July 14, 2007
DEATH AND ROYALTIES
Los Angeles Times
'FROM THIS DAY FORWARD," Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun wrote in 1994,
"I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death." Blackmun's anguished
refusal to patch and repair an inherently unjust system was an act of
judicial acumen and conscience that sadly goes unshared in much of this
country and elsewhere. And yet his reasoning remains unassailable. No
combination of statutes, regulations and safeguards has resulted in a
capital punishment system that is fair, moral, equitably applied and immune
The spectacle of state-ordered death has been on display across the world
this week - in the sentencing of a Los Angeles serial killer whose case
revealed that another man had been wrongly convicted for several of the
crimes; in the dispiriting case of a Georgia man set for execution despite
the shaky evidence against him; in the abrupt killing of a Chinese official
by a government more interested in image than justice; in the stoning of an
Iranian man for violating his nation's moral code; in the sentencing of six
almost-certainly innocent foreign medical workers in Libya. Which of these
is more barbaric?
The death sentence a jury meted out to serial killer Chester Turner is a
powerful reminder that in 1995, another jury wrongly convicted David Allen
Jones of rapes and murders that Turner committed. Jones served 11 years
before being released, and we give thanks that the state, in its capricious
application of the death penalty, had not sentenced him to die.
Troy Davis, however, likely will be executed by the state of Georgia next
week. Seven of the nine witnesses who said he shot a police officer have
either recanted or contradicted their testimony, and many say police
intimidated them. The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals denied Davis'
habeas corpus petition alleging evidence of police coercion on a
technicality - it was brought too late.
False or questionable convictions are worst-case scenarios, but the
immorality of capital punishment is not confined to those instances in which
it is turned against the innocent. As Blackmun also wrote, even when the
system works as designed, "our collective conscience will remain uneasy."
Zheng Xiaoyu's corruption led to the deaths of people who trusted him to
safeguard China's food and medicine; Turner's crimes were heinous, and the
Iranian man convicted of adultery may have been guilty as well. Executing
them, however, does not right their wrongs. Rather, it adds the state to the
list of those who engage in premeditated murder. And thus it expands the
universe of the complicit, as we continue our futile tinkering with an
unjust and unjustifiable machine.
Source : Los Angeles Times