What a Difference a Week Makes

Since I have been on vacation for the past week–trying to get my mind off the death penalty for a while–we have missed several major news story in the death penalty arena.

Troy Davis:  On August 24, nearly a year after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a federal judge to review the evidence showing that Troy Davis did not commit the murder of off-duty police officer Mark Allan MacPhail, a federal judge in Georgia ruled against Troy Davis’ claims that he is innocent.

No murder weapon was ever uncovered nor any physical evidence connecting Davis to the shooting.  Seven out of nine non-police witnesses who initially testified against Davis have since recanted their testimony–and several have said they were coerced by police into making false statements against Davis. One of the star witnesses against Davis, Sylvester “Red” Coles, has since been identified by other eyewitnesses as the actual shooter.

Still, U.S. District Judge William T. Moore Jr. dismissed the appeal in a 172-page order stating, “After careful consideration and an in-depth review of 20 years of evidence the Court is left with the firm conviction that while the State’s case may not be ironclad, most reasonable jurors would again vote to convict Mr. Davis of Officer MacPhail’s murder.”  Davis’ attorneys will likely appeal this ruling.

Billy Ray Irick:  On August 21,  Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner rejected Billy Irick’s assertion that he was not competent to be executed for the 1985 rape and murder of 7-year-old Paula Kay Dyer. Judge Baumgartner stated that, “This court finds that the evidence presented more than sufficiently establishes that (Irick) has the mental capacity to understand the fact of his impending execution and the reason for it.  In addition, this court finds that the record establishes that (Irick) has a rational understanding of these facts and issues.”  Sadly, a lifetime of medical history and witness statements concerning Irick’s mental state at the time of the crime demonstrate otherwise. 

Faulty Lab Work in North Carolina:  The criminal convictions of three people who have been executed in North Carolina, and four more cases of defendants now on death row, are in question because of shoddy lab work by the State Bureau of Investigation, according to a scathing report written by former FBI agents who examined the agency’s blood work.

The new report discusses “serious issues” with the SBI’s blood analysis unit’s work between 1987 and 2003 in cases involving 269 people. The work of the SBI lab in these cases is described as “overstated and  misleading” and in some cases the lab left out critical information that would have been favorable to the defendants. 

Stephen Dear, executive director of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty in North Carolina stated, “The death penalty should be repealed on moral and practical grounds. We cannot have a death penalty applied within a system so deeply flawed every way you view it. We cannot have it both ways.  The only solution is to repeal the death penalty and use the money that would save to help murder victims’ families and enhance programs aimed at preventing violent crime.”

With the clear problems with this system as demonstrated in the stories above, why do we continue to waste our resources and energy on it? How can we trust a system with so much dysfunction to determine who lives and who dies? 

Picture courtesy of VaXzine 

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