Justice Antonin Scalia was once quoted as saying, "Mere factual innocence is no reason not to carry out a death sentence properly reached." When I read that, I tried to imagine a context in which that statement wouldn't seem so obscene. I failed.
When Troy Davis' execution was stayed yesterday, while the Supreme Court deliberated his fate, I didn't hold out much hope. Justice Scalia's statement is only one of the many reasons why.
There was another execution yesterday. Lawrence Brewer was put to death in Texas for the murder of James Byrd Jr. I don't believe he should have been put to death, either. Not because there was any doubt about his guilt. There wasn't.
It was, in fact, one of the most heinous crimes I've ever read about. Testimony showed Brewer, John William King, and Shawn Berry, offered Byrd, 49, a ride in Berry's pickup June 7, 1998. Byrd wound up bound by his ankles with a heavy 24-foot logging chain attached to the bumper, bouncing from side to side as he desperately tried to limit his injuries by lifting himself. At a sharp left curve in the road, he whipsawed to the right and struck a concrete culvert, which decapitated him.
A pathologist testified that Byrd had been alive until that point.
I must admit that I won't lose sleep over the execution of brewer, but I'm still against the death penalty. In this case, for a different reason. Some people will never be dead enough. And there are things in this world worse than death. Life in prison is one of them.
But my main reasoning is that the taking of a life is the ultimate crime, the ultimate selfishness. There's no coming back from it, no way to make it right if a mistake is made.
So, a State that would sanction such a thing can, in no way, call itself civilized. You would think such simple logic would be self-evident. Apparently not.