By Maria Telesco
In days of yore, crime victims’ families took swift revenge. If a neighbor stole your goat, they’d slaughter his entire herd in retaliation. If someone was killed, they’d massacre the offender’s entire clan to get even. As civilization progressed, “eye for an eye” became the standard for maximum retribution. Victims’ families, overcome with emotion, couldn’t determine fair punishments, so justice demanded that impartial community members decide on appropriate penalties, giving birth to laws, judges and courts.
In the Middle Ages, Prophet Mohammed redefined Islamic laws, founded on Quranic moral principles. A new category (Qisas) for crimes meriting retaliation, such as murder, was added. The victim of a Qisas crime, or his family, has the right to seek retribution and retaliation. A murder victim’s family may seek public execution of the offender, or a financial settlement (Diya), or they may opt to seek a pardon for the offender. Make a note of that: They may opt to seek a pardon for the killer.
In our country, victims’ rights surfaced and politics got involved; some believe they’ve reverted to the ancient “family revenge” mode. Then, after 9/11, Americans decided to abhor everything Muslim. Lately, anyone running for office anywhere, from Dog Catcher in Hog Holler to President of the Ladies’ Auxiliary in Hooterville has on their platform “No Sharia Law.”
Well, here’s some news for them! Troy Davis was killed by our twisted version of Sharia law that’s a fundamental part of our death penalty; Prophet Mohammed would weep if he could see the distortion. None of our death penalty laws or protocols give anyone the right to seek mercy or a pardon for the condemned, but victims’ families do have the right to demand execution—even of the innocent.
Homicide prosecutors often ask victims’ families if they want the death penalty. If the family says “yes,” the DA pontificates, “We must honor the wishes of the victim’s family.” If the victim’s family says “no,” the DA says, “We control the justice system, not you, and we will demand the death penalty whether or not you agree.” To Bud Welch, father of a young woman killed in the Oklahoma City bombing, who opposes capital punishment on religious grounds, the DA said, “Well, it’s obvious you didn’t love your daughter.”
In Davis’s case, the DA said he must “honor the request” of Officer Mark MacPhail’s mother to execute Davis. The requests of more than one million people worldwide, who begged that this innocent man’s life be spared, were not honored. In this instance, Sharia law is far more compassionate.
Self-proclaimed “Christians,” like Texas Gov. Rick Perry, erroneously declare that “this is a Christian nation, and it’s God’s will that we kill murderers.” Catholic Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said it is constitutionally permissible to execute the innocent “as long as the trial was fair.” How can a trial be “fair” when it convicted and condemned someone who isn’t the killer?
Capital punishment is always immoral and serves no useful purpose. As administered in this country, it’s racist, corrupt, inconsistent and arbitrary. Civilized countries eliminated it decades ago, leaving us in the company of China, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran.
Davis was lynched in the Southern good ol’ boy tradition: Frame a vulnerable Black guy for killing a White cop. Davis was that “boy,” at the wrong place at the wrong time. When police arrived at the scene, Redd Coles, an acquaintance of Davis’s, believed by many to be the actual killer, hastened to inform them that he saw Davis shoot off-duty Officer MacPhail. That was it; Davis was doomed.
Standard investigation procedures require deductive reasoning: Examine clues and evidence, see whom they lead to. Most unjust convictions, like Davis’s, result from inductive reasoning: Find a fall guy, decide he did it, look for clues to support your theory and
destroy any evidence that points to someone else.
Georgia’s “system” toyed with Davis for 22 years, three times bringing him within minutes of execution, then giving last-minute reprieves. The fourth time, and now Davis is dead. MacPhail is still dead—killing Davis did not restore him to life—and Coles is alive and thriving.
Besides Coles’ claim that Davis did it, where’s the evidence? In a corrupt system, you don’t need much; supposition and imagination suffice to convict. There was the following:
- No physical evidence, neither DNA, nor gun, nor
- Worthless eyewitness ID—a few days after murdering Davis, the State of Georgia released a report stating they realized eyewitness ID is “extremely flawed and rarely correct.”
- The fact that seven of nine “eyewitnesses” recanted their testimony, saying police coerced them into “testilying” they saw Davis kill MacPhail.
- The “eyewitness” who did not recant was—guess who?—Coles.
Our “system” is irreparably flawed, as determined by numerous government commissions:
- Any “warm body” can represent a capital case defendant.
- Appellate lawyers, of whom there are few, require many qualifications, but are paid a pittance, an incongruity that drags out time on death row to 20 or 30 years.
- A defendant can be convicted and condemned on little or no evidence of guilt.
- DAs and cops rely on “testilying” to get their version of what happened on record.
- Appellate law says evidence of innocence has to be “clear and convincing.” A Texas appellate judge said, “Show me a video of someone else committing the crime, along with a signed confession, I’ll still say ‘It ain’t clear and I ain’t convinced; Kill the [defendant] summabitch.’”
- Most DAs and judges are elected, so to assure reelection, they seek convictions, not truth. Voters and politicians scorn judges and DAs who don’t send anyone to death row. Isn’t that what we pay them for—to be tough on crime? Guilt or innocence is irrelevant as long as you “win.”
- All jurors in capital cases must be “death qualified”; those who oppose the death penalty are not permitted to sit on a capital case jury.
- If a defendant takes a Polygraph exam, and it shows
innocence, prosecutors claim you can’t trust those tests, they’re “junk science” and they’re not admissible in court, which proves they’re unreliable.
- If the test says he’s guilty, the DA alleges the devices are 100% accurate and prove the defendant’s guilt, even if the judge won’t admit it into the record for some “minor technical reason.”
- Most residents of death row are people of color, and all are poor. No rich person has ever been condemned to death, let alone executed, in this country. Nobody knows if O.J. Simpson was innocent or guilty, but he is Black, accused of killing two Whites. He had $10 million, which bought him the best lawyers in town, and he was acquitted. The Simpson case DA said he didn’t even ask for the death penalty because O.J. “was so popular with the public.” Would down-and-out-flat-broke-Black John Smith, neither rich, famous nor popular, have been acquitted in that case?
- Prosecutors and police rely on jailhouse snitches who get special privileges and/or reduced sentences for “testilying” that a defendant “confessed” to them.
- Police and DAs conceal and withhold exculpatory evidence from the defense, and fabricate inculpatory “evidence”; they rarely get caught, but if so they’re protected by “immunity” laws.
“Bloodthirsty” is the kindest word I can think of for those who operate our legalized state murder machine. When a condemned inmate uncovers information that might lead to exoneration, those in power hasten to execute him before he can prove
innocence. What’s the rush? Right now, in Texas, Hank Skinner is, like Davis was, in that situation. Police and prosecutors withheld evidence, including blood and other bodily fluids. A judge ordered DNA tests be done. Another judge ordered Skinner be executed before the tests are implemented; as of this writing, the death date is Nov. 9.
The Fresno Bee recently reported that defense lawyers in the Krista Pike murder case accused the Madera police of withholding police reports that would indicate someone other than their clients committed the crime. A judge said the department did not have to turn over the documents to the defense.
Regarding the recent Amanda Knox case, the U.K. Guardian newspaper describes how Italian prosecutors and police said they knew Amanda was guilty simply by looking at her—they didn’t need any other evidence—because of the way she looked at people, moved her eyes, and her body language and positioning. She was found guilty, although a second trial exonerated her.
I’ve been in courtrooms during many murder trials and seen what some prosecutors get away with. They are not testifying nor under oath, so just like the Knox case prosecutors, they convict defendants with adjectives: diabolical, pathological, maniacal, evil, perverted, predatory, satanic. Prosecutors sometimes say that if the defendant is showing emotion, that’s proof of guilt. In another case, the same prosecutor says lack of visible emotion proves guilt.
One prosecutor said the defendant had no family members present in court, proving his guilt: His family did not believe in him enough to be supportive. He omitted mentioning that the DA had all relatives excluded from the courtroom by putting them on his witness list. At another trial a few years later, I heard the same prosecutor comment that a defendant’s family—four or five elderly relatives—were there, which proved his guilt: They were his “gang,” there to “intimidate witnesses and jurors.”
Some people claim exonerees “got off on a technicality.” I’ve never known that to happen, but in many cases innocent persons have been executed on technicalities: Roger Coleman in Virginia, Leonel Herrera and Todd Willingham in Texas, and many others.
The execution of the innocent Davis has fanned the flames of abolition more than any case since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Martyred on the political, racist, blood-soaked altar of human sacrifice called the death penalty, let us strive to make Davis’s death the final one.
We need to clean up the corruption in our judicial system so the guilty are convicted on facts, not propaganda, and the innocent are set free. And we need to follow the example of all European nations and other civilized countries and eliminate capital punishment once and for all. Its time has come.
Maria Telesco is a retired registered nurse who has volunteered in various aspects of prison ministry for more than 25 years. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.