Too much doubt

On Wednesday 21 September, the US State of Georgia will execute a potentially innocent man. Troy Davis was convicted in 1991 of the murder of an off-duty Georgia police officer, Mark MacPhail. For the last 20 years he has sat on Death Row. His execution has been scheduled four times now – with a last minute stay granted for the last three. Can you even begin to imagine how that must feel?

I am completely opposed to the death penalty in any circumstances. Nobody has the right to take a human life – whether that is shooting a police officer, stabbing a pensioner for their savings, delivering a fatal blow to a rival gang member – or strapping somebody down to a gurney and pumping them full of a lethal cocktail of drugs. This is not the Old Testament where justice is dished out “an eye for an eye”.

Putting aside my personal views, the dealth penalty is legal in some US states. But my understanding is that there must be no doubt of guilt. In the case of Troy Davis, there is so much doubt and so little evidence that the fact that we have got to this stage in a civilised society just doesn’t seem possible.

Seven of nine witnesses have retracted their statements; one of the two remaining witnesses is actually a key suspect in the case; there is no forensic evidence; no murder weapon has been found; jurors have come forward to say that they have completely changed their minds given this information.

Yet, for some reason, the State of Georgia has not for a moment wavered from a conviction that Troy’s conviction was the right verdict. I have no idea why. Is it because the state supports the death penalty so to grant clemency to Troy and show sanity would lose votes? Is it because the victim’s relatives have been vocal in demaning Troy’s death for their own peace of mind? Is it racism? Is it a stubborn refusal to admit a mistake?

Whatever it is, it is wrong. While there is the slightest doubt, you cannot take a life. You just can’t. For Troy to be executed tomorrow is absolutely unthinkable, but this injustice is totally in the hands of people who should have seen the sense and the truth and the possibility of innocence years ago.

Amnesty International is asking for clemency for Troy. I understand why at this late stage this has to be the plea but really he should be acquitted as there is not enough evidence to convict him.  The officer’s death was a tragedy and the offender should be brought to justice. But by killing the wrong man, there is no justice. No closure. No peace. How much worse will it be for the victim’s family if further on down the line they learn that the wrong man died.

But what can we do? We can fight to the very end. Visit Amnesty’s website and take a few minutes to add your voice to the global reaction – it may take a miracle to stop this tragedy but miracles can happen.

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