To my mind, anyway.
First, I’m no expert on the Troy Davis case, even though I read the newspapers and stayed in a Holiday Inn Express once. Per usual, the barrels of cyberink spent re-litigating the case show our problem to be epistemological; very few have more than the advocate’s version [for or against “reasonable doubt” in this case], although this lessens their passion and conviction not a whit. Pass.
As Jonathan Rowe noted in the comments on the mainpage, the strongest argument for capital punishment is that killers often kill again: after release from prison, perhaps even more often while in prison. Speaking for the greatest good for the greatest number, far more innocents would be saved by the timely execution of murderers than would innocents be executed in error. It’s not even close or arguable from the data.
Still, utilitarianism doesn’t sit well with our sense of justice. It can be equally easy to demonstrate that the whole circus just isn’t worth it as practiced today—the endless appeals, the minimization of any deterrent value by the sparing application of the death sentence. California spends $308 million on each execution and it’s difficult to imagine that nets a worthwhile return. And of course the race dimension makes any empirical discussion impossible. The race card is always top trump.
My reservation, my lean against capital punishment, is a “soft” argument, aesthetic, if you will, and although it could probably be fortified by data, I wouldn’t claim that would be sufficient. Still:
A letter sent to Georgia governor Nathan Deal, that the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles reconsider their denial of clemency for Troy Davis–
We write to you as former wardens and corrections officials who have had direct involvement in executions. Like few others in this country, we understand that you have a job to do in carrying out the lawful orders of the judiciary. We also understand, from our own personal experiences, the awful lifelong repercussions that come from participating in the execution of prisoners. While most of the prisoners whose executions we participated in accepted responsibility for the crimes for which they were punished, some of us have also executed prisoners who maintained their innocence until the end. It is those cases that are most haunting to an executioner.
We write to you today with the overwhelming concern that an innocent person could be executed in Georgia tonight. We know the legal process has exhausted itself in the case of Troy Anthony Davis, and yet, doubt about his guilt remains. This very fact will have an irreversible and damaging impact on your staff. Many people of significant standing share these concerns, including, notably, William Sessions, Director of the FBI under President Ronald Reagan.
Living with the nightmares is something that we know from experience. No one has the right to ask a public servant to take on a lifelong sentence of nagging doubt, and for some of us, shame and guilt. Should our justice system be causing so much harm to so many people when there is an alternative?
We urge you to ask the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to reconsider their decision. Should that fail, we urge you to unburden yourselves and your staff from the pain of participating in such a questionable execution to the extent possible by allowing any personnel so inclined to opt-out of activities related to the execution of Troy Anthony Davis. Further, we urge you to provide appropriate counseling to personnel who do choose to perform their job functions related to the execution. If we may be of assistance to you moving forward, please do not hesitate to call upon any of us.
Respectfully and collegially,
Allen Ault – Retired Warden, Georgia Diagnostic & Classifications Prison
Terry Collins – Retired Director, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction
Ron McAndrew – Retired Warden, Florida State Prison
Dennis O’Neill – Retired Warden, Florida State Prison
Reginald Wilkinson – Retired Director, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction
Jeanne Woodford – Retired Warden, San Quentin State Prison
In a very real way, we are all the executioners: the state performs the deed on our behalf. So too, we all share the same nightmare.