Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Justice delayed or justice denied

Death chamber for lethal injection
For the family of slain Georgia police officer Mark MacPhail the last two decades have moved slowly and steadily with no closure in sight. His accused killer Troy Davis was charged with the cold-blooded crime despite not a speck of physical evidence. The prosecution proved their case. Nine men had testified that he had done the deed. A Georgia police officer, husband, father, brother and son had been slain. The jury found him guilty and because this was a capital offense involving the killing of a police officer, Davis received the ultimate punishment during the punishment phase of the trial. He was to be executed by the state. In plain and simple terms Davis waited for his date with the executioner for nearly two decades. Over that time he exhausted appeal after appeal. They were denied, but at each turn he was spared and his team of attorneys continued to press their case. Curiously, the longer the conviction stood, the fewer of his accusers were certain Davis was the responsible party. At first, one then two recanted their testimony. Three became five and that soon led to seven out of the nine who changed their minds. Davis never admitted he was guilty. Indeed, he was defiant. It was someone else that had killed MacPhail, he maintained. He was innocent. He pressed his case for a new trial. Another person confessed to the crime, but the courts did not overturn the verdict. Davis' attorneys hoped that some august body of judges would hear his case and grant that a new trial was in order or else find some opportunity to commute the sentence to life in prison while they continued to demand justice. The MacPhail family needing closure for their loss pressed just as hard. What kind of world would allow a public servant who was killed in the line of duty to be forgotten and his killer to remain free? At every appeal there was the MacPhail family demanding justice and there was the Davis family vigorously campaigning for a new trial decrying no semblance of justice. Recently, Davis had gotten closer to the executioner's needle, but last minute reprieves kept his chances and himself alive. But the clock kept ticking. The MacPhail family became jaded. They wanted to know their son had not lived and died in vain. The Davises labored long and hard, reminding the public and officials it was better to let ten murderers go free than to put one innocent man to death. And on it went. When his latest appeal was turned down and the governor refused to act, Davis prepared to meet his maker. Outside the prison and elsewhere there were protests of considerable size. People carried placards and shouted out, while Davis contemplated the meaning of it all. To the end he maintained his innocence even as the IV was attached to his arm and the drugs were sent coursing in his veins. Was this justice? The MacPhails say so. Those that hoped Davis would live say no. In the end it's just one man's life and with the wanton fashion in which lives are snuffed out in an instant these days one may question why the ruckus. In 16 states and the District of Columbia there is no death penalty. These include New York, Illinois, Michigan and Massachusetts - some of the most populous states - and North Dakota, Vermont and Alaska - some with the least populations. Elsewhere in the world countries like the United Kingdom proscribe a death penalty. Is a lifetime behind bars a proper punishment for someone who has deprived another human being of their ultimate right - the right to life? Some of Davis' last words are haunting: "I am not the one who took your son, father or brother!" Only the Allmighty knows if he was telling the truth and if the State of Georgia railroaded a verdict against an innocent man. Fully 65% of Americans believe in the death penalty as a deterrent to crime. If this execution proves nothing else, it proves that Americans are still sharply divided over the right for any state to take a life. In the end there are two families suffering from loss and neither has been fully served by this execution. No one is truly happy. Yes, the MacPhail family has settled for closure. It is simply not possible to bring back Officer MacPhail. Likewise, the Davis family can no longer visit their loved one and they mourn his execution. One thing is certain: the suffering will continue as will the contentious debate over the death penalty.

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