Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Execution of Troy Davis

Last night, the state of Georgia executed convicted killer, Troy Davis.  Everyone knows the story by now and with so much controversy surrounding this case--witness recantations, no physical evidence linking Davis to the crime, it seems that the arrogance of Georgia officials from the corrections' officials, to the prosectors to the Governor himself prevented them from even considering a thorough examination of the new circumstances.

What was it about Mr. Davis that made his execution so necessary last night?  Not much it seems.  I have had my own conflicted feelings about the death penalty but I come out on the side that it should be the people's right to hold it in reserve for particularly heinous crimes.  The murder of off-duty officer MacPhail though cowardly and cold-blooded was not a pre-meditated act of hours and weeks of planning.   It does not meet the heinous criteria.  

In the meantime, serial killers, child killers and mass murderers escape the gallows.  In California, the all-time champion of serial murder, Randy Kraft  has been on death row since 1989.  He is part of a bridge club on California's death row with other serial murderers including Lawrence Bittaker (death row class of 1981) and Doug Clark (death row class of 1983).  Kraft himself  is responsible for perhaps 60 or more murders of boys and young men. This is the problem with the death penalty.  States have it on the books yet wield it in such random and arbitrary ways.

The reason I believe that the death penalty should be held in reserve is that sometimes death is the only reasonable punishment.   The only reasonable punishment for the Connecticut atrocity perpetrated by Steven Hayes on the Petit family is death.  Anything else is an insult to the victims, their families and society.    There is no justice to be meted out in any kind of fantasy afterlife.  This is it.  I hold no special sanctity for the life of vermin like Steven Hayes or Randy Kraft.  I wouldn't mind strapping them into the gurney myself.  But these are rare cases.   

The smugness of Rick Perry talking about the execution of Todd Willingham is repugnant.  Somewhere between the Troy Davis case and the laughable practices of the California penal system is common  sense and a sober realization that reform is needed.  And even though the United States is in the company of China, India, Iran etc. as far as Death Penalty states, it doesn't give me the willies that some Americans get.  

I like the fact that for violent crime the United States doesn't mess around.   We have a vast prison industrial complex because we have many more violent criminals than Europe.  I am all for rethinking the stupid and costly war on drugs and the hundreds of thousands of wasted lives serving time for non-violent drug offenses.  But as far as violent offenders I have no sympathy.  The era of mid-century era rehabilitation and early release culminated in the 
1970s and 80s crime wave that only ended with the changing demographics produced by factors such as the Roe vs. Wade decision in 1973.  

The United States is one of the few countries in the world where a life sentence means a life sentence.  European and  Latin American countries frequently release murderers after 20 years because of cost and because anything after 20 years is regarded as cruel.   In the United States we now throw away the key.  That's fine by me, and in today's political climate why the last two Democratic presidents, Clinton and Obama both support the death penalty.