September 22, 2011

Troy Davis

Filed under: Uncategorized — madaxeman @ 8:54 pm

I do not condone capital punishment, and it is high time that a country that claims to be a paragon of western values moved beyond this barbaric practice. It is, in all circumstances, wrong.

The truth is, it’s one of those issues that a lot of us overlook – we know it happens in the world, but it doesn’t involve us, and therefore although we might not approve, we don’t give the issue the attention it deserves. I certainly haven’t…

Yet, in my own case, I started off so well…

When I attended the English equivalent of high school, I met an English / Drama teacher called Jan Sergeant. She was a wonderful teacher – one of those annoyingly good ones in fact of whom you only really become aware of their real worth after you lose them… She somehow managed to trigger a vague tolerance of literature in me (no mean feat – and if you ever read this Miss, I don’t read Dr. Who books anymore…), but one of her most memorable exploits concerned an exercise in the importance of interpretation.

To help get her point over, she had us all study the Christopher Craig & Derek Bentley case, and the issues surrounding the cry of “Let Him Have It Chris!”. What Jan Sergeant doesn’t know is that, when I was eighteen, I wrote to the Home Office for more information. The more I read, the more I became personally convinced that there were serious questions to be raised about Derek Bentley’s words, and therefore the uncomfortable possibility that my own state, Britain, had potentially executed an innocent man.

Troubling stuff, and I was dutifully troubled for a while, before moving onto other things, and the issue fell to the back of my mind again… Ever since those experiences in Jan Sergeants classroom I can honestly say I have not approved of the death penalty, but I never really did anything about it. After all, these were the days before the internet…

Then came Twitter – something I never really saw the point of until I actually joined it, and got involved in a separate campaign on a topic that for those who know me will need no introduction… Twitter is a really good way to learn about stuff, and, less than a week ago, the case of Troy Davis popped up on my Twitter radar…

Davis had been convicted of killing an off duty police officer in the United States, and sentenced to death. He had already had three appeals against his conviction denied, and we were approaching the date when he would be executed. Imagine my surprise then to learn that this man had some very, very influential backers – namely former president Jimmy Carter and a former director of the FBI. Their involvement in the case piqued my interest, so I looked at it a little more closely…

Amongst a number of issues giving rise to concerns as to the safety of his conviction, we have :

  • Of the nine individuals who acted as witnesses, seven have now recanted their testimony.
  • Witnesses have alleged police intimidation aimed at having them identify Davis.
  • One witness alleged he had no idea who shot the officer, and being illiterate, couldn’t read the statement he was made to sign.
  • Other witnesses have since confessed to providing false testimony.
  • Another man is reported to have bragged that he commited the crime.
  • No physical evidence, whatsoever, links Davis with the crime.
  • The courts involved in the appeals have found that he “failed to prove his innocence”, where as in fact it was their duty to establish his guilt.

So, on balance, I have to say that I was with Mr. Carter – plenty of scope here for reasonable doubt. Naturally then, all of these concerns were put before the court. they realised the mistake, and re-opened the investigation in an attempt to discover the truth…

Oh – sorry – my mistake. This is America. They killed the guy anyway. I’m sure that fact that he was tried in Georgia (in the south) and happened to be black didn’t come into it at all. If you detect a note of sarcasm in my voice there it’s because you’ve just been bathed in the stuff – I seriously doubt had Mr. Davis been a white doctor, lawyer, or even crossing warden, he would be dead now.

America has executed a man of whom there is every chance was actually innocent of the crime he was convicted of. That’s huge. It was an international news story for a few hours, and then it died away… You won’t be hearing it on the news again now – it’s back to good old Twitter again…

The sad fact is that it’s now too late to do anything about it – Davis is already dead. All that can be done now is to investigate the case, and try to find out one way or the other what actually happened. We owe that to Davis, and we owe it to ourselves.

We also need to campaign to end the death penalty in supposedly civilised societies. It’s simply not acceptable, and even if it were, we’ve just seen proof that the authorities can’t be trusted with the power.

I’m now going to pour myself a wine, and reflect on the sad loss of a police officer who tried to help someone in need, and a man who, when he was alive yesterday, was also in need. If we simply let the record show that Davis killed the officer without actually establishing that beyond reasonable doubt, we have failed both the officer and Davis.




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