/ 23 September 2011

Troy Davis: Vengeance dressed up as justice

Troy Davis: Vengeance Dressed Up As Justice

Even though the idea of the death penalty appals me, I would not have minded it for myself when I stood up at the Old Bailey. I was a low-life character, and I had become very dangerous. I was convicted of appalling offences — of murder.

Two decades later, when I was freed from prison, I was a changed man. If they had executed me 20 years after my crimes, they would have killed someone else. This is what has happened to Troy Davis. He was found guilty of killing a policeman in 1989, when he was 20. Twenty-two years on, he was a different person. If there must be a death penalty, people should be executed soon after their trial, or not at all.

Davis maintained his innocence from the beginning. Clearly the jury were presented with sufficient evidence at his trial to persuade them that he killed police officer Mark MacPhail, but since then seven witnesses have recanted their evidence, according to Davis’s lawyers. I’ve been following his case, and he was clearly an intelligent, clear-minded and thoughtful individual. Two decades on death row and then, bam, he’s put down. The way he went to his death showed he was bigger than the system that killed him. I was struck by his dignity and courtesy in his final moments. If he was guilty, why didn’t he say, “I’m sorry, here’s the truth” to MacPhail’s family? He had nothing to lose.

‘Prison life is not watching Sky TV’
It is very difficult to maintain your innocence for so long if you are guilty. I was in denial for several years. Eventually I confessed to a psychologist in prison and responded to the help I was offered. Prison life is not watching Sky TV and then release. It is not easy to live with your guilt. But lots of prisoners do respond. I was turned into someone able to live in civilised society and now I feel very blessed that I wasn’t executed.

My victims are no longer free to live in society and their families may not be at peace. But putting someone to death is not justice, it’s vengeance. I can’t see that it gives a bereaved family comfort. It may give them some satisfaction, but it will not heal their wounds.

Young civilisation
There are periodic eruptions against the death penalty in the US when it is perceived that an innocent person has been killed. Certainly Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter and millions of others on social media believe Davis’s protests of innocence. But I can’t see anything changing — the US is a young civilisation and the death penalty serves the interests of elected judges and lawyers who are supported by majority-opinion and much of the media.

Some say US executions are humane, which is an oxymoron. Executing people as a punishment is a base instinct, vengeance dressed up as justice, and unbecoming of a civilised society. If a referendum ever reintroduced the death penalty in the United Kingdom, they should hold the executions in Trafalgar Square. Faced with completely transparent state-sanctioned killings, I wonder how long people would support the death penalty. – guardian.co.uk