Will you indulge me for a moment? I wish to borrow from a small portion of the movie “A Time to Kill”.
I want to tell you a story. I want you to listen to me. I want you to listen to yourselves. Go ahead. This is a story about a man from Georgia. I want you to picture this man. This man was arrested and charged with shooting, and ultimately murdering, an off-duty police officer. The trial was largely based on the testimony of nine witnesses. No murder weapon was recovered and a ballistics expert admitted doubt to certain findings regarding the bullet that killed the victim. Despite the man’s fervent claim of innocence, the jury convicted him of murder. He was subsequently sentenced to death.
In the two decades that followed, the man never wavered on his innocence. However, during that time, seven of the nine witnesses recanted their testimony – telling that police pressured and coerced them into implicating the man. In fact, another man was reported by several people to have confessed to the crime. This man was scheduled to die three separate times and in each case it was delayed due to doubt. Imagine the man’s mental state during this unsure time and know he always maintained his innocence. After hearing of his story, over one million people spoke as one to request his execution be stayed in order that the doubt might rightfully be addressed. From those people, some were average Joes, some were government officials, some lived in foreign lands, one was a former President, one was a Nobel laureate, and another was a Pope. These people were not required to know he was innocent or to know he was guilty. They simply acknowledged that there was substantial doubt.
Now picture that despite all of the information that seemingly called into question this man’s guilt, officials opted to trust an imperfect system by exacting a punishment whose permanency demands perfection. The man was injected with sodium thiopental or pentobarbital, which rendered him unconscious. Next, he was injected with pancuronium bromide in order to paralyze his respiratory system. Finally, potassium chloride was injected to stop his heart. The man died at 11:08 p.m. from cardiac arrest. Imagine this man lying dead on a gurney in Georgia. Can you see him? I want you to picture that man. Now imagine he’s white.