The ultimate injustice

The state of Georgia is set to kill Troy Anthony Davis on Oct. 27. Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme refused to take up Mr. Davis' appeal, terminating a temporary stay of execution.

Davis was convicted in the 1991 slaying of Savannah police officer Mark Allen MacPhail. Nine witnesses testified against Davis, but no physical evidence tied him to the crime.

Since the original trial seven of the nine witnesses recanted their testimony, citing police intimidation or coercion, according to documentation provided by Amnesty International. One of the remaining two witnesses who refused to change his testimony has been blamed for the crime by others. According to the Innocence Project, witness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions.

From the Georgia Board of Pardons to that state's Supreme Court, responsible institutions have refused to consider the new evidence offered in Davis' case. When the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take up the appeal, it basically stated that evidence of innocence is irrelevant when it comes too late in the process.

Let's face it. This case is not about technicalities. It is about racism. Mark Allen MacPhail was a young, white policeman. His family deserves to have his real killer found, but as it stands this has not happened. The state of Georgia may be killing the wrong man.

Racism plays a determining role in who lives or dies in the U.S. criminal justice system. In the state of Georgia, fully half of the death row population are people of color. Of the more than 1,100 executions since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, more than 80 percent of the victims in these cases were white, despite the fact that whites and Blacks are murdered in nearly equal numbers.

Six people convicted of murder and sentenced to death in Georgia have been exonerated since 1976. Georgia has just days to give Troy Davis the chance to become the seventh. That some might be exonerated and others killed shows the deepest flaw in using capital punishment as the ultimate punishment.

Aside from the basic fact that it does not deter crime, is carried out at a staggering cost, is arbitrarily applied (often with political motives), has been overturned by many countries around the world, and violates basic moral principles, capital punishment also fails to deliver justice. In the case of Troy Anthony Davis, it may deliver the ultimate injustice.

Joel Wendland (jwendland@politicalaffairs.net) is editor of Political Affairs.