Here's a good case for killing the death penalty

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Here's a good case for killing the death penalty

Post  Yoke on Thu Sep 17, 2009 5:24 pm

Opponents of the death penalty have reason for hope this week. 2
high-profile cases are exposing the sick, barbaric folly of execution in

When the U.S. resumed executions in 1977, only 16 nations had abolished
the death penalty; the number has since grown to 92. 5 nations now carry
out more than 90% of the world's executions: Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia,
China - and the United States.

We're in pretty grim company.

But this week, America took a step toward evolving in the direction of the
civilized world.

In Georgia, a man on death row got an extremely rare ruling from the U.S.
Supreme Court.

And in Texas, a high-ranking judge is herself on trial - prosecuted for
misconduct after callously refusing to hear the 11th-hour appeal of a
prisoner who was about to be executed.

The latest development in the Georgia case of Troy Anthony Davis is

For the first time in 50 years, the justices ordered a federal court to
reopen a state murder case - even after a long line of appeals - and hear
newly discovered evidence that might exonerate Davis.

As I've written in columns since 2007, the evidence of Davis' innocence is
overwhelming. He was convicted in 1991 of the point-blank shooting of a
Savannah police officer in a case with scant evidence: There was no murder
weapon found, no confession, no fingerprints or other physical evidence.

Davis was sent to death row on the strength of 9 witnesses. 7 have since
recanted in sworn statements, with many claiming police coercion. An 8th
witness first told cops he didn't know who the killer was, then
"remembered" it was Davis 2 years later.

And the 9th witness, who originally pointed the finger at Davis, may be
the real killer. Three new witnesses now say he was the shooter. (Details
about the case are at

It took marches, rallies, media coverage and an active international
movement and appeals from well-known people - including former FBI
Director Williams Sessions, ex-Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.), Desmond Tutu and
Pope Benedict - to get the high court to act.

The Supreme Court ruling signals that actual innocence counts for
something in a land where so many scream for blood.

Another encouraging scene is unfolding in Texas, where Sharon Keller,
presiding judge of the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals, yesterday took the
witness stand in her own defense.

Keller has been charged with misconduct by the Texas Commission on
Judicial Conduct and could be kicked off the bench for her actions on the
night in 2007 that the state executed Michael Wayne Richard, a rapist and

On the day Richard was scheduled to be killed, the U.S. Supreme Court
ordered a halt to executions in Kentucky based on a claim that lethal
injections might be painful and therefore an unconstitutionally cruel form
of punishment.

Richard's lawyers, frantically attempting to stay his execution based on
the ruling in the Kentucky case, called Keller's aides shortly before the
court's closing time, begging them to keep the court open for 15 to 30
minutes - long enough to allow papers to be filed.

At 4:45 p.m., the request was passed to Keller, who presides over the very
last stop for criminal defendants in the Lone Star State.

"We close at 5," she said. Richard was executed at 8:23 that evening. And
on the stand yesterday, Keller said that, if faced with the same
situation, she'd slam shut the doors of the courthouse again.

That stiff-necked indifference to fairness and justice make Keller -
"Killer Keller" to her critics - a poster child, along with Davis, for why
we must end the death penalty.

(source: Opinion, Errol Louis, New York Daily News)

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