No doubt that anyone who frequents the internet has heard of Troy Davis by now. He’s the man that was convicted of the murder of a police officer in Savannah, Georgia. After a twenty year legal battle to repeal his sentence of death, which culminated in a highly energized global rally this past week, Davis was executed without proof beyond a reasonable doubt of his guilt. Many people feel as though justice has been served for a cop-killer. Many others feel that an innocent man may have been murdered at the hands of the government.
Ultimately the decision belongs to twelve individuals who may have their own preconceived notions in place about the trial. Think back right now. Think of a time when you hear about a guy being arrested and your immediate response is “I wonder what he did.” At that moment you have already convinced yourself that he is guilty of some sort of crime. After all, why else would the police have arrested him? I’m not suggesting that the police go around and round up innocent people and charge them falsely, but I am suggesting that police are humans. We all are, and we all make mistakes. The very knowledge that we make mistakes should raise concern over the death penalty. When DNA testing began to be used, many inmates that were on death row were exonerated of the crimes. As of today, 139 individuals that have been on death row have been exonerated. That is a potential 139 individuals that may have been killed but were innocent of the crimes they were accused of.
Lets return to the status of “proof beyond a reasonable doubt”. This is a level of proof that must be met in order to convict anyone of a crime. Again, the power rests with the jury. If all twelve jurors believe that there are no reasonable doubts of a persons guilt, then they should vote guilty. This is what happened in Davis’s case. The prosecution put forth evidence in the way of testimony by nine witnesses and more tangible evidence in the form of bullet casings that matched the casings found in a previous shooting that Davis was convicted of. For most people, nine witnesses and evidence that the same gun used in one crime earlier was used here is enough to presume guilt without any reasonable doubt. Herein lies the issue everyone is up in arms about. Seven of the nine witnesses have recanted their testimony. Upon appeals based on this evidence, the courts told Davis that it did not matter, and that the witnesses could be lying now. That is very possible, and the reason that their testimony should have been discounted. The fact that cannot be denied is that these seven witnesses were either lying then or now. Since we have no discernible ways of deciding when the lie occurred (polygraphs are buggy), we cannot give merit to their words.
Essentially this leaves the case as two witnesses and some casings. The logic of the justice system is that even this lesser proof, it still would convince a jury to his guild beyond a reasonable doubt (though some jurors have changed their mind since their verdict). If you consider that one of the two remaining witnesses actually was considered the prime suspect at first and has been reported as saying that he committed the murder while in a bar, you have an execution that is based on the word of one man and a shell casing. The ballistics expert they brought into the trial was able to prove only that the bullet was of the same caliber as the one Davis allegedly used in the prior shooting. Many guns share the same caliber bullet, and what’s not to say another person happened to have a bullet of the same caliber at the time?
So was justice served? Some say yes, and others no. It may very well be that Davis was guilty as guilty can be. But that does not discount all of the doubt cast on the original case. Even if he was guilty, are we really ready to take this same chance next time?