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PARKER: Davis execution barbaric

Photo by Carly Farrell

Photo by Carly Farrell

WASHINGTON -- I stayed up late Wednesday night in hopes that the U.S. Supreme Court would call off the execution of Troy Davis. Instead, at 11:08 p.m., he was pronounced dead.

One minute he was lifting his head from the death gurney, pleading his innocence in the killing of a police officer 22 years ago and beseeching God to bless the souls of his executioners. Then the drugs entered his veins, he blinked a few times, appeared to yawn, according to witnesses, and entered the sleep from which there is no waking.

Over. Next?

Would that there were no next. I'm no wimp when it comes to justice and spent the first few decades of my life backstroking in the Old Testament. An eye-for-an-eye was fine by me. But I have matured and these days wear glibness -- and righteousness -- like a hair shirt. Satisfaction can never come from the termination of a human life except to protect one's own and that of one's dependents. Thus, our barbaric practice of capital punishment, premeditated and coldblooded, is, since we're in a biblical mood, an abomination. That we grant the state the power to end a citizen's life is a harrowing-enough thought. That we do so even when we know with certainty that sometimes innocents are killed is beyond comprehension.

In Davis' case, opinions clearly differed. Seven of the nine witnesses who once identified him as the shooter have since recanted. Even so, a federal judge ruled last year that the recantation testimony cast "minimal doubt" on Davis' conviction.

Minimal? Isn't any level of doubt enough?

Apparently, even the Supreme Court didn't think so. After delaying Davis' execution for four hours on Wednesday, the court allowed the execution to proceed.

The fact of those recantations surely should create sufficient doubt, not to exonerate Davis but at least not to kill him -- even if you support the death penalty, as many sane and lovely Americans do. That said, I'm not so sure a sane and lovely person would or should cheer the death penalty, as audience members did recently upon Texas Gov. Rick Perry's expression of pride in his administration of ultimate justice. More convicted individuals have died in Texas under Perry's watch than in any other state.

Though death is nothing to celebrate, I understand the desire for justice. I've experienced the horror of murder up close. Three members of my extended family have died at the hands of others and I wish the perpetrators a toasty eternity. But my killing them doesn't restore anyone's life. It merely makes me a killer.

Nevertheless, I don't judge those for whom the ultimate justice brings solace or that most prosaic of catharsis -- closure. Everyone understands the reflex to destroy the destroyer. But I do judge us. This nation. This society. This culture. The urge for justice and its close relative, revenge, is human, which is by definition also to err.

For justice to have any meaning, it must also mean that no innocent person should ever be executed. Some argue that the relatively rare and unintentional death of an innocent, if not justifiable, is at least tolerable toward the greater end of punishing the guilty, which is most often the case. During years of covering criminal courts, I was mostly surprised that anyone ever is convicted given the strict standards of proof.

Thanks to DNA testing, we also know that scores have been on death row who shouldn't have been. Extrapolating, we can safely conclude that some innocents have been wrongfully executed. These facts alone should be all we need to retire the guillotine in hopes that we might yet evolve to a higher level of humanity. Never mind the other factual arguments that capital punishment is not an effective deterrent and that, given our appeals process, executing someone is more expensive than keeping him in prison for life.

When we join together to administer death, we become something other than a civilized community of men and women. No matter how we frame the arguments or justifications, we become executioners. Where there is doubt, as there seems to have been in Davis' case, we become murderers.

No one is recommending that Davis should have been given a free pass. Life without parole is no picnic. But we might sleep easier had we not participated in killing a man without the moral certainty that he was guilty.

Kathleen Parker's email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

Comments

Plavixman 3 years, 11 months ago

I have only one thing to say, how can you condemn as barbaric when the real barbaric thing done was the one Troy Davis did to the Officer. Ever wonder how the matching casing wound up at both scenes and Mr. Davis was convicted of the other shooting too. Yet, that has never been denied. An eye for an eye, NO, or every killer would be put to death. Only the ones that deem harsh or unusual or that of a law enforcement officer.

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Rookie33 3 years, 11 months ago

Barbaric? So killing a cop is ok? This man was guilty; he was proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and justifiably sentenced to death. Each and every legal forum that heard an appeal after the initial trial found that Davis was correctly convicted. Just because the media decided davis was innocent doesn’t mean he was.

What is so sad is that everyone forgot about the Officer’s family. Everyone from the Pope to Jimmy Carter (neither of which are lawyers) was convinced that davis was innocent. Were these people at the trial? Are they experts on criminal law? I wonder if the Pope or Mr. Carter wrote to the Officer’s family to express condolences. It is sad that the media and people like Ms. Parker, who know nothing about criminal law, can incite such uproar that a convicted criminal’s life is worth more that the Officer he murdered. Foolish & absurd!

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Jan 3 years, 11 months ago

I find the absolute certainty of some responds quite astonishing. Is it lack of information or just blind faith in a poor system? Kathleen Parker limited her explanation of the problems to the more publicized. Before further argument as to the guilt of Troy Davis beyond reasonable doubt so a search and you will find everything from witness coercion and prompting to using as a witness against Troy that admitted owning a .38 pistol, claiming he had given it to someone early that evening. This gun never produced and a witness said he thought the shooter was this witness. Add to this the fact that 2 out of 3 death sentence cases are overturned in appeal and it is hard to feel such strong conviction as that demonstrated above. To execute a single innocent person is to commit premeditated murder by state edict and gives the guilty party a free pass. Now the DA has compromised himself. Should the gun be found with fingerprints and DNA to tie someone else known to have been at the scene to this murder, how can he make a case of "I was wrong to argue to execute Troy, but I have it right this time." If troy was a wealthy pro ball player, he is unlikely to have even been convicted, much less received the death penalty.

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R 3 years, 11 months ago

Jan, You pretty much make the case in your own statement that follows

"Add to this the fact that 2 out of 3 death sentence cases are overturned in appeal," if this is true - why wasn't this one overturned long, long ago? Could it be that the verdict was correct?

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cannot_believe_it 3 years, 11 months ago

Unbelievable...you consider capital punishment barbaric, but the actions of the criminal are not?

You need to wake up and see it for what it is: natural selection. Throughout the history of the world, nature has selected certain species or particular parts of species to be eliminated because they cannot succeed. Criminals of this type need to be eliminated...if they can't operate and survive in our society and they take the lives of law-abiding, productive citizens (such as this off-duty police officer) I would suggest that they be taken out of the society. Putting them in prison for life just causes society more problems....I say we remove them from our society...permanently.

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Jan 3 years, 11 months ago

What a leap! Just because we point out the barbaric approach to punishment does not mean we believe the actions of criminals were not barbaric. Part of a civilized nation is learning to approach crime prevention is a civilized manner. Sometimes for the safety of the public and attitude adjustment of the criminal, they must be jailed, possibly for life. If you shoot someone in the leg, we don't shoot you in the leg because that would be barbaric. How can you consider taking a life less offensive to the conscience that shooting someone in the leg. Then we have this case where doubt has risen as to his guilt. The parole board and courts were far from unanimous on their decision to allow the execution so some of these officials had doubts as to his guilt. Even the despicable Lawrence Brewer should not have been executed in Texas for it only demonstrates the primitive attitudes of the populace. We even have DA's fighting to stop DNA testing of old cases because they do not want to admit that they may have prosecuted the wrong person. It is barbaric to allow ego's and desires for revenge against someone to cause this barbaric approach to justice.

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Leucis 3 years, 11 months ago

Capital Punishment is not an example of "natural selection" but rather artificial selection.

It has also been proven that capital punishment is not a deterant against criminal behavior. We all know that many vicitims of state sanctioned murder have also been proven innocent. And then there is the hypocrisy of the whole thing....if murder is such a bad thing, why does the state, empowered by the people, get to murder the criminal? Does murdering the criminal solve anything? So, what good does capital punishment do, other than satisify society's collective primal reptilian bloodlust revenge urges?

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Rookie33 3 years, 11 months ago

There are more reasons to punish criminals than just deterance. Capital punishment prevents the criminal from murdering again. Capital punishment punishes the criminal for his actions. It gives the murderer what he deserves; all murderers deserve to die.

To punish someone is not murder, it's the law. To call it murder displays your bias and your ignorance.

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R 3 years, 11 months ago

Yes in short - it won't be repeated

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Gundoctor1 3 years, 11 months ago

Kathleen Parker another bed-wetting liberal wonk. I stayed up late also Kathleen hoping they would change their mind and SHOW THE EXECUTION LIVE ON TV. When Gary Gilmore was executed by firing squad, I thought now there is the way executions should be handled. Who says the Supreme Court is worthless. They did the right thing Wednesday Kathleen. How long did we have to house and feed this murderer? Sorry Kathleen,obviously you are in the minority here.

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cannot_believe_it 3 years, 11 months ago

Ok, first of all...I have not seen that study. I bet it would be a GREAT deterrent to take all of the criminals on death row, and hang them in the town square. I bet THAT might deter a little crime...

Second, I don't know about "many", but certainly some have been innocent. I would bet they were gulty of something...but I am all in favor of playing the odds on this and bet 99% of them WERE guilty.

Third, I see no hypocrisy at all: Punish the guilty party...period. "An eye for any eye..." and such. There certainly was no leniency nor mercy shown to THEIR victims! Now-a-days, our society has become waaaay too liberal on crime and punishment. We allow the perpetrators many more rights than they certainly gave their victims!

Call it "bloodlust revenge" if you want...but I guarantee you we will have many fewer "repeat offenders"!

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jack 3 years, 11 months ago

I find interesting the lack of outrage over the execution of Lawrence Russell Brewer in Texas Wednesday night.

Gundoctor- Ms. Parker describes herself as "slightly right of center." The AJC considers her a Conservative columnist. I suspect her to be a sheep in wolf's clothing.

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R 3 years, 11 months ago

"slightly right of center." Only if the starting point trefered to is left of Jimmy Carter

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TOWG 3 years, 11 months ago

I don't like capital punishment either ,but the sad fact is, some people just need killin'. I also don't like prostrate exams, but the sad fact is, it's the right thing to do.

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BuzzG 3 years, 11 months ago

So Kathleen Parker considers herself to be a conservative? She is hardly such. Anyone who goes through life allowing her feelings to trump her intellect is not a conservative. She is an old fashioned liberal, or "progressive", as liberals like to be called.

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Ivory 3 years, 11 months ago

Ms. Parker may not know the difference between right and wrong, but she is sure hot while doing it!

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Lucy1 3 years, 11 months ago

I am totally for the death penalty. If we used it more often it might start helping deter murder? We don't use it enough. However, if someone kills my grandchild I will make sure they get the death penalty ...............wait until someone murders someone you love and rethink your position. Get over it. Some murderers need to be murdered themselves. it's jsut a fact of life

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Jan 3 years, 11 months ago

Your attitude reflects that of primitive cultures more interested in revenge than justice. How do you manage to rationalize those that will be wrongfully executed? I have a feeling that you would be among those that believe the police don't make mistakes and would vote guilty should you be on a jury. It is unfortunate that this seems to be the attitude of too many jurors when the crime is horrendous. Until you can develop a system where you can guarantee that no innocent person will ever be executed, the death penalty cannot be just.

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