This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
By Ralph Dellapiana
Troy Davis was executed in Georgia on Sept. 21 for a crime he may not have committed. Davis was on death row in Georgia for the 1991 murder of police officer Mark MacPhail.
However after his conviction, seven of the nine witnesses who testified against him recanted and no physical evidence links Davis to the crime. New witnesses implicated Sylvester Coles, the man who brought Troy Davis to police, as the man who shot the officer, with some claiming that he confessed to pulling the trigger. No one should be executed when there are so many substantial doubts about guilt.
Requests to commute Davis' sentence to life without parole came from such extraordinary figures as Pope Benedict, former President Jimmy Carter, and the former head of the FBI Williams Sessions, who generally supports the death penalty. Death row inmate Troy Davis was denied clemency by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles.
As Sessions put it, writing in the Atlanta Journal Constitution before the execution, "Serious questions about Davis' guilt, highlighted by witness recantations, allegations of police coercion and a lack of relevant physical evidence, continue to plague his conviction."
He called upon the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to exercise "a measure of compassion and humanity." He concluded that there is too much doubt to allow an execution. Add to that an online petition that generated over 1 million signatures in opposition of his execution.
Since the death penalty was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court, many innocent people have been convicted and sentenced to death. Since that time 1,270 people have been executed, but 138 have been exonerated. That shocking percentage of error cannot be tolerated.
Utah recently witnessed an exoneration in Debra Brown's murder case. As the Utah attorney general said in a press release: "In the interest of justice and mercy the time has come to bring closure to Debra Brown and everyone involved in this case. She served 17 years in prison and a judge has found her factually innocent. Our office will vigilantly fight to make sure the justice system punishes the guilty and protects the innocent."
There have been many calls in Utah, including from the attorney general himself, to rush the appeals process. Debra Brown was incarcerated for 17 years before being found innocent. There are good reasons the U.S. Constitution provides protection for those accused of crimes. What if Debra Brown had been sentenced to death and executed? The system is just too flawed.
Because of the many flaws in our death penalty system, in 2009 the American Law Institute, which had endeavored for many years to develop such "procedural and substantial rules" for the "fair" application of the death penalty, deleted it altogether from the Model Penal Code "in light of the current intractable institutional and structural obstacles to ensuring a minimally adequate system for administering capital punishment." This is significant because the Model Penal Code has been the primary guide to states in drafting their death penalty statutes.
Utah should end the use of the death penalty. A system in which life without parole is the maximum sentence provides safety from wrongful executions, much lower costs to taxpayers and much faster resolution for the families of victims.
Almost all other developed nations and a growing number of states have done so.
Ralph Dellapiana is director of Utahns for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.