The worst feeling in the world

Hopefully time will tell whether Troy Davis, the American prisoner executed in Georgia last week, was actually guilty of the murder he was accused of.

For everyone's sake I hope he was.

I'm not a believer in the death penalty and, even if Davis did pull the trigger of the gun that killed 27-year-old off-duty cop Mark MacPhail in 1989, I know there are other, better ways ways to punish people for such crimes.

However, this is not a post about the death penalty.

Suffice it to say, I think beliefs about capital punishment are tied unerringly to whether people think man can evolve into a more humane, enlightened being or whether we remain tethered to our brutal past. I choose to believe the former.

As I reflected on Davis's execution last week, I thought of the words of a friend, El Guapo, who once talked to me of what he considered would be the worst feeling on earth: being accused of a crime you did not commit.

"It must be terrible doing something horrific and then being hated by the public and the media and having to bear all that guilt - but imagine having to go through it and it wasn't you who did it," El Guapo said.

We'd been discussing the case of Giovanni Ramirez, a convicted felon who'd been wrongly accused of beating a San Francisco Giants fan close to death at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles in March this year.

The case drew massive publicity in the US because the injured fan, Bryan Stow, was a law-biding paramedic with two kids and Ramirez was a tattooed former gang member.

Stow is unlikely to fully recover, having just come out of an induced coma; he has suffered major brain damage and is still battling serious medical complications. His life has been ruined.

Thing is, Giovanni Ramirez didn't do it. He was at an uncle's BBQ and has now been exonerated, although he's still in jail because of a parole violation - the cops found a gun at his house when they wrongly arrested him for Stow's bashing.

Ramirez is no saint, but it surely must have sucked the big one having half the US calling for your jailing and/or death because you just happened to have a similar neck tattoo to the grubs now alleged to have beaten Stow.

Closer to home, we've recently seen independent Senator Nick Xenophon use parliamentary privilege to name Adelaide priest Ian Dempsey as having been accused of rape.

Senator Xenophon said the Catholic Church had failed to stand down Dempsey while investigating allegations he raped the now Archbishop of the Traditional Anglican Communion, John Hepworth, more than 40 years ago.

Dempsey has denied the claims and, if he's telling the truth, I can only imagine what a nightmare he wakes to every morning as he fights to clear his name.

Whether you believe Xenophon did the right thing in naming Dempsey probably has much to do with your faith in the justice system, although, it's pertinent to note claims like the ones he's made against the monsignor often have grave consequences, as we've seen before with politicians who stretch the limits of parliamentary privilege.

In 1996, NSW State Labor MP, Franca Arena named retired judge David Yeldham and former lord mayor of Wollongong Frank Arkell as potential paedophiles.

The accusations were never proved and both Arkell and Yeldham strenuously denied being kiddie fiddlers. Yeldham was subsequently revealed to have been living a "double life" as a homosexual and committed suicide on November 4, 1996.

Arkell was murdered in June 1998, just months before he was to stand trial on 29 sex charges. Police found him with his Rotary pin and other pins jammed into his eyes.

Were they guilty? We'll never know for sure.

Many of you might argue it's insensitive to suggest being wrongly accused of a horrendous crime is a worse feeling than being the victim of a horrendous crime - but from my perspective you can't compare degrees of innocence.

However, with no disrespect to victims of crime, there is usually an enormous wellspring of sympathy and support for them, but not for an accused - even if he is innocent.


If you live in Sydney and would like to help out the incredible Wairoa School in Bondi, read on. Wairoa School provides educational programs for students with moderate to high support needs. Its programs help students with a moderate to severe intellectual disability, who may also have additional support needs related to autism, physical disabilities and/or sensory disabilities.

Today at noon, there will be a fund-raiser and lunch at the Beach Road Hotel in Bondi. Tickets are $75.

To book, email or phone Sarah on 9365 45 69. I'll buy you a beer as well.

Sam de Brito's latest novel Hello Darkness is in bookstores now. You can follow him on Twitter here.