Georgia has set an execution date – again – for Troy Davis, accused, convicted and sentenced in 1991 for the murder of police officer Mark MacPhail in 1989.
Seven of the nine witnesses have recanted the testimony used to convict him, claiming they were coerced by police during the investigation.

One of the other two was himself a suspect who pointed to Davis as the killer, later reportedly telling a friend that he himself had pulled the trigger.

The appeal gamut has been run, so everything is perfectly “legal.” The last legal hope is a hearing before the Board of Pardons and Paroles on Sept. 19, two days before the scheduled execution.

Appeals for clemency have come from all over – the Pope, former President Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and a wide range of other religious leaders – yet there appears to be a resolve to act on decisions from courts that have declined to accept the uncertainty of the conviction’s basis.

Georgia may well execute an innocent man just because the law says we can.

One wonders why there is such a passion to follow through with an execution. What does this say about us?

Is it the same passion we saw in the recent candidate debate when the audience cheered Gov. Rick Perry’s record of approving 234 executions?

A recent graduate of our university, who came to college as a working adult student against significant odds, distinguished herself both academically and in active service to the community.

At her graduation, she was honored with the prestigious universitywide service award, in part because of her work in raising awareness about the death penalty.

Her name is Gloria Jordan, and she wrote recently offering her reflection on the state’s handling of the Troy Davis case. With her permission, I quote her words:

When Will We Ever Learn?

Troy Davis’ impending execution triggered old memories. My father was executed in the late fifties in Jim Crow Georgia for a crime that he probably did not commit.

Known before his service in the Korean War as The Gentle Giant, my father was executed three months after his arrest and buried the day after with full military honors. Just about all I have from my father is the flag that covered his casket.

My father’s arrest, imprisonment and execution changed my family forever. My mother never fully recovered. I never got to meet my father.

It would have been very easy for me to go through life with a chip on my shoulder. Somehow I realized early on that we can never even the score.

If we kill one man to avenge the death of the other, then the second death must also be avenged. There is no stopping place.

Executions don’t make us safe by killing the killer, even when there is no doubt who the killer is. A documented average of three copycat executions follows every State execution.

It is our own sense of vengeance that cries out for us to kill the killer. We lose all perspective about what kind of world we want our children and grandchildren to inhabit.

We keep going down that road over and over again, even though we know the great emotional, moral, and economic cost it is to the citizens of this state.

Violence begets violence, even when it is the violence of the State with our consent.

When will we ever learn?

– Gloria Jordan

Macon, Ga.

Gloria’s words and work have contributed to the historical momentum that will eventually lead to the elimination of the death penalty.

Groups such as the InnocenceProject and AmnestyInternational have demonstrated clearly that innocent people can be executed, and they have been instrumental in saving some who were wrongly convicted.

Eloquent arguments have been offered here and here at against the death penalty. Such arguments encourage careful reflection and re-examination of traditional ideas about the justice of “ultimate justice.”

Meanwhile, we can hope that the Board of Pardons and Paroles will not hide behind a veneer of legality to end a life that may indeed not be guilty of the crime for which he was convicted.

If that hope fails, perhaps Georgia’s governor, himself a distinguished graduate of the same university as Gloria, will find the courage to slow the cycle of violence that this execution represents.

ColinHarris is professor of religious studies at Mercer University and a member of Smoke Rise Baptist Church in Stone Mountain, Ga.

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