Op-Ed

Ky. not immune from death-penalty errors

Wednesday night, Troy Davis was executed in Georgia. Since Davis' conviction, the majority of witnesses recanted their testimonies against him; some explained in sworn affidavits that the police had coerced them.

One of the remaining two witnesses who claim Davis is the killer is suspected of committing the crime himself. In fact, nine people have implicated Sylvester Coles, the other primary suspect. There is no physical evidence tying Troy Davis to the crime.

We all know the issue of mistaken identity is not unfamiliar to our criminal justice system or to the death penalty in particular. Unfortunately, neither is police misconduct. Even when evidence is available, it is not always incontrovertible.

Take the Kentucky case of Edwin Chandler.

Chandler spent 16 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. His innocence came as a shock at first. After all, he had confessed, a witness had identified him and, unlike the Davis case, there was DNA evidence.

During interrogation, Chandler explained he had nothing to do with the murder but, after the police who interrogated him threatened the well-being of Chandler's sister and girlfriend, he confessed to the crime.

While there was DNA evidence at the scene, it was not until Sgt. Denny Butler retested a beer bottle 15 years later, that a match was made with a man already serving time in prison for assault. The same man was identified by an eyewitness, John Gray, in 1993.

Gray gave his contact information to a county office, but his number never made it to the investigators. Gray called the station and wrote a letter to detectives; he never received a response. The jury never heard from him.

In 2009, Jefferson Circuit Judge Fred Cowan vacated the charges against Chandler when law enforcement concluded they had convicted the wrong man. In an interview, Chandler said, "This is like a big, old dream."

Chandler's story, like Davis', reminds us that the death penalty is not reserved for murderous criminals. Like any sentence or, for that matter, any decision, sometimes we make mistakes.

Even ardent death-penalty supporters will agree: As long as executions exist, we will, on occasion, kill an innocent person.

This will never be acceptable.

  Comments