god.

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posted by Lutoslawski at 9:15 PM on September 21, 2011


This is barbaric and evil. I cannot believe this bullshit. I do not live in a civilized country.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:15 PM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


.

Troy Davis and Lawrence Russell Brewer.

.

James Byrd, Jr.

.

Mark MacPhail
posted by lakersfan1222 at 9:18 PM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


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posted by roll truck roll at 9:29 PM on September 21, 2011


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posted by hangingbyathread at 9:56 PM on September 21, 2011


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posted by villanelles at dawn at 10:01 PM on September 21, 2011


Fucking unbelievable.

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posted by fleacircus at 10:09 PM on September 21, 2011


I really didn't think it would happen. I thought that a stay of execution would come through... I didn't really think they would kill him, given all of the doubt and all of the protestors. I was ambivalent about the death penalty before this happened, but now I thoroughly oppose it.

.
posted by studioaudience at 10:15 PM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


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posted by KMB at 10:17 PM on September 21, 2011


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posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 10:26 PM on September 21, 2011


It's hilarious how PERSONAL everyone seems to be taking this crap. The death penalty sucks and perhaps this was not the best use of it, but the guy was most definitely a criminal and if the cop didn't intervene, then the man being beaten very well could have died. And who knows, the cop may have still been shot as well. Mistakes were made, in other words. And what about the white supremecist in Texas who was executed today for dragging the guy behind his pickup truck? Where are all the meaningless stupid "dots" for him? Can we have a dot for the racist in Texas please??
posted by ReeMonster at 10:45 PM on September 21, 2011


. doesn't seem like enough in this case.

Nether does horrifying, barbaric or evil.
posted by guster4lovers at 10:47 PM on September 21, 2011


Mistakes were made, in other words. And what about the white supremecist in Texas who was executed today for dragging the guy behind his pickup truck? Where are all the meaningless stupid "dots" for him? Can we have a dot for the racist in Texas please??

If you weren't so busy trolling, you might have noticed that there were, indeed, some dots for him as well -- because a number of us who are against the death penalty are against it for the factually guilty as well as the innocent.

That's called not having any fucking patience for "mistakes were made" when people's lives are literally at stake. It's called principle. You might want to look into the concept.
posted by scody at 10:53 PM on September 21, 2011 [8 favorites]


It's hilarious how PERSONAL everyone seems to be taking this crap. Nice to see *someone's* enjoying this.
posted by stagewhisper at 10:55 PM on September 21, 2011


Can we have a dot for the racist in Texas please??

Oh, you mean like in the comment 8 before yours?
posted by nzero at 10:55 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Trolling? Maybe I didn't feel like reading all 300+ comments, gimme a break, I read most of it. Plus I said very clearly that the death penalty sucks (meaning, I would very much like it to go away).. I guess I am a bit too cynical to believe it will in the next 10 years, for example. The sheer outrage, disgust, horror, embarrassment and shame on display here seems disingenuous to me. Are we really all that surprised this guy was put down? I mean, come on. If the last 10 years have taught us ANYTHING about the way our country works, its that we want, need and love to kill. 10,000+ Iraqis.. a handful of prisoners at home, some Afghans for good measure. It's all just a part of the history of our country. Like that John Lennon song, I'm just "Watching the Wheels" go round and round.
posted by ReeMonster at 10:59 PM on September 21, 2011


I was at the prison. There were a LOT of people there, but lots of people went home after 7:00 thinking it wasn’t going to happen, there was even a lot of celebrating. I really thought it wasn’t going to happen, and was going to go home but sat in the car a few minutes deciding whether to leave when my wife called and told me the Supreme Court wasn’t going to do anything.

The weird thing was the amount of cops there. Hundreds. They kept showing up, even as people on the other side of the street were leaving. At the end there were probably as many cops as protesters, in full riot gear. Weird, considering there wasn’t even the tiniest hint of trouble all night. There never communicated with people at all. There wasn’t any problem, at least partly because it seemed like most of the crowd was very suspicious that police were trying to get something started. It really could’ve been handled a lot better.

>anyone else get a feeling that if this happens, Georgia is about to see rioting?<

No. But I’ve been wrong before.
posted by bongo_x at 11:18 PM on September 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


The sheer outrage, disgust, horror, embarrassment and shame on display here seems disingenuous to me.

I'm sorry that my ability to feel things is offensive to you.

I'm sorry that my intense hope that an innocent man would not be executed today is offensive and ridiculous to you.

Most of all, I'm sorry that you posted your comments here.
posted by palomar at 11:50 PM on September 21, 2011 [10 favorites]


How did it come to this?

Black men kept looking at white women.
posted by Talez at 11:52 PM on September 21, 2011




.

Fuck. This one's for Troy.
posted by Kevtaro at 1:11 AM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


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posted by hydropsyche at 3:30 AM on September 22, 2011


They're still fucking crackers and this is still a lynching. It's a point of conviction, not definition.

The jury that convicted Davis was composed of seven blacks and five whites.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:42 AM on September 22, 2011


The political constituency that makes it impossible for southern states to back away from using the death penalty selectively against black men is mostly white.
posted by spitbull at 4:25 AM on September 22, 2011


I shouldn't say "makes it impossible." I should say "makes it politically lucrative *not* to join the 21st century."
posted by spitbull at 4:26 AM on September 22, 2011


The jury that convicted Davis was composed of seven blacks and five whites.

A jury that, we later found out, was hearing overwhelmingly fabricated accounts of the murder. The lynching isn't the jury's response to the 'evidence' they heard - it's how they heard it, and what happened after that 'evidence' was hugely and publicly undermined.
posted by Ash3000 at 4:28 AM on September 22, 2011


.
posted by Windigo at 4:52 AM on September 22, 2011


The political constituency that makes it impossible for southern states to back away from using the death penalty selectively against black men is mostly white.


Then why didn't you say that the first time, rather than going for "the crackers are lynching a black man again" theme?

A lot of people in this thread seemed weded to the idea that this is strictly the southern states doing a modern day lynching. That seems startling one dimensional.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:54 AM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's hilarious how PERSONAL everyone seems to be taking this crap.

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as a manor of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:02 AM on September 22, 2011 [10 favorites]


I'd like to thank anigbrowl for his contributions to this thread. I don't take much comfort in the thought that Davis was not innocent, but it is nice to see people doing the research themselves rather than depending on sensational and inaccurate news reports.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:02 AM on September 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'll confess to having very mixed feelings about the death penalty; I can imagine situations where it is the right thing. But this case was sickening and saddening, period. If (and to me, that is a very big "if") we are going to have capital punishment, I can't see any defense of using it in cases where there are ambiguities, doubts, and uncertainties. This was wrong, and I wish the Supreme Court had had the integrity to find a way to stop things, since none of the lower levels could do so.
posted by Forktine at 6:07 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Agreed with anotherpanacea. If people are really passionate about cases like these, and the issues they raise, then people should take the time to read the legal documents, not just the soundbites on news and advocacy sites. Legal documents are actually a lot more readable by your average intelligent layperson than many people might think, and understanding the legal reasoning behind the cases would seem to be an important part of any movement for change.
posted by Gator at 6:09 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


A jury that, we later found out, was hearing overwhelmingly fabricated accounts of the murder. The lynching isn't the jury's response to the 'evidence' they heard - it's how they heard it, and what happened after that 'evidence' was hugely and publicly undermined.

Here's the court's summary of findings on the recantations, copied from the District Court write up, starting on page 168 (Part 1, 2):
Of his seven "recant ations," only one is a
meaningful, credible recantation. Supra Analysis Part III.B.
The value of that recantation is diminished because it only
confirms that which was obvious at trial—that its author was
testifying falsely. Id. Part III.B.ii (Kevin McQueen). Four of
the remaining six recantations are either not credible or not
true recantations and would be disregarded. Id. Parts III.B.i
(Antoine Williams), III..iii (Jeffrey Sapp), III.B.iv (Darrell
Collins), III.B.v (Harriet Murray). The remaining two
recantations were presented under the most suspicious of
circumstances, with Mr. Davis intentionally preventing the
validity of the recantation from being challenged in open court
through cross-examination. Id. Parts III.B.vi (Dorothy
Ferrell), III.B.vii (Larry Young) . Worse, these witnesses were
readily available—one was actually waiting in the courthouse—and
Mr. Davis chose not to present their recantations as live
testimony.
Mr. Davis's additional, non-recantation evidence also does
not change the balance of proof from trial. At the outset, the
Court notes that much of this evidence was presented in
affidavit form. Affidavit evidence is viewed with great
suspicion'" and has diminished value. Herrera, 506 U.S. at 417.
Moreover, this evidence, whether presented as live testimony or
in affidavit form, suffers other serious defects. The two
witness identifications of Mr. Coles as the shooter were not
credible, and Peggie Grant's affidavit testimony placing Mr.
Coles in a white shirt is widely refuted in the record. Id.
Part III.C.iii. The hearsay confessions carry little weight
because the underlying confessions are uncorroborated and there
is good reason to believe that they were false. 105 Id. Part
III.C.i. Further diminishing the value of this evidence is the
fact that Mr. Davis had the means to test the validity of the
underlying confessions by calling and impeaching Mr. Coles, but
chose not to do s0. 106 Other evidence in this category simply
lacks probative value; the munitions evidence and the accounts
from April Hutchinson, Tonya Johnson, Anita Saddler, Gary
Hargrove, and Daniel Kinsman are either totally inapposite or
are of the most minimal probative value. See id. Parts
III.C.ii, III.C.iii, III.C.iv. As a body, this evidence does
not change the balance of proof that was presented at Mr.
Davis's trial.
Ultimately, while Mr. Davis's new evidence casts some
additional, minimal doubt on his conviction, it is largely smoke
and mirrors. The vast majority of the evidence at trial remains
intact, and the new evidence is largely not credible or lacking
in probative value. After careful consideration, the Court
finds that Mr. Davis has failed to make a showing of actual
innocence that would entitle him to habeas relief in federal
court. 107 Accordingly, the Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus
is DENIED.'°8
Specific problems with the recantations begin on page 125 and are worth reading over if you're interested in the case.

Davis should not have been put to death, but it's far from clear he was completely innocent. Sadly, there's enough reasonable doubt there. But what may have contributed to Davis's death is the 1996 Oklahoma bombing, i.e. terrorism.

After the bombing, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 was passed by a bipartisan Congress and signed into law by President Clinton. What did the law do? It modified habeas corpus. Yeah, you heard that right. Based on my non-legal mind understanding, it limits the number of appeals and places a time limit (one year) on when a defendant can appeal a decision or introduce new evidence. I want to stress that I'm not totally sure that's what it does, so don't quote me on that.

From what I can tell, the Federal court sort of ignored that law (I'm probably missing a legal move or meaning) and looked at the new evidence anyway (the "recantations") and decided they weren't enough to change the verdict.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:34 AM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, as pointed out in this interesting blog post (via BoringPostcards [I think] on Google+), that District Court hearing was held because Davis decided to chance everything on a hail mary of an actual innocence claim, in which reasonable doubt wasn't enough -- actual innocence needed to be proven, and they didn't come anywhere near meeting the burden for that.
posted by Gator at 6:43 AM on September 22, 2011


If that's the case, sounds his legal team wasn't doing their best work.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:48 AM on September 22, 2011


And here's the post Boring Postcards linked to on G+: Pulling The Switch.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:54 AM on September 22, 2011


...What, was my link not good enough?
posted by Gator at 6:57 AM on September 22, 2011


that District Court hearing was held because Davis decided to chance everything on a hail mary of an actual innocence claim

This is the part I'm not clear on (and that post, while interesting, is short on citations) - was the "actual innocence" thing a legal strategy chosen by Davis's defense team or did it have to do with the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (linked by Brandon Blatcher and by me way upthread) - the explanation I got from a law student was that this law is why actual innocence needed to be proved; from Brandon's description it's not clear if that's actually part of the law. Once again, I would love to get a lawyer's input on this...
posted by naoko at 7:49 AM on September 22, 2011


Naoko, here's a bit on that from the second comment at the link Gator and I posted (sorry Gator):
I'm a law student, who has a lot of experience with criminal law / procedure / appeals. Here's what's wrong with your post. Going to the Troy Davis wiki, his lawyers argued for procedural errors in the state appeals, and argued for 'actual innocence' in the federal 'appeals'.

This has nothing to do with whether or not arguing 'actual innocence' is a good idea. Appealing a state conviction in federal court means you're relying on federal habeas corpus law. The last, say, 20 years have basically restricted federal oversight of state cases almost exclusively to wildly obvious errors in disregard of existing supreme court precedent, or actual innocence. His lawyers weren't arguing 'actual innocence' federally because it was a good argument, but rather because that's the only avenue open. Had they raised the claim you made in federal court, they would have just flat out lost on procedural grounds without it being heard.
So it sounds like going for actual innocence was the only route Davis could go.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:04 AM on September 22, 2011




That goes along with my general feeling that Davis wasn't railroaded because of race (They threw out the potential physical evidence because the cops didn't have a warrant"), but holes in the legal system. Modifying habeas corpus is a big WTF, especially in light of it being done as a reaction to the Oklahoma bombings.

Reasonable doubt was the never the question of Troy's appeal process, he had to prove himself innocent. Jesus, that's completely fucked.

Still, I wonder where those shorts that the police illegally grabbed are now and whether any evidence could still be gleaned from them. I think they found them in the dryer, i.e. they had been washed, so probably not.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:58 AM on September 22, 2011


If you know of any groups in the Seattle area, holler at me.

chiming back in for palomar: looks like the WA chapter of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty is based in Seattle, so there's a direct action group that you can join right away.

For others interested in getting involved further, too, here's the NCADP's page for all state affiliates. To repeat the words of Joe Hill: "Don't mourn... organize."
posted by scody at 10:10 AM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


In The Machinery of Death Rachel Maddow outlines the Georgia's chaotic crafting of an execution system (reposted by Ta-Nehisi Coates on the Atlantic website).
posted by stagewhisper at 12:17 PM on September 22, 2011


why can no have edit window :(
posted by stagewhisper at 12:18 PM on September 22, 2011


Well, let's see. We do have eyewitness testimony from large numbers of people, we have video footage of a man dressed in the same clothes as Brevik shooting at people, we have Brievik's own admissions in court that he did it - indeed a complete absence of denial, and his 1500 page book describing his plans and methods in copious detail. Then there's the gun he has, the ability to match a very large number of bullet casings to the gun, as well as bullets in people's bodies, bomb-making ingredients that are still on the rural property he rented and that match the explosives used in the Oslo bombing and...well, I could go on and on. Would you care to point me to any claims that he did not carry out these acts?

So I'm to understand you've reviewed all this evidence and found it credible? You interviewed the witnesses, looked at the tape, were able to find the suspect before anyone had been able to plant anything in their flat or on their person, read the copious notes, etc. You're not just depending upon the word of police, right? They never lie, right?

Look, keep in mind what I'm saying here. I'm not arguing that this guy is innocent and I don't have to. My point is that you, personally, can never be sure that someone is guilty unless you, personally, witnessed the crime (and even then, there are always hallucinations to consider, or memory tricks if you want to be more realistic). Your assertion is that there is the possibility of absolute certainty of someone's guilt, and I'm merely demonstrating that that assertion is hogwash.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:24 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


In reality, some people are sentenced to death who are innocent of the crime for which they were sentenced to die. This is the primary reason why executing people is wrong. We have overturned convictions of people who were sentenced to die because they were vindicated. How many have we missed? How many will we miss? How many innocent lives are worth the privilege of executing the truly guilty?
posted by zennie at 1:53 PM on September 22, 2011


Reasonable doubt was the never the question of Troy's appeal process, he had to prove himself innocent. Jesus, that's completely fucked.

Actually, reasonable doubt is the question, but the confusion is understandable because of the term 'actual innocence.' What this means to a lawyer is not the same as what it means to a lay person. (If you don't care about definitions then you should stop reading now.) To the general reader, it means the person did not commit the crime - which would be fucked, because that's a very difficult thing to prove. In many cases, that would require proving that someone else did commit it, but without all all the resources available to police and prosecutors.

However, to a lawyer 'actual innocence' means 'the absence of facts that are prerequisites for the sentence given to a defendant' (cf. Black's Law Dictionary). In other words, a defendant needs to show that the available facts (at trial and/or newly discovered since then), taken together, do not prove all the elements of the charged crime beyond a reasonable doubt. The crime charged here was that Davis murdered a police officer, which is a capital crime. There's no question about whether McPhail was a police officer, he was in uniform at the time he was shot. And nobody claims that the shooting was an accident or whatever, so the only question here is who did the shooting.

Davis needed to show in his appeal that a reasonable doubt exists about whether or not he was the shooter. This is not the same as showing that someone else was the shooter, beyond a reasonable doubt. Rather, he needed to show that the available facts just didn't add up to the conclusion that he was. The standard Davis needed to satisfy was 'clear and convincing evidence.' This means a high probability that some essential element of the prosecution's case was not true. Davis did show to the district court that some elements of the prosecution's case were flawed, but those elements were not essential. It doesn't matter that they were wrong, because even if you took them out of the trial completely there would still have been enough evidence to draw the same conclusion. Those defending Davis' innocence claim that the case against him had fallen apart, but when you look at the evidence they offered, it doesn't even come close to backing up their claim.

The accusations of racism do not make any sense to me. If Davis were innocent, then that would mean the person who shot Officer McPhail was Sylvester Coles, who's also black. It's unclear to me why prosecuting one black man rather than another black man makes the whole procedure racist. One might argue that the racist part is a black man getting a death sentence for killing a white man, but this skips over the fact that Officer McPhail was dressed in his police uniform when he was murdered. In jurisdictions where the death penalty exists, murdering a police officer is (AFAIK) always a capital crime. This particular police officer never drew his weapon when he was shot. Show me a DP jurisdiction where this would not be prosecuted as a capital crime.

I too would like to endorse the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. Does what it says on the tin: the organization wants to eliminate the penalty itself, and it is not much concerned with individual questions of guilt or innocence.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:11 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]




Look, keep in mind what I'm saying here. I'm not arguing that this guy is innocent and I don't have to. My point is that you, personally, can never be sure that someone is guilty unless you, personally, witnessed the crime (and even then, there are always hallucinations to consider, or memory tricks if you want to be more realistic). Your assertion is that there is the possibility of absolute certainty of someone's guilt, and I'm merely demonstrating that that assertion is hogwash.

No you're not; you're arguing for epistemological solipsism. There is no such thing as absolute certainty of anything, including the certainty that the world is real and not a hallucination. Absolute, mathematical certainty is a philosophical impossibility, and indeed the District Court's opinion goes so far as to address this. But using your argument, we should give up having criminal trials altogether because there are fundamental limits to knowledge.

This ignores the fact of probability, which is what we use to navigate the real world. If I walk off a cliff, there's a high probability that I'm going to fall and hit the ground. I can't be certain - it's possible that I may develop the ability to fly, or that angels will appear to bear me up, or that gravity will suddenly cease to operate. I overcome my lack of philosophical certainty by relying on probabilistic evaluations of how the world works, and so do you, and so does everyone else. This is why we use a standard of proof like 'beyond a reasonable doubt.' You have philosophical doubts, but they are not reasonable because they are so far outside the bounds of probability. I didn't witness Anders Brievik shooting people in Norway, but I received or sought out a wide enough variety of information from enough non-police sources that I feel sure of my conclusion about his culpability. If information that contradicts that conclusion should later appear, then guess what? I will modify my conclusion. For me to believe your alternative scenario, however, requires the existence of a vast conspiracy dedicated to deceiving the entire world and suppressing all evidence that contradicts its claims. The probability of this happening is vanishingly low, whereas the probability that an ideologue might take up violence against vulnerable people on the basis that they are his political enemies is depressingly high.

And for the nth and final time, I am against the death penalty. I think it's bad policy, because the measurable costs seem to vastly outweigh the measurable benefits. I think it's just as bad when guilty people get executed as when innocent people get executed. In some respects, I think it's worse. The biggest reason that I would like to abolish it is that if it didn't exist, there were would be fewer ill-founded appeals in either the law courts or the 'court of public appeal,' and as a result there would be far fewer misconceptions about criminal justice and legal procedure. This would be a good thing for people who have credible appeals.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:57 PM on September 22, 2011


I spent last night at work, watching local news & democracynow Twitter feeds and texting friends who were protesting downtown at the capitol and in Jackson at the prison. The wait was agonizing: the dread and hope and slowly dawning horror that this was really going to happen, they were really going to kill him. Doubly agonizing for my friends on the streets trying to make a difference; unimaginably agonizing for Troy Davis's friends and family.

It's a cold, gray day of rain in Atlanta today. Can't say it's not appropriate.

For Mark McPhail,
.

For Troy Davis,
.

For justice,
?
posted by nicebookrack at 3:15 PM on September 22, 2011


scody, thanks -- I just joined the Washington chapter.

palomar, thanks for your comments in this thread. I'd be thrilled to meet you at a NCADP envelope stuffing party or something.
posted by adiabat at 4:09 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]




adiabat, I'd like that too! I just joined up as well -- scody, thank you again for posting links, I really appreciate it.
posted by palomar at 6:33 PM on September 22, 2011


Doubts linger for many after Davis execution

Officer MacPhail's widow, Joan MacPhail-Harris, said it was "a time for healing for all families."

"I will grieve for the Davis family because now they're going to understand our pain and our hurt," she said in a telephone interview from Jackson. "My prayers go out to them. I have been praying for them all these years. And I pray there will be some peace along the way for them."


I'm very sorry for Mrs. MacPhail-Harris's loss, but I'm pretty well gobsmacked by her statement. A time of healing for all families?
posted by palomar at 10:20 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I agree -- how can you justify wanting to visit the same pain on someone else's family.
posted by sweetkid at 10:39 PM on September 22, 2011


palomar : I do not support the death penalty, pla, and I have experienced more than my fair share of loss and grief. But I do not support the death penalty.

Rough neighborhood.

But you didn't actually answer the question. Do you consider it "justice" that your various friends and family and neighbors no longer live, while various pieces of shit still do?

And what do you consider "justice" for raping, torturing, and murdering your cousin? "Well, it turns out the cops forgot to write the phase of the moon on the SAE evidence tag, so the guy got off. Hey, we lose a few in a just system, right?"


I admire the pretty strawman you made, though. We both know that my refusal to howl for blood and revenge does not equal a refusal to seek justice.

Not a strawman that we apparently have wildly different ideas of what counts as "just". You apparently consider a few years of basic cable on the taxpayers' dime "justice". I consider Hammurabi "justice". Both POVs have their merit, but mine has the perk that they'll never fucking do it again.
posted by pla at 3:27 AM on September 23, 2011


Yo, pla, if you want to argue that some crimes should give automatic life imprisonment, that's a whole different thing. But you're arguing for the death penalty, which does a bit more than just make sure they'll never fucking do it again.
posted by LogicalDash at 4:18 AM on September 23, 2011


As long as humans are in charge of the system of justice, there will always be the potential for error. Human error. Happens all the time. The thought that an innocent man might be put to death is horrific. But it has happened, and will continue to happen, as long as there is a death penalty. There's no getting around that.

So, for all those people that say things like "imagine it's your sister who was raped and tortured and killed!" I would say "imagine it's your brother who was wrongly convicted of a crime he didn't commit, and now they're gonna kill him!"

Cuts both ways, right?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:45 AM on September 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Both POVs have their merit, but mine has the perk that they'll never fucking do it again.

I don't see how putting someone in jail for life means they're going to commit the crimes that got them sentenced to life imprisonment in the first place.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:04 AM on September 23, 2011


pla, I do not consider taking a life to be justice. I think it's horrifying that you do.
posted by palomar at 6:22 AM on September 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


As for what I consider justice to be, I'd encourage you to go visit a prison. Speak to inmates. Find out what prison is actually like, don't just make the assumptions it's clear that you're making. Yes, there is television in prison. Do you understand that there has to be some form of recreation for incarcerated people, to prevent them from going insane and starting riots? Have you ever spoken to anyone in prison? I have. You should try it sometime.
posted by palomar at 6:25 AM on September 23, 2011


Sorry, running on low sleep/no caffeine and burgeoning flu here -- What I'm trying to say, pla, is that sentencing someone to a life in prison without parole is far more "justice"-y than executing them. Do some research on what prison is actually like, don't just take things like "inmates can watch TV" and assume from that simple statement that prison life is cushy. Educate yourself. It's clear that on this subject in particular, your education is lacking.

I'm sure someone here can point you to truly excellent resources on prison conditions. I'll attempt to do it myself later, but I have to go to work now.
posted by palomar at 6:38 AM on September 23, 2011


You apparently consider a few years of basic cable on the taxpayers' dime "justice".

Talk about strawman. Jesus fucking christ.

The vast majority of people who are incarcerated are going to get out, even in DP states, because the vast majority of people in prison didn't commit DP-eligible crimes. In your world, I suppose it's better that they get out with no additional education or skills, and with untreated substance and mental health issues? In California, almost no state prison has educational programs anymore, and those that do (San Quentin is one of the only ones that do, and prisoners fight for transfers to SQ), they are all run by volunteers.

Someone who rapes and tortures and murders someone in a non-DP state is never going to do it again either, because they're going to be locked up for the rest of their life.
posted by rtha at 6:40 AM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


What I'm trying to say, pla, is that sentencing someone to a life in prison without parole is far more "justice"-y than executing them.

Which opens up another an of moral worms. Are we sending people to punish them or remove a dangerous element from society. If it's the former, then we have to ask, how far do we want to take that, i.e. how efficient do we want to be in our punishment? How do we get the most punishment for the best price? Is that sounds similar to a certain German guy from the 1930s adn 40s, well, that's kinda the point.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:43 AM on September 23, 2011


Well, personally I believe in rehabilitation, but our government doesn't seem to agree. Otherwise we'd have a different prison system.
posted by palomar at 6:46 AM on September 23, 2011


I have a (former) relative in Coffee Creek near Portland. They seem to have a pretty good rehab system, but from what I understand their programs are very rare in the prison system.
posted by palomar at 6:47 AM on September 23, 2011


Well, personally I believe in rehabilitation, but our government doesn't seem to agree.

Yeah, rehabilitation is the way to go, IMO. No, everyone probably can't be changed and yes, it's expensive, but I think it offers a better "bargain" for society at large, i.e. useful citizens who are contributing to society as opposed to harming it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:01 AM on September 23, 2011


Someone who rapes and tortures and murders someone in a non-DP state is never going to do it again either, because they're going to be locked up for the rest of their life.

I'm not at all interested in weighing in on the DP argument, but I would just like to point out that all of those things happen in prison, too.
posted by Gator at 7:02 AM on September 23, 2011


True, but that's a different question: what do you do about a prisoner who kills another prisoner? The guy who does the killing may be locked up on a non-DP crime charge, so he wouldn't have gotten the DP anyway.
posted by rtha at 7:26 AM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Some prisons, yes. That's a problem for another thread.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:26 AM on September 23, 2011


Coincidentally, a man named Lawrence Russell Brewer was executed in Texas about 40 minutes ago

Death row last meals banned in Texas after Brewer refuses to eat big order.
Prison official John Whitmire said he wanted the "ridiculous" and "inappropriate" practice ended or he'd seek a state statute banning it.

Prisons director Brad Livingston agreed and said the practice was ending immediately.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:20 AM on September 23, 2011


Thanks, Secret Life of Gravy, I was just coming here to post that.

I think that it reveals perfectly just how mean-spirited and un-Christian so many death penalty advocates really are. Denying people the ability to choose their last meal on earth before you strap them down to a table and stick a needle in their arm is a cruelty I just can't understand.
posted by Dasein at 8:28 AM on September 23, 2011


Prison official John Whitmire said he wanted the "ridiculous" and "inappropriate" practice ended or he'd seek a state statute banning it.

I applaud Whitmire's courageous stance on the wasting of food on someone about to be put to death.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:31 AM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


For the record, Brewer asked for "two chicken fried steaks, a bacon cheeseburger, a pound of barbecue meat, a pint of ice cream, a pizza, fudge" yet didn't eat any of it. So that's what, $100 at the extreme most for someone the state is about to kill? Way to watch those pennies Whitmire.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:35 AM on September 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I keep thinking about those guys on Death Row right now. Planning out your last meal is one of the very few pleasures left to them. It seems unbelievably cruel to take that away. Why not just give them a budget if you are so worried about pennies?
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:51 AM on September 23, 2011




I don't see how putting someone in jail for life means they're going to commit the crimes that got them sentenced to life imprisonment in the first place.

There are some prison murders every year, although the numbers have fallen considerably from what they used to be. This is a little out of date but has scads of statistical information, if you are interested. There's no death penalty for prison murder. The record is held by Thomas Silverstein, who has killed 4 people while in prison. He is currently kept in solitary confinement at a SuperMax prison in colorado, a kind of confinement which raises ethical problems of its own.
posted by anigbrowl at 10:17 AM on September 23, 2011


Dasein : I think that it reveals perfectly just how mean-spirited and un-Christian so many death penalty advocates really are. Denying people the ability to choose their last meal on earth before you strap them down to a table and stick a needle in their arm is a cruelty I just can't understand.

Remind me again, did Ted Bundy give his victims a choice of a last meal? How about Gary Ridgway, do you suppose he let his victims choose their last "position"? And I hear Gacy always used copious amounts of lube on the young men he raped and FUCKING MURDERED.

No? Huh. Funny, that. What mean-spirited folks!

Goddamn, what the hell kind of damage do you people have?
posted by pla at 7:53 PM on September 23, 2011


The kind that makes us more humane than rapists and serial killers, apparently.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:56 PM on September 23, 2011 [7 favorites]


Great one-liner, Zarq. I mean that.

Seems a pity you waste such wit in defense of people who would as soon eat your face off as shake your hand.
posted by pla at 8:02 PM on September 23, 2011


One-liner? Do you think I'm not serious? Being better than murderers is the entire goddamn point.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:38 PM on September 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


Because if it's one thing we - murderous psychopaths and all - need to do, it's to prove who can be the lost cruel and merciless. That way is full of win.
posted by rtha at 8:49 PM on September 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


That should say "most" rather than "lost."
posted by rtha at 9:00 PM on September 23, 2011


Goddamn, what the hell kind of damage do you people have?

Good question. You might want to ask yourself that question first. You're the one who wants to televise executions on pay-per-view cable for profit, which to most reasonable people would make you a bigger monster than the people you want so desperately to kill.
posted by palomar at 9:09 PM on September 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


the lost cruel and merciless

The typo inspired a little poem...

the lost, cruel and merciless
their righteous path diverted
their cries of justice! justice!
to cold revenge perverted
their wrath and red faced fury
at merest glance would singe
their souls consumed and ransacked
by dreams of bald revenge
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:13 PM on September 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Goddamn, what the hell kind of damage do you people have?

I think it's fascinating -- and very, very revealing -- that you evidently characterize things like empathy, the rejection of revenge, and a more nuanced sense of justice as being "damaged."
posted by scody at 11:20 PM on September 23, 2011 [9 favorites]


Seems a pity you waste such wit in defense of people who would as soon eat your face off as shake your hand.

You don't show someone mercy because they deserve it. If it's deserved that's not mercy, that's justice. You show people mercy when they don't deserve it or it isn't mercy.

I realize mercy is out of fashion these days. Apparently depraved indifference is the new mercy!
posted by Justinian at 1:12 AM on September 24, 2011 [14 favorites]


Is it not possible to separate out the feeling of wanting revenge -- including the wish to see the people who hurt you or your loved ones hurt in return, which isn't universal, but isn't uncommon and isn't a sign of terrible lack of humanity either -- from one's ideas about how the justice system should act? I have been known to think that certain people should be put to death, while at the same time thinking it is good there is no death penalty.

Do I think it's unfair if prisoners are given free postsecondary education and vocational training, when people who have never committed crimes and victims of crimes have to go into debt to get educations? No. Do I support education programs for prisoners anyhow? Yes.
posted by jeather at 6:19 AM on September 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


pla: Seems a pity you waste such wit in defense of people who would as soon eat your face off as shake your hand.

The vast majority of death row inmates did not get there via an inclination to "eat your face off." Hannibal Lecter is a fictional character. The closest you might find to him in real life would be Jeffrey Dahmer, Ed Gein, or Albert Fish. These people are extremely rare, and to use such a phrase to characterize all DP inmates says much about your own prejudice in the matter.
posted by localroger at 6:43 AM on September 24, 2011 [9 favorites]



You don't show someone mercy because they deserve it. If it's deserved that's not mercy, that's justice. You show people mercy when they don't deserve it or it isn't mercy.


I'm glad there are more of us on the thread (and in the world for that matter) that share this opinion than share pla's.
posted by sweetkid at 8:19 AM on September 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


(I just noticed that I meant "yes, it's unfair", and I live in Canada, where there is no death penalty. Yet? I hope Harper doesn't intend to do that, too, while he works on ruining our justice system.)
posted by jeather at 4:56 PM on September 24, 2011


Here comes the story of the Hurricane (seemed obligatory)
posted by jeffburdges at 7:09 AM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Death Penalty Olympics
posted by jeffburdges at 8:30 AM on September 25, 2011






Death Penalty Olympics

Every time I see the list of other countries that still have the death penalty, I shudder at slide into our backwardness. It's as if every civilized country took a step forward and we demurred.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:42 AM on October 7, 2011


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