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Samaria Smith Headshot

Troy Davis Would Be Alive and Possibly Free Today If Re-Tried Like Amanda Knox in Italy

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TROY DAVIS
AFP/Getty Images

As I recall the minutes after his death, I think of the rage in my heart as I desperately sought understanding on how any system of justice could presume to be so perfect as to take a life for a life. Several months later, I carried my rage to Florence, Italy where I studied abroad in a Georgia State University law class, which compared the U.S. and Italian justice systems.

In Italy, I wrote about the case of Troy Davis -- the black Georgia man convicted of the 1989 shooting death of police officer Mark MacPhail. Simply stated, Davis's conviction, sentence, and lethal injection were administered under a reasonable amount of reasonable doubt.

Prior to Davis's execution, seven of nine trial witnesses recanted their statements that they saw Davis kill MacPhail, claiming that police coerced their testimony. Additional witnesses even came forth claiming to have heard another man confess to killing the officer. That man had actually been a person of interest in the original investigation, but conveniently became one of the witnesses for the prosecution.

Seven of nine recanting witnesses and an eighth whose credibility is questionable since he himself could have been the killer. The Georgia Supreme Court decided by a 4-3 vote that this new evidence was insufficient to warrant a new trial for Mr. Davis.

If tried in Italy, Davis could not have been killed -- capital punishment has been abolished in the country. The Italians have surpassed the U.S. in realizing that a permanent penalty has no place in a system of inevitable human error.

In Italy, judges sit and deliberate the facts with jurors in homicide cases. This feature of the Italian legal system likely limits the chances of subjectivity, prejudice, and decisions fueled by the emotions of inexperienced "peers" subjected to media persuasion and personal agendas.

Though she served four years in prison, I suppose Amanda Knox should be grateful for the mercies of a re-trial. Unlike the U.S. legal system, Knox's first appeal was actually a second trial in which the defense introduced new evidence that exonerated Knox for the crime of murder. For Davis, the benefit of a re-trial on appeal would have allowed the introduction of new testimony of police coercion in the original trial.

The main lesson that the U.S. may learn from Italy is that our system is flawed. Had experienced judges deliberated with the jury in Davis's trial, had new evidence been considered carefully at a re-trial, had the realization that we are not always right received the slightest acknowledgment, perhaps Troy Davis would be alive today.

Capital punishment serves no justice in an imperfect system. If there is any truth to Davis's proclamation that he was innocent, then we have not delivered justice in the case of fallen Officer Mark MacPhail. We have then committed the same crime for which Davis was convicted and killed.

Many Americans support capital punishment with retribution in their hearts -- a life for a life. I admit there are times when I too believe that death is deserved. Particularly, when a heavily armed gunman goes into a movie theater filled with innocent people and kills in cold blood.

Nevertheless, in our great country, even such a villain deserves his day in court and the single determining factor of his guilt should be based on the most important standard of our justice system -- innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Since we cannot be certain every time, we must not kill any time.

It is better to let all guilty people spend the rest of their lives in cages, than to murder a single one under an inkling of doubt. The execution of Troy Davis is by far the gravest miscarriage of justice and I am saddened to have witnessed it.