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Questions arise in wake of Davis execution

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

Capital punishment, given by the government. System so organized, they get to you and who you runnin’ with.

— Big Punisher

I am, as I’ve always been without reservation, in favor of capital punishment. I suppose being raised on that biblical “eye-for-an-eye” admonition stuck with me, but I have no sympathy for “reformed” murderers who ask for mercy after all their legal challenges have run out and their date with the executioner nears.

The question I’d pose to them if I were in a position to do so is a simple one: Where was the mercy you now ask for when your victim was pleading for his or her life?

Like most Georgians, and a lot of others around the world, I followed with interest the legal wranglings and personal pleas made on convicted cop killer Troy Davis’ behalf in the months, weeks, days and final hours leading up to his execution late Wednesday. And while I understood why his supporters used every tactic available to them to try and win a stay for Davis, I have to admit I was sickened by some of the methods they used.

Sure, most of us would do just about anything we thought would help if it were our loved ones in similar circumstances. But attempts to turn Davis into some kind of folk hero were simply too much for many to stomach. No matter how anyone feels about the death penalty in general, or about Davis’ case in particular, this man was no kind of hero.

He was a criminal, and most news reports leading up to his final hours tended to leave that part of his story out as celebrities, politicians and death penalty opponents lined up to try and put a halt to the pending execution. In 21st-century America, the cult of personality always wins out.

As the sad saga wound to an end some 21 years after Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail’s cold-blooded murder, and as the debate over the use of capital punishment resumed with renewed vigor, I felt a sense of unease as I pondered the Troy Davis execution. The recanting of testimony and the supposed confession by a man other than Davis, I’ll admit, planted a tiny seed of doubt in my mind.

Certainly witnesses of the sort that testified against Davis in his original trial have recanted their testimony before, and I’d suggest the overwhelming majority of criminals serve their sentences — whether a few days, a few years, a lifetime behind bars or an ultimate sentence such as the one carried out against Davis — declaring their innocence.

The men and women who make the law — enforcing it and defending it — their careers are not easily swayed by an inmate’s denial of his part in a crime. Guilty pleas in the American justice system are about as rare as rich people on death row. The thing now is “plead not guilty, try to create some doubt and take a shot at finding a sympathetic juror.”

So I’m not particularly moved by someone who was nowhere near Savannah when Mark MacPhail was killed telling me for a certainty that Troy Davis did not kill him. Obviously no one can prove that he didn’t pull the trigger on the gun that ended MacPhail’s life.

But what concerns me is that prosecutors also did not have physical evidence that linked Davis to the murder. And it’s that lack of stone-cold proof that has shaken my resolve just a bit. I haven’t even read enough of the material written about Davis’ case to make an educated decision as to his guilt or innocence, which means I’m very much like probably 80 percent of the people who’ve assured the world that they know, without a shadow of a doubt, that he committed the crime or didn’t commit it.

Maybe they’ve been swayed or they’ve convinced themselves for whatever reason. But they’re all lying. The people who know what really happened are both dead. MacPhail proved himself a true hero, and he certainly didn’t deserve to be shot for coming to the aid of a homeless man. What’s scary, though, is the lingering uncertainty over whether Davis deserved his fate.

Certainly not even the most staunch death penalty supporter would want to see any man or woman put to death for a crime he or she did not commit. If that ever happens and is proved, belief in the American justice system will crumble ... and righfully so.

Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.