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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Quand la justice américaine devient criminelle

by Camille Le Coz and Aurélien Soucheyre

The Death Penalty: When American Justice Becomes Criminal

Translated Friday 24 August 2007, by Emma Paulay

The death penalty. The sentences of Troy Davis and Kenneth Foster Jr show the incoherence of the US penal system.

The absence of tangible evidence, the biased treatment, police pressure, judicial errors, disproportionate sentences and inappropriate legislation all reveal the cracks in the US penal system. The fate of Troy Davis (1) and Kenneth Foster Jr bears witness to this. The first, an African-American, was sentenced to death in 1991 for the murder of a white policeman, although there is no physical evidence against him. The case against him consisted of testimonial evidence from nine witnesses. Six of them have since recanted their testimony and accused the police of forcing them at the time. In addition to this, there is the instable situation of the Georgia Resource Center, provider of legal aid to those on death row, whose subsidies and personnel have been reduced. Troy Davis, victim of iniquitous and racist judgement, is supported in the United States and throughout the world by personalities such as Nobel Peace prize winner, Desmond Tutu and Sister Helen Prejean. They argue that all defendants have the right to a fair hearing.

The case of Kenneth Foster Junior, also sentenced to death, is quite different. One night, in August 1996, Mauriceo Brown got out of a car driven by Kenneth foster Jr and killed Michael Hahood Jr, the son of a well-known San Antonio lawyer. The murderer, who was executed in July 2006, admitted that Kenneth had nothing to do with the crime. However, in accordance with the 1974 law of parties in force in Texas, a state sadly well-known for its many executions, an individual can be accused of being “a secondary perpetrator of a crime” and as such, be held legally responsible for it. Worse, the law permits the accusation of a person who was at the scene of a crime and did not anticipate or prevent it from taking place. As so often happens, Kenneth Foster has not had the right to a fair trial. The circumstances of the crime have been distorted, the testimonials extorted and the defence was a poor show.

The verdict was recognised as unconstitutional in March 2005, but the twists and turns of the judicial system finally ended up by going back on this decision. All appeals have since been rejected. Kenneth Foster Jr, who defends his cause through politics and poetry, is due to be executed on 30 August for a crime that he could not prevent.

(1) Since this article was written, Troy Davis’ execution has been stayed and he has been granted the right to appeal by the Supreme Court of Georgia.

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