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In Defense of Troy Davis

The impious act because they do not understand.

The State of Georgia will execute Troy Davis on September 21, 2011 for a crime he may not have committed. He was convicted of killing a Savannah police officer in 1989, based on eye witnesses testimony. Several of those witnesses have since recanted, claiming that they were pressured by the police to blame Mr. Davis. One of those who did not recant may have been the real murderer, and that he implicated Troy Davis to save himself. No physical evidence links Mr. Davis to the crime. Judge Rosemary Barkett of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals offered her opinion of this case:

To execute Davis, in the face of a significant amount of proffered evidence that may establish his actual innocence, is unconscionable and unconstitutional.

Where a defendant can make a viable claim of actual innocence is facing execution, the fundamental miscarriage of justice exception should apply.

Yet the 11th Circuit still denied his appeal, Mr. Davis awaits death, and the State of Georgia risks executing a many who may very well be innocent.

With so much doubt as to Troy Davis’ guilt, how can the State of Georgia proceed with his execution? “As I Live, says the Lord, I swear I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked man, but rather in the wicked man’s conversion.” (Ez 33: 11). Indeed, “God did not send his son into the world to condemn, but that the world may be saved through him.” (Jn 3: 17) If, then, God does not wish to condemn the wicked, then who are we execute someone who may very well be innocent? Should we model our behavior on the instructions that Cain’s descendant Lamech gave to his wives?

Wives of Lamech, listen to my utterance: I have killed a man for wounding me, a boy for bruising me. If Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold. (Gn 5: 23 – 24)

Or should we model our behavior on Christ?

Then Peter approaching asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him, As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Mt 18: 21 – 22)

The State of Georgia has the duty to inflict punishment in order to provide for the common good of its citizenry. The friends and family who mourn Officer MacPhail have the right to see the interests of justice served: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Mt 5: 4). But punishment also serves to correct the guilty party; the finality of death penalty precludes this hope:

It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent. (Bl. John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 56)

Troy Davis, a man who may very well be innocent, will be executed by the State of Georgia. His execution will serve no purpose, other than to condemn ourselves and our society. “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, “You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.” (Mt 5: 21)

The reliance on the death penalty as the “ultimate form of justice” is one that we as a civilized society need to reject. Rather, we should embrace the vision of justice that Saint Francis of Assisi showed to us in dealing with the wolf who terrorized the city of Gubbio:

But, Brother Wolf, I want to make peace between you and them, so that they will never be harmed by you, and they will dismiss all your past offenses, and both men and dogs will no longer pursue you….But, Brother Wolf, for me to obtain this favor for you, I want you to promise me that you will never harm any animal or person or dare to harm anything.

I am Troy Davis, because I share with him the same beginning. You are Troy Davis because you share with him the same end; we are all Troy Davis because we are made in the same image (Gn 1: 26, 27; 2: 7; 3: 19). Now is the time for clemency; later will be the time for justice.

Now you understand. Now you can act.

To read more about Troy Davis and his case, you can read these articles from Forbes, The Atlantic, and Mother Jones provide excellent background and opinion.

To take action, the Innocence Project and Amnesty International provide opportunities for you to stand in solidarity with Troy Davis.

Peace and goodness!


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