The Death penalty reassessed (Now discussing: Execution of the Innocent and Troy Davis)

Discussion in 'Archive: The Senate Floor' started by Lowbacca_1977, Sep 21, 2011.

  1. Lowbacca_1977 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 28, 2006
    star 6
    Recent news, I think, brings up a valid reason to discuss the death penalty anew (we've not had the topic discussed as a thread since March)

    Today (still Sept 21 here), the state of Georgia executed Troy Davis.

    He was sentenced to death after the 1989 murder of an off duty police officer working as a security guard. When he was on trial in 1991, there were 9 eyewitnesses that claimed to see some part of what occurred. Since then, however, 7 of the eyewitnesses have fully or partially retracted what they said. This includes 2 that said they felt pressured to identify Davis as the shooter, or were threatened if they didn't identify him, to avoid facing charges themselves. Three more have also said that they felt subjected to strong-arm tactics from the police to identify Davis. One of the witnesses who has not changed story at all is Redd Coles, and there are three signed affidavits from people saying that Coles admitting to actually being the shooter. The whole duration, Davis had stated he was innocent, and there was no forensic evidence tying him to the murder, only the eyewitnesses.

    Due to anti-terrorism laws, the above evidence was prevented from being presented in court during appeals. The resulting questions, I feel, are did the state of Georgia just execute a man that was innocent, and how does this effect the legitimacy of the death penalty?


    Personally speaking, I think this all highlights the fundamental problem with the death penalty. It has a result that is permanent, severe, and can not be undone on any level if there is either a mistake or abuse of the system. That there is the strong chance he was innocent highlights that the death penalty shouldn't be in place because it's giving government an extreme amount of power and ignoring that said government can't wield that power unerringly.
  2. Jansons_Funny_Twin Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 31, 2002
    star 6
    I am a strong supporter of the death penalty. I think that it is a legitimate punishment for many criminals.

    I am also a strong supporter of tightening and restricting the use of the death penalty.

    Some changes that I think need to be made:
    1) Limiting the death penalty to people who murder more than just one person.
    2) Requiring there to be physical evidence linking those found guilty to the crime.
    3) Requiring a higher burden of proof than "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt" in handing out the death penalty.

    Unfortunately, I don't see this happening without a huge pushback from certain elements of society, like those bloodthirty maniacs who cheered Perry's record as the killingest governor around. One only hopes that they're a small enough group that can be bypassed. I both long for an fear a real conversation on this subject in society. I long for it because I hope we can move forward, but I fear it because I'm not sure I want to know just how many of the bloodthirsty maniacs there are.
  3. LexiLupin Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 27, 2011
    star 4
    A topic that I think strongly highlights presidential wannabe Rick Perry.


    Was he innocent?
    I have no idea. And that's the fundamental problem here, isn't it? How many times can we be absolutely sure that the person being executed committed the crime for which they are sentenced?
    When he or she pleads guilty?
    When there is strong forensic evidence?
    When X-number of eyewitnesses saw it happen?

    Are any of those circumstances enough? Especially, as you point out, given the possibility of abuse of the system in the first place? Maybe a guilty plea, but certainly not the other two.

    Personally, I'm not a proponent of execution, and that Perry clip from the debate last week makes me sick. Not least because most of those people applauding are probably doing so WHY?
    Because execution is cheaper to the taxpayer than life in prison.

    o_O
  4. Ghost Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Oct 13, 2003
    star 6
    Exactly, no one should ever be sentenced to death when the only evidence is from "eyewitness" accounts. That's something that both proponents and opponents of the death penalty should be able to agree on.
  5. Lowbacca_1977 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 28, 2006
    star 6
    Well, that's not true, though, from what I've read
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29552692/ns/us_news-crime_and_courts/t/execute-or-not-question-cost/
    Because there's more appeals and such in a death penalty case, it actually costs more to get a death penalty verdict than it would to just have the person in prison for life.


    Granted, I think the eyewitness testimony issue highlights that.... there's not a good way to make sure mistakes aren't made. And I think the death penalty presumes that government is infallible.

    I do think that the death penalty, as a concept, isn't wrong, but that presumes one can prove for sure that someone is guilty, and I don't think there's a way to create a system that would always ensure that.
  6. JediSmuggler Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 5, 1999
    star 5
    The actual figure of eyewitnesses was 34, not nine:
    First of all, the state presented 34 witnesses against Davis -- not nine -- which should give you some idea of how punctilious the media are about their facts in death penalty cases.

    Among the witnesses who did not recant a word of their testimony against Davis were three members of the Air Force, who saw the shooting from their van in the Burger King drive-in lane. The airman who saw events clearly enough to positively identify Davis as the shooter explained on cross-examination, "You don't forget someone that stands over and shoots someone."


    Note - Ann Coulter's column above is backed up by the facts in a 174-page ruling DENYING the habeas corpus petition:
    Mr. Davis pled not guilty and proceeded to trial. The trial occurred in Chatham County Superior Court and lasted from August 19 to 28, 1991. The state presented thirtyfour6 witnesses in its case-in-chief. (Id. at 2-5.) Mr. Davis called five witnesses and testified on his own behalf. (Id. at 5.)


    Here is the 174-page brief, focusing on the case - the source for the 34 prosecution witnesses is on page 41.
    This first part features a summary of the witnesses. The second part has some more details.

    Here's the problem: If you cannot get the number of witnesses in the case right, then I have to ask, what other misconceptions about the case you have?
  7. Lowbacca_1977 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 28, 2006
    star 6
    I see one error on my reading from here: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/09/22/national/main20109976.shtml (Which I believe was the initial article i was working with, although it may be a new version, I'd need to go through history on a diff computer to find initial article)
    I misread the phrase "key witnesses" as "eye witnesses", I think.

    I'll have to do some more digging on this after work.
  8. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    In the good old days if a group of people was involved in committing a felony and then a police officer was shot by one of the group, then the whole group would be eligible for the death penalty via the felony murder rule.

    Davis was never "innocent" of the murder. A tough situation to be in but somebody gets left holding the gun. It almost doesn't matter who in the confusion of the moment. The state is going to assign the shooter role to someone in the group.

    It's just one of those cases where someone's going to Lotto, and it might as well be Davis.
  9. yankee8255 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    May 31, 2005
    star 6
    Smuggler, you and Coulter are the ones being a bit loose with the facts -- it's 34 witnesses, not eye witnesses to the shooting in question. Bit of a difference.

    As for JFT's idea about a higher standard of proof for the death penalty, it's hard enough to distinguish between absolute certainty and beyond a reasonable doubt as it is. Unlike preponderance of the evidence, the standard in a civil trial, which has been put into numbers as >50% probability, no such percentage exists for reasonable doubt. Trying to cram another level in between reasonable doubt and 100% certainty is impossible as a practical matter.
  10. anakinfansince1983 Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Mar 4, 2011
    star 7
    My question was going to be, is anyone besides Ann Coulter reporting the information that Smuggler presented? Because Coulter is hardly believable or unbiased. I might as well post a link to an Ed Schultz or Bill Maher column and expect it to be taken seriously as an objective statement of fact.

    On the death penalty, there is no reason for it in the United States of America today, and in fact, as the execution of Davis shows, the possibility that judge and jury decisions are wrong, and that an innocent person could be put to death, is a very real one.

    There are some criminals that I believe deserve death for their crimes, but I think revenge is a dangerous concept to enact as judicial policy.

    This is interesting:

    Use of capital punishment by country

    The countries that still use capital punishment, are not exactly countries whose societies we want to emulate, I wouldn't think.
  11. Kimball_Kinnison Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Oct 28, 2001
    star 6
    But, it's more than 9 eye witnesses. If nothing else, the 3 airmen who haven't recanted disprove the claim that there 7 of 9 eye witnesses recanted. (9-7=2, 2<3, So something doesn't add up.)

    Moreover, in the Habeus Corpus ruling my brother linked to, the spell out 28 separate testimonies regarding the shooting and investigation. Several of them do not specifically identify Troy Davis by name, but talk about two people, one in a yellow shirt and the other in a white shirt, with the one in the white shirt shooting the cop. Others specifically identify Mr. Davis by name. Still others are use to corroborate the fact that it was Davis wearing the white shirt, and Coles wearing the yellow shirt. None of the sources suggest that Coles was wearing the white shirt (and therefore the shooter).

    Ultimately, only 2 of the witnesses allegedly recanted any testimony material to the actual shooting. (I use the word allegedly because they never did so under oath. Davis refused to allow them to testify in a hearing under oath when it was revealed that they would then be cross examined by the prosecution.) As a result, from a legal standpoint, none of the testimony was actually recanted, and even if it had been it would not have materially affected the ruling, as there were numerous other testimonies that would still have upheld the conviction.

    Seriously, if you want to get a clear idea of the case, don't look at media reports. Go and read the actual court documents. Primary sources contain a lot more information than any media report ever will.

    Kimball Kinnison
  12. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    Obviously, the U.S. is in no mood to abolish the death penalty. In the Troy Davis case, the legal process continued for more than 22 years. But the appeals process seemed to amount to nothing more than a continuous rejection of the admissibility of potentially exculpatory evidence.

    Thinking about the cost of 22 years of legal appeal, I wonder if it wouldn't be better for all the states that currently employ capital punishment to create a pooled Death Penalty Review Court.

    It would work something like this. Someone gets convicted for a crime and recommended for the death penalty. At that point, the case would get kicked directly to the Death Penalty Review Court. A new investigation would be launched from the ground up, with special Death Penalty Review Court Investigators reexamining all evidence, re-interviewing all witnesses, adding any DNA or other evidence that might not have been available at trial. The case gets retried in front of a pooled Death Penalty Review Court jury.

    The Death Penalty Review Court can then either offer a death sentence acquittal or a death sentence conviction. If there's a death sentence acquittal, the person goes directly to life imprisonment and the standard appeals system available for that. If there's a death sentence conviction, then there is a single avenue of appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    This process could potentially shave decades and hundreds of thousands of dollars off the review process, and achieve real justice by opening up the possibility of a true retrying of the actual evidence under more professional conditions than may be the case where local initial investigators are personally out for blood/revenge and the defendant has a crappy lawyer at trial.
  13. Mr44 VIP

    Member Since:
    May 21, 2002
    star 6
    In the good old days if a group of people was involved in committing a felony and then a police officer was shot by one of the group, then the whole group would be eligible for the death penalty via the felony murder rule.

    The concept of felony murder still exists in most of the states. (it might be called slightly different things in various states, but only a couple don't anything like it) In the states that have the death penalty, it can be applied to all the defendants, as long as they were shown to have been a willing participant.

    And interestingly, out West, a court case was just decided at the beginning of this year where someone was held to be eligible for first degree murder under the felony murder rule because some of their stolen items flew out of their pickup bed while they were driving away from the crime scene. The item then caused a fatal traffic crash. The criminal, Cole Wilkins, ended up with a life sentence (25 year minimum) under the felony murder rule because he didn't take care to secure the stolen items his his pickup truck, so he should have known that a result of his crime was to have the items dislodge and injure someone. In fact, the appeals court ruled that his life sentence was not cruel or unusual even though he didn't intend to kill anyone. It's not the same thing as charging everyone involved in a crime, but its a strong case which illustrates how the felony murder rule is applied to those results of a crime.
  14. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    Davis last statement: ?I did not personally kill your son, father, brother,?

    I read that as: "I was at the scene of the crime, helping to pistol whip a homeless man, when Redd Coles shot Mark MacPhail, then shot him again on the ground to make sure he was dead."

    It doesn't seem like such a horrible miscarriage of justice to pick someone almost at random out of that moment and execute him. It grates a little that Redd Coles is the guy who fingered Davis, probably in a successful scheme to save himself. But it doesn't grate very much.

    It's like that Dürrenmatt novella, Der Richter und Sein Henker. Hanging someone for a crime he didn't commit can be a serviceable substitute for convicting him for the crimes he did commit. I'm convinced that's how police and prosecutors think about this stuff sometimes.
  15. shanerjedi Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 17, 2010
    star 4
    The mere fact you, and many others, are asking this question today is reason enough to examine the death penalty.

    I'm an advocate of it in the most severe cases like mass murder and premeditated ones.

    But the idea we are asking this question and the man is dead now saddens me. Not because of who he is. I didn't know him and he could have been completely guilty.

    Could have been.

    And there were enough questions raised following his conviction and sentencing to,IMHO, seek another remedy.

    Death should only be administered by the state if the conviction is airtight and completely solid.

    Sad.

    edit:

    Jabba, I completely disagree with you about sentencing Davis. If he wasn't the trigger man then he shouldn't die at the hands of the state. Period.

    It's not enough in these cases to "just get one of them and make an example of them".

    Nope. This has to be the person. If he was an accessory then so be it. Life sentence. But death? No way.
  16. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
    star 7
    That's why I think my pooled Death Penalty Review Court is such a good idea. Let's take police and prosecutorial revenge out of the equation when we're meting out justice, and use the time for appeal to get a truly unbiased reading on the facts instead of filing motions for decades on end as a delay tactic.

    The Cameron Todd Willingham case is another great example. In this case the issue wasn't police investigators out for blood for the killing of one of their own, but an instance of nearly everything the arson experts "knew" about fires being empirically wrong.

    My contention is that every death penalty conviction deserves a full-on review of all evidence presented at trial viewed not through some kind of idiotic legalistic appeals filter like "was the jury reasonable to conclude the way it did," but rather in order to determine whether they got it right. Did they reach the right conclusion?

    The review court would not have the power to overturn a conviction and circumvent the responsibilities of the jury. It would only have the power to overturn a death sentence.

    And the money would be incredibly well spent considering the decades that people linger on death row.
  17. GrandAdmiralPelleaon Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Oct 28, 2000
    star 6
    I really can't understand the love for the death penalty that lingers in certain U.S. states. I just don't understand the statement. It's one of those things that I find quite alien, really.

    Also, today I learned that Venezuela was the first country to abolish the death penalty back in the 19th century. Didn't expect that.
  18. DeathStar1977 Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Jan 31, 2003
    star 4
    Jabba

    I thought the same thing when I heard Troy Davis's final statement.

    In regards to the media, there was reporting on the case itself, for example:

    http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2011/09/20/prosecutor-says-he-has-no-doubt-about-troy-davis-guilt/?iref=allsearch

    I think, like usual, the focus was on the outrage.

    I do agree with those who want to reduce the death penalty, or at least make it harder to give out.

    Hanging someone for a crime he didn't commit can be a serviceable substitute for convicting him for the crimes he did commit. I'm convinced that's how police and prosecutors think about this stuff sometimes.

    I remember the joke on SNL was "O.J. Simpson was found guilty Friday on charges of armed robbery, assault and kidnapping -- but. really, murder."

    I'm not so sure that's how prosecutors/police think, rather that the public expects some CSI type evidence to directly link someone to the crime, whereas old-fashioned techniques are often used as well.

    The problem with the death penalty, obviously, is that there is no room for mistakes.
  19. Mr44 VIP

    Member Since:
    May 21, 2002
    star 6
    The idea of a unified capital punishment review board is interesting, but I think the states would have to voluntarily agree to join it, as capital punishment cases are tried at the state level. (for state crimes, obviously.) It would have to be a long term process. As more and more states joined in, the remaining states would have to meet the same, or similar criteria in order to administer the death penalty, and this would be a decades long process. Who knows?

    However, regarding the uneven application of the death penalty from the other side...Illinois just had a case where a murderer specifically researched the fact that IL recently got rid of capital punishment, and then specifically travelled to IL to kill his victim. Basically, the guy, who is a Canadian citizen, met a girl on an online dating service. After she broke up with him, he travelled to the US, ambushed her in a parking lot and shot her to death. By some accounts, depending on what type of pistol he used, he actually shot all of his bullets and then stood over her to reload in order shoot her some more. It was particularly cold blooded and heinous crime, but IL no longer has capital punishment as an option, which may have been a factor in the killer coming to IL:

    EXAMPLE

    So far, the issue with this case in IL hasn't been about capital punishment per se, but that there is no option at all in relation to surrounding states that may apply it. To IL's North, I don't think Wisconsin has the death penalty, but the other border states do. This uneven application certainly adds a twist to the classic "does the death penalty act as a deterrent?" debate.

  20. shinjo_jedi Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    May 21, 2002
    star 5
    That is only one case though, so I don't even see why it's being brought up. If you want to go there, a quick look at the facts shows that 6 of the 9 states with the lowest homicide rates are ones without the death penalty.

    An editorial in the Washington post highlights my sentiments exactly:

    I can?t ignore the fact that over the years, not one of the many judges who examined the case concluded there had been a true miscarriage of justice. This suggests to me that Davis was probably guilty. But ?probably? isn?t good enough in a capital case ? and this is why the death penalty is flawed as a practical matter.

    Judging from the facts, he was probably guilty. Probably isn't good enough to execute someone though. Not that I think there ever is a good enough reason, but "he probably killed him" sure doesn't come close.

    I think my biggest problem with advocates of the death penalty is that, a lot of the time, they act as if the person is going free if they aren't executed. Davis deserved life for being involved in the murder, I would argue, but he didn't deserve death.
  21. LexiLupin Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 27, 2011
    star 4
  22. Ghost Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Oct 13, 2003
    star 6
    I don't really understand it either.

    My state (Rhode Island) abolished it back in 1852 when it was used to unfairly target an Irish immigrant (who was officially pardoned this year). (It was brought back in the 1870's, not abolished again until the 1980's, but it was not used once over that 100+ year period.) I think we only had 7 executions in our state history, and just a few dozen during our centuries as a colony (mostly against pirates).

    People say it's a deterrent, but don't states without the death penalty have less murders, rapes, and other violent crimes than the states that do have the death penalty?
  23. GrandAdmiralPelleaon Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Oct 28, 2000
    star 6
    This.

    I'd be willing to bet that income inequality is a better indicator of how high the violent crime rate is going to be, than severity of punishment is (which, from the looks of it, is more likely to be inversely correlated).
  24. Ghost Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Oct 13, 2003
    star 6
    To add to that, income is usually tied to education and equality of opportunity.
  25. shinjo_jedi Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    May 21, 2002
    star 5
    Yes, many of the states with the lowest homicide rates abolished the death penalty. Although, I don't think that is the reason for the low rates - if you're sick enough to kill someone, you're not going to be deterred between the choice of life imprisonment rather than the death penalty. Well, that's my logical conclusion, but logic isn't used in killing someone so I guess it's not sufficient enough reason...anyway...