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Troy Davis is Dead but the Death Penalty Debate is Alive and Kicking

Posted on the 22 September 2011 by Periscope @periscopepost
Troy Davis is dead but the death penalty debate is alive and kicking

Troy Davis supporters at a 2010 demonstration. Photo credit: Javacolleen

Death row inmate Troy Davis, who was convicted of the 1989 killing of a police officer in the US state of Georgia, has been executed. The case attracted worldwide attention and has re-ignited the flammable death penalty debate. Anti-death penalty campaigners insist that an innocent man has been put to death.

Davis became the 33rd person executed in the United States in 2011 but the only one to spark a massive public outcry. That’s because many questions marks have been raised over his trial and because high-profile supporters, including Amnesty International and former US President Jimmy Carter, worked hard to try and get him reprieved. Though Davis was convicted in a court of law, seven eyewitnesses have since recanted or contradicted their testimony, with some saying they were pressured by the police; jurors in the case say they wouldn’t vote to convict him if he had been tried today. Davis’ death was delayed for hours while the US Supreme Court considered an 11th-hour appeal for clemency.

Davis continued to protest his innocence in the death chamber. “I did not have a gun”, he said, “For those about to take my life, may God have mercy on your souls. May God bless your souls.” Outside the prison, hundreds of people gathered chanting: “They say, death row; we say, hell no,” reported the BBC.

A Grievous Wrong. An editorial in The New York Times insisted that refusals to grant him clemency wereappalling in light of developments after his conviction: reports about police misconduct, the recantation of testimony by a string of eyewitnesses and reports from other witnesses that another person had confessed to the crime.” The paper bellowed that “across the country, the legal process for the death penalty has shown itself to be discriminatory, unjust and incapable of being fixed … Case after case adds to the many reasons why the death penalty must be abolished.” The paper reported that more than 630,000 letters pleading for a stay of execution were delivered to the Georgia board last week. Those asking for clemency included Carter, 51 members of Congress and even some prominent death penalty supporters. “The board’s failure to commute Mr. Davis’s death sentence to life without parole was a tragic miscarriage of justice,” concluded the newspaper.

Guilty! On the eve of the execution, UK right-wing blogger Guido Fawkes took to Twitter to support the decision to proceed: “Have now taken the time to look at the #TroyDavis case and have come to same conclusion as the judicial authorities. He is guilty.And later,Amnesty (International) are running a thoroughly dishonest campaign because they oppose the death penalty in principle. #TroyDavis is guilty.”

Most Americans support the death penalty. These days, the death penalty is more popular than the president,” observed Alexandra Petri at The Washington Post. Petri pointed to a recent Gallup poll which revealed that support for the death penalty for a person convicted of murder has shot up to 64 percent, while just 20 percent of people oppose it. Petri insisted that “the statistics suggest that a majority of Americans are at peace with the present margin of error. Perhaps we are. But then there’s Troy Davis. Nine hundred thousand signatures on online petitions. Indignant editorials. Twitter ablaze.” Petri concluded that supporting the death penalty “means reconciling yourself to the idea that every so often someone will come along and yell that you are executing an innocent man, or that you are executing someone who hasn’t gotten a fair trial.”

All (US) politics is local. Writing at The Guardian’s Comment is free, Megan Carpentier mulled what the Davis case reveals about the US legal system. She said it offers defendants the presumption of innocence before conviction. Post-conviction, though, the legal presumption is that the 12 citizen jurors made the correct decision and that the defense lawyers and prosecutors did their jobs honestly and to the best of their abilities – a reasonable theory, but unable to account for the 273 people exonerated (some posthumously) thanks to the efforts of the Innocence Project.” Carpentier reminded that the Davis case may have gone global but the fact remains that it is opinion at individual state level that was the key determinant. ‘That is, of course, a key feature of the American legal system: as with its political system, those powers not explicitly held by the federal government are left to the states – including the power to determine and prosecute most crimes … While the calls for Troy Davis’s reprieve poured into Georgia from all over the country, and the world, the likelihood is that a minority of those callers spoke with a Georgia accent – a fact that, for a local prosecutor, a local judge and a state-selected board, probably mattered more than the most famous named person who picked up the phone today. All politics, it’s said, is local … and so is most crime and punishment in the United States, for better or, for many today, for worse.”

More on the death penalty

  • Are e-petitions a good idea badly done?

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