What happens when you expedite the death penalty

The Post ran an incredibly distressing story yesterday about a man on death row, whom evidence increasingly seems to indicate may be innocent, but may very well be executed this week anyway.  In an effort to speed up the death penalty, we have greatly limited the opportunity for convicts to appeal a death sentence to the federal court.  This means that even if evidence of actual innocence may emerge the courts can refuse to hear it if they've already given the guy a chance.  The simply, and poorly understood, fact of the death penalty is that the faster you make the process of executing people and the fewer appeals you give them, the greater the likelihood that you will kill innocent people.  All those persons who complain about murderers hanging out on death row too long need to understand that the alternative is surely executing innocent people.  Sadly, in discussions about the death penalty with my students, many appear to be willing to make that trade-off.  Anyway, read the article and see if you don't think we need to do things differently:

SAVANNAH, Ga. — A Georgia
man is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on Tuesday for
killing a police officer in 1989, even though the case against him has
withered in recent years as most of the key witnesses at his trial have
recanted and in some cases said they lied under pressure from police.

discount the significance of the recantations and argue that it is too
late to present such evidence. But supporters of Troy Davis,
38, and some legal scholars say the case illustrates the dangers
wrought by decades of Supreme Court decisions and new laws that have
rendered the courts less likely to overturn a death sentence.

Three of four witnesses who testified at trial that Davis shot the
officer have signed statements contradicting their identification of
the gunman. Two other witnesses — a fellow inmate and a neighborhood
acquaintance who told police that Davis had confessed to the shooting
— have said they made it up.

Other witnesses point the finger
not at Davis but at another man. Yet none has testified during his
appeals because federal courts barred their testimony.

“It's getting scary,” Davis said by phone last week. “They don't want to hear the new facts.”

“There is no more serious violent crime than the murder of an off-duty
police officer who was putting his life on the line to protect innocent
bystanders,” William S. Sessions, FBI director under presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, wrote recently in an op-ed piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. But “serious questions have been raised about Davis's guilt. . . . It would be intolerable to execute an innocent man.”

Those who have recanted their testimony against Davis claim that the police threatened and coerced them into putting the murder on him.  And if you don't think the police still do these things, I've got a bridge to sell you.  And, you need to watch my all time favorite documentary, Murder on a Sunday Morning

UPDATE: Just as I was about to post this, I learned that the Georgia clemency board granted a 90-day stay of execution.  Good for them. 


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

One Response to What happens when you expedite the death penalty

  1. nevaeh says:

    im 11 i know what happens on death row you have to wait for you date comes then you get a last meal of your choosing . then they stick a needle in you arm and then 10 minuts later your dead

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