Going for Death Penalty or Not?
Every profession has its own privileges, prestige, experiences and hazards. Medical personnel, for example, expose themselves constantly to death and sufferings of patients, experience they cannot do away with.
In the same vein, they have the first-hand experience when the layers of status we have created around ourselves crumble, living us bare as we beg them for relief and a chance to live.
No one can deceive a medical officer that he or she is a super-human due to wealth, position qualifications or power.
Everyone rush to them when the reminder of our mortality and weakness rings.
Lawyers are another breed of people whose profession expose them to bona fide secretes of clients which they hold in privilege.
They have the opportunity to visit inmates in prison cells, especially those who have been condemned to death.
Some have spent years visiting death-row prisons, spoken to inmates as they waited for death, sometimes up to the night they were killed.
Some have seen tears, heard elaborate lies and have been asked by clients about how to find peace.
Some have also seen how individuals respond when hope expires.
Some refusing to leave their cells and must be dragged away to die.
Truth and Justice
In the course of defending suspected criminals, these are some of the grueling experiences lawyers are exposed to, not to talk about the long hours of trudging through paper work including police and autopsy reports, witness statements and other trial papers.
Lawyers go through this trouble because of the fees actually.
Besides, there is also a wish to see truth exposed. Principle plays a role too.
Some are not dead against condemning criminals to death if full trial has proven them guilty of a serious crime.
What they hate is how the capital punishment is applied.
“If you have to be killed or execute a suspected criminal, you better be goddamn sure!”
Many lawyers are of the view that the processes leading to execution most of the time cannot be trusted because, human elements can interfere in the trial process sometimes.
It is also possible for prosecutors and judges to worry about being seen as tough enough to earn promotion.
Besides, only few people care about truth, especially when dealing with the poor, underprivileged and the badly-represented.
Trial lawyers and donors eager to expose misuse of the death penalty in some jurisdictions have shown up so many flaws.
Most common are clues implying withholding of evidence by prosecutors that might have helped the defence.
Some witnesses’ testimony in court also proves very different from their initial report to police.
Some cases with racial overtone, mostly in state courts and federal appeals in the United States, especially, were found to be prejudiced from the start.
There have been discovered evidence of false testimonies from racist witnesses, destruction of exculpatory evidence by police, and collaboration between prosecutors and judges.
Clarence Brandley, a black janitor wrongly convicted of raping and strangling a white teenager was a clear case in point.
In 1981, an all-white jury sentenced him to death.
One of the two white janitors, who were present at the scene when the murder took place, had already confessed the murder to his girlfriend after coming home with blood on his shoes.
Neither of them were prosecuted.
Later investigations got them on video saying Bradly was not involved in the crime.
The testimony had come within just days of two scheduled execution dates, in 1985 and 1987.
It took until December 1989 for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to overturn the conviction.
How many wrongly convicted criminals do we have in our country’s prisons currently?
How many times have we not seen news report of few whose convictions have been overturned after more of their life have been wasted behind prison bars?
This is one strong ground for campaign against the death penalty.
However, we should also be careful not to romanticise the condemn and overlook the fact that, those who are sentenced to death are nonetheless not angels.
Most often people are not all that innocent.
The writer is with the Institute of Current Affairs and Diplomacy (ICAD)