Wednesday, November 20, 2019
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Did You Spot the Execution Night Double Standard?

Editor’s Note: This post was recovered from a cached version of the site following a server failure at my webhost.  The post is verbatim as it originally appeared on September 28, 2011.  If you left a comment at the time, please repost, as the comments were lost when the post itself was lost.

One week ago today, the state of Georgia executed Troy Davis despite protests from around the world. Among my liberal friends, two main camps of protestors emerged: those who felt that it was wrong to execute Davis based on the fact that witnesses in the case had changed their story; and those who felt that the death penalty, in any circumstance, was wrong.

Of those two groups, I side with the former. Davis was convicted and sentenced to death for the shooting death of a police officer. One witness told a Savannah jury in 1991 that she was “real sure, positive sure,” that Davis was the killer. Yet nine years later, this same woman signed an affidavit saying she didn’t actually see the 1989 shooting, but pointed at Davis to tell police what they wanted to hear.

Davis, throughout the case and up until his final moments, maintained his innocence. His execution was delayed for a short time while even the Supreme Court considered his situation. Ultimately, as we now know, they did not stop the proceedings.

If there’s a case where the death penalty should be stopped, Davis’s was it. When the very witnesses who convince a jury that he was guilty now change their story, that should be taken seriously. Frankly, I think those witnesses — particularly those who testified in open court, under oath, that they were telling the truth and who now say that they lied in their testimony — should be behind bars. And they should spend at least as long as Davis did in jail because of their dishonesty. (But that’s a fight for another day.)

Prosecutors say that Davis’s case did not rely solely on the eyewitness testimony that was now suddenly in question: police linked shell casings recovered from the scenes of two different shootings hours apart to Davis, who admitted being at both places at the same time. And some witnesses who said they saw Davis pull the trigger have not changed their story.

But if you’re a juror, no matter how much importance you place on scientific evidence, hearing another human being tell you that they saw him do it is surely compelling testimony that is hard to ignore.

So I understand the opposition to this specific execution. Perhaps he should have been retried. Perhaps a completely different team of prosecutors and defenders should have been brought in to investigate the case.

Just so we were sure that we were sure.

But remember that second group, the ones who objected to this execution because they objected to the death penalty in general?

Here’s where things turn a bit towards a double standard.

On the same night that Davis was put to death in Georgia, the state of Texas executed Lawrence Brewer, a self-described white supremacist, for the 1998 dragging death of a black man.

I didn’t hear the same furor over putting him to death. In fact, I heard none.

No one who was complaining about Davis’s execution had anything to say about Brewer’s. In fact, since Brewer’s execution, rather than all of the melodramatic mourning that people completely unrelated to Davis’s case have been making a big show of undertaking, we’re all in an uproar over Brewer because of a controversy over his last meal!

It was Brewer, the man executed on the same night Davis was put to death, who may well have ended the “last meal” option in Texas for other inmates because of a stunt he pulled during what would have been his own.

He ordered two chicken-fried steaks with gravy and sliced onions; a triple-patty bacon cheeseburger; a cheese omelet with ground beef, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers and jalapeños; a bowl of fried okra with ketchup; one pound of barbecued meat with half a loaf of white bread; three fajitas; a meat-lover’s pizza; one pint of Blue Bell Ice Cream; a slab of peanut-butter fudge with crushed peanuts; and three root beers.

And after all was prepared, he decided to eat none of it. Perhaps a final “Screw you!” to the state.
So if we feel anything for this guy, it’s anger, for his waste. If Davis had done the same thing, I suspect, his supporters would have applauded the last-minute hunger strike.

All of the people who stood so militantly about the killing of Davis being wrong because the government shouldn’t “kill in their name,” they sure didn’t seem to voice any objection to the government killing the other man in “their” name.

Where was the grace for Brewer they were so quick to give to Davis?

Because if you have an objection to the death penalty in principle, then you must object to its use in every case, even brutal ones like Brewer’s. If you object to the death penalty, then you should object to its use regardless of the situation, regardless of the case, and regardless of the color of the person being executed.

Did I just play the race card?

Why, yes, I did. Intentionally.

On the night of the executions, in Texas, where Brewer was awaiting his, civil rights activist Dick Gregory fasted for 18 hours to object to Brewer’s execution. A black civil rights activist was able to set aside the obvious racial undertones in the case of a white man accused of dragging a black man to death to argue against a bigger problem.

If you claim you object to the death penalty as a whole, not in specific cases, you should have been with Gregory. You should have protested both executions. If you only chose to object to one — not because of wishy-washy witnesses, but because you don’t want anyone to be executed — then I suggest that you go back and look at your words from last week.

Does what you said or wrote truly match what you say you believe?

7 Comments

  1. Excellent observation on ur part, Pat. I don’t know all the facts of this case as well as Hammond seems to but ur observation concerning the double standard is quite astute.

  2. Here’s a comment left by Hammond, that was also lost in the server glitch. (It continues as a reply to itself.)

    We all know that eyewitness testimony is shaky on a good day unless the witness knows the perpetrator. That’s not unique to Troy Davis, nor was it unique to any of the thousands who have been incarcerated and/or put to death based to some degree on eyewitness testimony throughout our land. All that said, it’s a moot point in the Davis case. Setting aside all the physical evidence, I’ve done some research into the eyewitnesses:

    In total, there were 34 witnesses called at his trial. Apparently, seven of those recanted all these years later and that prompted the Supreme Court to order a review of the evidence. At that point, two of the seven were never put on the stand at the review hearing (I cannot find a reason for this). The Federal Judge hearing the case said two of the remaining five offered the same testimony under oath at the review hearing as they did in the trial (thus not really recanting) and ultimately deemed that two of the remaining three were unreliable in the hearing.

    Of the seven who recanted in public, the only one deemed reliable by the judge was a jailhouse snitch. That doesn’t make him immediately dishonest, but his current home might call his reliability as a witness OR a recanting witness into question.

    (CONTINUED…)

    1. (…CONTINUED comment from Hammond)

      Of course, all this is a moot point. Under the law, being a participant in any crime in which someone dies (even one of the criminals) automatically upgrades the charge to murder. In my reading on the case, I can’t see anything that would indicate that Troy Davis claimed never to even be there or not to be there with the person he claimed to be the shooter – he just claimed to be innocent because he said he was the actual shooter.

      Setting the death penalty aspect aside, it seems that Mr. Davis received a fairly thorough trial and the verdict was well reviewed through the appellate process. Our system is not perfect by any means and I cannot say personally whether Mr. Davis was or was not actually guilty, but it seems to me that his trial and sentence were as fair as our system can offer.

  3. I agree Patrick, too much of this double standard with the media going on. We have to take color out of the argument. It has nothing to do with right or wrong and should not be a part of our principles and values that we live by.

    1. @MarkStumpJeffcoat Well, I wasn’t so much talking about the media as the general public, particularly those who took to Facebook and Twitter and attempted to argue against the death penalty in general by focusing on only one of the two executions of the evening.

      But for those who think the death penalty is inherently wrong in and of itself, you’re right: color shouldn’t be part of the argument.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 28 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.