Troy Davis’ execution must be the beginning of a new resurgence in this country to end the death penalty. The fight must continue forward and that’s what will honor the legacy of Troy Davis. As Troy said, it was not just about him but for all the other Troy Davis that came before him and will unfortunately come after him.
Davis had an unprecedented amount of support that included almost 1 million signatures to a Petition calling for his clemency including former President Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, former FBI director William Sessions, Pope Benedict XVI and a host of others. Since his conviction in 1991 of killing officer McPhail in 1989, 7 of the 9 witnesses had come forward to recant their testimony with allegations that one of the witnesses was the actual killer. But, this was not enough to convince the Georgia court system, the Georgia Parole board, Larry Chisolm, the county’s first African American district attorney or the Supreme Court of his innocence or to spare his life. Troy maintained his innocence up to the time of his execution, even requesting to give a lie detector test which was denied by the prison. At the end, he told his family and the family of slain officer McPhail that he did not commit the murder and did not have a gun on him. At 11:08 on September 21, 2011, Troy was pronounced dead.
The death penalty does not serve the interest of justice, the victim’s families or our society. Nationally, 130 innocent persons have been condemned to die since the early 1970’s. Some have been exonerated by DNA evidence. In Troy’s case, there was no DNA, only tainted witness testimony. Sending one innocent person to their death is too many. In Maryland, a Commission on Capital Punishment found that for almost every 9 persons sent to death row, one innocent person has been exonerated.
Families of the victims wait often decades for their perceived “justice”. Annaliese McPhail, mother of the slain officer says she wanted her family to “have some peace and start our lives.” Peace does not come from killing another human being. Unlike McPhail’s mother, another victim’s mother is advocating for repeal of the death penalty. Vicki Schieber, the Maryland mother of a daughter who was brutally raped and killed in 1998, has testified before the US Senate and several states, including New Jersey which abolished the death penalty in 2007. She says she never wanted the death sentence for her daughter’s killer even though she was pressured by the prosecutor to endorse it. She says it has brought her and her husband peace.
New Jersey became the first state in over 40 years to abolish its death penalty in 2007. But recent hard fought efforts to end in other states have failed. The momentum is growing and now is the time to keep it going. The Supreme Court has moved towards limiting the death penalty forbidding the death penalty for juveniles and mentally retarded and banning for crimes that did not involve killings. In 2007, the court placed on hold all executions for eight months while deciding if lethal injection is a cruel and unusual punishment. It later decided that it was not cruel and unusual punishment. Troy Davis died by lethal injection.
The death penalty has not been a deterrent to crime, is expensive, racially biased and unfair. Taxpayers spend millions on a failed system. One Maryland commission found that pursuing a death penalty case is three times more expensive to taxpayers than pursuing a non-capital punishment case. In death sentences, almost half of those receiving the death penalty are black. The prison population is over 40% black men while black men make up only 6% of the population. Life without parole should replace the death penalty as the most severe punishment in America.
For the efforts led by NAACP, Ben Jealous, Amnesty International, Democracy Now.org and a host of others, now is not the time to stop. To the family of Officer McPhail, may you find peace one day. And to the family of Troy Davis, you have lost a son, brother, uncle and friend but have gained millions of others. We are all Troy Davis.
Debbie Hines is a lawyer and political/legal commentator who is seen on national and local media including NBC, ABC and CBS -Washington, DC affiliates, the Michael Eric Dyson Show, XM Sirius radio, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, Black Enterprise among others. She founded LegalSpeaks, a progressive blog on women and race in law and politics. She also writes for the Huffington Post and Politic 365.