COMMENTARY | The state of Georgia executed convicted cop killer Troy Davis on Wednesday, despite massive international protest and a last-minute Supreme Court review. Hundreds of thousands of people petitioned the Board to grant clemency including such notables at former President Jimmy Carter, former FBI director William Sessions and the Pope.
The outcry over implementation of Davis' death sentence demonstrates why it's time to put an end to the practice of state-sponsored executions.
Death Penalty Relic of Times Past
According to Amnesty USA, two-thirds of the world's countries no longer employ the death penalty. Ninety-six countries have abolished it outright for all crimes, while nine others have banned it for ordinary crimes but permit its use by military tribunals and in other extraordinary circumstances. Thirty-four additional countries whose laws permit the death penalty have ceased imposing it, some with explicit assurances that they have no intention of doing so.
Not a single European country employs the death penalty. The United States stands alongside countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, China, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan in imposing state-sanctioned death sentences.
There were 3,251 people in the U.S. under death sentences as of January, including Davis. While the world trend is to abandon the death penalty, the U.S. has increased its imposition some 600 percent in the last 40 years.
Death Penalty Unreliable
Justice systems are imperfect by nature and the risk of wrongful conviction is high.
Misidentification by witnesses is the leading cause of wrongful conviction, accounting for 75 percent of nationwide cases overturned based on DNA evidence. In 2006, "60 Minutes" aired the story of Ronald Cotton, twice-convicted of the same rape by eyewitness testimony only to be released after 11 years due to conclusive DNA testing showing another man committed the crime. The victim in the Cotton case was entirely certain her identification was correct, even when face to face with the real killer, but she was mistaken. And her experience is not unusual.
Besides witness identification errors, there are problems with experts using junk science. That's a problem that's been in the news lately after Texas death row inmate Duane Buck challenged a psychologist's expert testimony that he was more likely to be violent in the future in part because he is black.
That same psychologist has been putting men on death row for more than 20 years, using statistics to argue that poor people, black people, people with menial jobs, people who live in crime-infested neighborhoods and people with troubled family backgrounds are likely to commit future violence.
Add government misconduct to the mix, throw in a few snitches willing to say anything either out of spite or in hopes of favorable treatment and reliability drops several notches more.
There's no way to guarantee justice for Troy Davis and the 3,250 others on death row given the flaws inherent in the legal system, but there is one simple way to ensure they aren't wrongfully executed and that's by not executing them.