Monday, May 22, 2006

Lasting doubts

This is what it's like for those who do pro bono death penalty work.

I paused on Wednesday, as I do every May 17, to remember a man who was executed for a murder I am certain he didn't commit. Timing is everything, of course, and former Gov. George Ryan's decision in 2003 to empty Illinois' Death Row came too late to save my client and friend, Girvies Davis, who was put to death on May 17, 1995. By the time I got involved in the case, 15 years after the trial and five months before the execution, nothing short of finding the real murderer would have saved Davis' life. Our criminal justice system admits mistakes only when it has to, and belated attempts to cast doubt on a verdict are usually swept aside, regardless of merit, unless the defendant can actually prove his innocence. Proving a defendant's innocence, though, is a tall task. Because there were no witnesses against Davis, there were no statements to recant; because there was no forensic evidence, there were no DNA tests to run.

The attorney client privilege permits defense lawyers to get very close to their clients and to hear things that no prosecutor will ever hear. Invariably, this leads to judgments and insights that have lasting effects on the pro bono capital defense lawyer. There is simply no way for anyone who has not done this type of work to understand the depth of Mr. Schwartz's feelings that lead him to remember his client on each May 17 for the past 11 years. There are many different equally valid perspectives from which to consider the appropriateness of having a death penalty. I applaud Mr. Schwartz for expressing his.


Blogger Rural Writer said...

I work with lots of the women on death row. I know first hand what it feels like to see someone you care for be killed for something there is so much doubt about.It is insane.

8:43 PM  

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