Troy Davis, the Death Penalty and LWOP

Georgia executed Troy Davis for the murder of police officer Mark MacPhail on Sept. 21, 2011. Though Davis is black and MacPhail was white, the racial makeup of the jury (7 blacks, 5 whites) muted some potential claims of racial bias. Instead, the controversy over Davis’ execution was based on claims that Davis might be innocent. The conviction was based largely on testimony from eyewitnesses, many of whom have signed affidavits stating that their testimony was wrong. Some blamed the police for coercing them into false testimony,

Despite the recantations and the ensuing protests, the existing justice system has perhaps worked as best it can. Davis’ execution was postponed at least twice, and his attorneys appeared in court and contested the conviction. However, in the absence of DNA evidence (or other scientific evidence) that might have cleared Davis, judges refused to believe the witnesses’ recantations rather than their trial testimony. “Buyers remorse,” after all, is common: witnesses who feel bad about contributing to convictions (especially those that produce death penalties) often say that their testimony was mistaken.

Ultimately, replacing the death penalty with LWOP sentences (Life in Prison With No Possibility of Parole) is the only long-term solution to situations like the Troy Davis case. In the absence of conclusive scientific evidence, the criminal justice system is simply incapable of guaranteeing either that he is guilty or that he is innocent. Perhaps a clear answer would emerge in the fullness of time, but even postponed execution dates establish time limits that expire. LWOP sentences protect society in two ways. They guarantee that murderers will never get out of prison, and also guarantee that we will not carry out wrongful executions.