Friday, September 23, 2011
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
The execution of Troy Davis has once again put the issue of capital punishment in the spotlight. I confess at the outset that I am not sympathetic to the case. I believe that he received a fair trial and plenty of appeals. He was on death row for 22 years, and during that time his case was reviewed by 12 courts of appeal. He was convicted by a jury, and despite what is going around on the internet, there were multiple eyewitnesses who will still testify to this day that they saw Davis shoot a man in the middle of a parking lot in cold blood for interfering with the pistol whipping he was giving to another man.
The case made me wonder this: if the prosecution brought forward 34 witnesses to this deed, if a jury convicted the man, if the jury recommended the death penalty, if Davis lost every appeal, if the case was reviewed by 12 courts and once again at the order of the Supreme Court, and Davis was still executed, at what point would the critics of his execution be satisfied that due process was followed?
If someone is against capital punishment, I understand their never being satisfied with the verdict. It seems to me, however, that something different than that may be at play here. That is, if we live in a culture that has, by and large, rejected the idea of absolute truth. If we are allergic to objective truths by nature, then I wonder what sort of evidence is required now to prove anything "beyond a reasonable doubt"? It seems impossible to do so in a culture that is convinced the only reasonable thing to do IS doubt.
The PR team for the defense performed a near coup. They lost in the courtroom multiple times, but they seem to be winning in public opinion. How? They cast doubt on the judicial system. They said "seven of nine" eye-witnesses recanted. The public believed that, but is it true? There were 34 witnesses, not nine. None of the recantations made said that Davis didn't do it; they simply said they were no longer sure it was him. Actually, only two of the seven were supposed to have said that, but the defense never let them testify. Why not?
The defense also cast doubt on the officers who investigated the case by saying they coerced witnesses. Did anyone ask if the defense coerced the witnesses before the appeal? And, why are we ready to believe that the police stepped over the line without their being subject to a fair trial? The defense says that the witnesses said that they were coerced, and we just believe that? The courts didn't, and there are still witnesses to this day, even by the defenses account, that are willing to take the stand and say, "I saw Troy Davis shoot Mark MacPhail in the parking lot."
What does it take, then, to prove something beyond a reasonable doubt? Two eyewitnesses? Twenty? A video of the incident? DNA? Or could it be that we are simply so uncomfortable with saying, "This is the truth" that we can hardly pass judgment on anything anymore?