Despite Controversy And Doubt, Troy Davis Was Executed In Georgia Last Night

The execution of Troy Davis brings back to the forefront the reasons why the death penalty is inherently flawed.

After a three hour delay while they waited to hear one last time from the Supreme Court of the United States, last night the State of Georgia executed Troy Davis, who had been convicted in 1989 of the shooting of a Savannah, Ga. police officer:

JACKSON, Ga. — Proclaiming his innocence, Troy Davis was put to death by lethal injection on Wednesday night, his life — and the hopes of supporters worldwide — prolonged by several hours while the Supreme Court reviewed but then declined to act on a petition from his lawyers to stay the execution.

Mr. Davis, 42, who was convicted of murdering a Savannah police officer 22 years ago, entered the death chamber shortly before 11 p.m., four hours after the scheduled time. He died at 11:08.

This final chapter before his execution had become an international symbol of the battle over the death penalty and racial imbalance in the justice system.

“It harkens back to some ugly days in the history of this state,” said the Rev. Raphael Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church, who visited Mr. Davis on Monday.

Mr. Davis remained defiant at the end, according to reporters who witnessed his death. He looked directly at the members of the family of Mark MacPhail, the officer he was convicted of killing, and told them they had the wrong man.

“I did not personally kill your son, father, brother,” he said. “All I can ask is that you look deeper into this case so you really can finally see the truth.”

He then told his supporters and family to “keep the faith” and said to prison personnel, “May God have mercy on your souls; may God bless your souls.”

One of the witnesses, a radio reporter from WSB in Atlanta, said it appeared that the MacPhail family “seemed to get some satisfaction” from the execution.

For Mr. Davis’s family and other supporters gathered in front of the prison, the final hours were mixed with hope, tears and exhaustion. The crowd was buoyed by the Supreme Court’s involvement, but crushed when the justices issued their one-sentence refusal to consider a stay.

When the news of his death came, the family left quietly and the 500 or so supporters began to pack up and leave their position across the state highway from the prison entrance. Mr. Davis’s body was driven out of the grounds about midnight.

During the evening, a dozen supporters of the death penalty, including people who knew the MacPhail family sat quietly, separated from the Davises and their supporters by a stretch of lawn and rope barriers.

The appeal to the Supreme Court was one of several last-ditch efforts by Mr. Davis on Wednesday. Earlier in the day, an official with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said that the vote by the Georgia parole board to deny clemency to Mr. Davis was so close that he hoped there might be a chance to save him from execution.

The official, Edward O. DuBose, president of the Georgia chapter, said the group had “very reliable information from the board members directly that the board was split 3 to 2 on whether to grant clemency.”

“The fact that that kind of division was in the room is even more of a sign that there is a strong possibility to save Troy’s life,” he said.

(…)

Mr. Davis was convicted of the 1989 shooting of Officer MacPhail, who was working a second job as a security guard. A homeless man called for help after a group that included Mr. Davis began to assault him, according to court testimony. When Officer MacPhail went to assist him, he was shot in the face and the heart.

Before Wednesday, Mr. Davis had walked to the brink of execution three times.

His conviction came after testimony by some witnesses who later recanted and on the scantest of physical evidence, adding fuel to those who rely on the Internet to rally against executions and to question the validity of eyewitness identification and of the court system itself.

This wasn’t Davis’s first trip to Georgia’s death chamber. He had been scheduled to die three times previously, once in 2007 and twice in 2008. On all three occasions, the execution was halted by either the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles or the Supreme Court of the United States because of the doubts that had arisen regarding Davis’s conviction. After delaying the third execution, the Supreme Court ordered a review of all the evidence in the case by a Federal Judge, who found that the evidence that led to conviction was sufficient and that the doubts that had been raised over the years were not sufficient to overturn the sentence. After several more appeals and requests for clemency, all of which were denied, we came to the events of last night.

And yet, the doubts still remain. Seven of the nine witnesses that had testified against Davis at trial recanted their testimony, many of them stating in affidavits that they had been pressured by Savannah Police to identify Davis as the shooter. Another witness was a jailhouse snitch whose credibility was, quite obviously, subject to doubt. Even without the recantations, though, it’s been fairly well established that eyewitness testimony is not nearly as reliable as people think it is, and that it is one of the leading causes of wrongful conviction. Last month, these well-established doubts about eyewitness testimony recently led the Supreme Court of New Jersey to order drastic changes to the manner in which eyewitness testimony is handled in that state, and how juries are instructed as to its reliability. A study released just this week establishes that changes of the type being adopted in New Jersey can help drastically cut down on the number of  bad eyewitness identifications, and in turn the number of wrongful convictions. In addition to the eyewitness testimony, there was also ballistic evidence purporting to tie Davis to McPhail’s shooting, but even ballistic evidence isn’t as reliable as you might think it is.

The point is, there were doubts, enough doubts that the Davis case drew attention not just from the usual death penalty opponents — Pope Benedict XVI, former President Jimmy Carter, Amnesty International and The Innocence Project had all taken up Davis’s cause — but across the political spectrum. Former Republican Congressman Bob Barr said that executing Davis would violate core principles of justice:

I support the death penalty, and have for a long time. And I am not making a judgment as to whether Davis is guilty or innocent. But surely the citizens of Savannah and the state of Georgia want justice served on behalf of MacPhail, the police officer.

Imposing a death sentence on the skimpiest of evidence does not serve the interest of justice. The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles did not honor the standards of justice on which all Americans depend by granting clemency. In doing so, it will allow a man to be executed when we cannot be assured of his guilt.

That was the final admirable principle standing between Davis and his scheduled death by lethal injection Wednesday. And the parole board did not uphold it.

Barr was joined by former FBI Director William Sessions:

At Davis’ evidentiary hearing, witnesses called by Davis recanted trial testimony and made allegations of police pressure. Others testified that an alternative suspect had confessed to them that he committed the crime. One eyewitness testified, for the first time, that he saw this other suspect, a relative of his, commit the crime. Police witnesses for the state of Georgia alternatively asserted that the original trial testimony was the true version of events and that it was elicited without coercion.

Some of these same witnesses also had testified at Davis’ trial but have since recanted their trial testimony. The judge at the evidentiary hearing found their recantations to be unreliable and, therefore, found Davis was unable to “clearly establish” his innocence. The problem is that the testimony of these same witnesses, whom the judge had determined were less believable, had been essential to the original conviction and death sentence.

What the hearing demonstrated most conclusively was that the evidence in this case — consisting almost entirely of conflicting stories, testimonies and statements — is inadequate to the task of convincingly establishing either Davis’ guilt or his innocence. Without DNA or other forms of physical or scientific evidence that can be objectively measured and tested, it is possible that doubts about guilt in this case will never be resolved.

However, when it comes to the sentence of death, there should be no room for doubt. I believe there is no more serious crime than the murder of a law enforcement officer who was putting his or her life on the line to protect innocent bystanders. However, justice is not done for Officer Mark Allen MacPhail Sr. if the wrong man is punished.

The proper outcome, Sessions argues, would be clemency, where Davis’s sentence of death would have been commuted to life. At the very least, if it was discovered at a later date that he was in fact innocent, then it would still be possible to rectify a miscarriage of justice. Now that Davis is dead, all we”ll have are the lingering doubts and a feeling that justice wasn’t really done in this case.

Dahlia Lithwick wonders whether the Davis case will be one that impacts public opinion on the death penalty:

Start with the fact that the Troy Davis case has created staggering levels of public interest in the death penalty. (Jeff Toobin called Davis was “the best-known person on death row” and that no death penalty case has engendered this much public doubt and outrage since the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, killed in 1953 for spying for the Soviet Union.) It is probably folly to try to understand why one death penalty case captures the public imagination more than any other. But the Davis case illustrates so many of the growing doubts about the capital system, such as questions about the reliability of eyewitness testimony (as explained by Brandon Garrett), the grotesque levels of racial bias that infect the capital sentencing system, and the various types of police misconduct.

Whatever the reason, those who are opposed to the death penalty in general and those who opposed it in this particular case have drawn enough attention to the case that even Kim Kardashian was tweeting about it. Facebook profiles were changed to read “I Am Troy Davis” and Twitter activists used hashtags such #IamTroyDavis and #TooMuchDoubt to urge supporters to call the offices of the judge and district attorney. Rallies, vigils, and protests were organized on both Facebook and Twitter in ways that have put the question of capital punishment before hundreds of thousands of Americans who may not have felt that they had a voice (or even a strong opinion) on the issue. It seems that Americans, and especially young Americans, have a lot to say. The point they were all making—I am Troy Davis—is exactly the right one: Could someone I care about have been sentenced to death based on a bunch of eyewitnesses who later recanted?

At the same time, though, the death penalty remains widely popular, even across traditional political and ideological boundaries. The reaction of the crowd at the Reagan Library Debate to the Rick Perry’s response to a death penalty question, while disturbing to many including many, is I would submit closer to the way that most Americans feel about this issue than Lithwick seems to want to admit. As Steve Kornacki notes in an article Lithwick cites, deep down the public support for the death penalty is rooted in something that may not be influenced by the reality of executing a man who may have been innocent:

For all of the systemic flaws that have been revealed in the past decade or so — for all of the innocent people who have been freed after years of incarceration — the basic eye-for-an-eye nature of the death penalty remains compelling for most Americans, a sentiment reinforced by the occasional horrific crime. Take the state of Connecticut, where the gruesome murder of a suburban family in 2007 (which is still in the news, as the trial of one of the killers proceeds) apparently increased support for capital punishment in the state — enough to convince the last governor to veto a plan to outlaw it.

This feeling is reinforced by this conclusion from a 2009 Gallup poll on the death penalty:

This year’s poll finds 59% of Americans agreeing that within the last five years, “a person has been executed under the death penalty who was, in fact, innocent of the crime he or she was charged with.” A little less than a third disagree.

However, for many Americans, agreement with the assertion that innocent people have been put to death does not preclude simultaneous endorsement of the death penalty. A third of all Americans, 34%, believe an innocent person has been executed and at the same time support the death penalty. This is higher than the 23% who believe an innocent person has been executed and simultaneously oppose the death penalty.

Let that one sink in for a second. One-third of Americans believe that an innocent person has been executed, and they still support the death penalty. In the face of numbers like that, it’s hard to believe that the Davis case, or the cases of Cameron Todd Wilmingham, Claude Jones, and Corey Maye, is going to move the needle on public opinion significantly.

I’ve made my own position on capital punishment clear here before:

There was a time when I was a supporter, albeit a reluctant one, of capital punishment, but that time has come to an end. For one thing,  I’ve come to the general conclusion that the state should not have the power to take anyone’s life, even when they’ve committed a violent and horrible crime. Additionally, ever since the advent of DNA evidence, we’ve seen far too many instances of innocent men imprisoned for crimes that they clearly did not commit to think that it hasn’t happened in a capital punishment case.  Finally, my own professional interaction with the criminal justice system on a regular basis made it clear to me fairly early on that the system was far too imperfect to trust it with the power of life and death, and this is especially true when a defendant facing a death sentence is forced to accept court-appointed counsel that lacks both the experience and the resources that a private-hired attorney would. The question of whether you live or die shouldn’t depend on whether or not you’re rich enough to hire a good lawyer, but, far too often, it does.

I know that most people disagree with me, and I can respect that. What I don’t understand are the people who said we shouldn’t explore the doubts in a case like this, or the ones, like Ann Coulter, who seem to want to gleefully celebrate Davis’s death. There’s something uncivilized about that attitude. If you’re going to ask the state to kill in your name, the least you can do is not celebrate when it happens, especially when so many people who would usually agree with you are expressing doubts.

As far as Troy Davis goes, I don’t know whether he is guilty or not. However, based on the questions that have been raised about his prosecution and the material that I have read, it strikes me that there was sufficient doubt in this case to question whether the death sentence should have been carried out. In reality, though, the question isn’t whether Davis is innocent but whether his conviction was just. Given the questionable evidence, the witness recantations, the jurors who’ve said they wish they could take back their verdict, and the numerous doubts that have been raised in the 22 years that this case traveled through the legal system, it’s clear to me that the State of Georgia should have foresworn this opportunity for vengeance in this case.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Law and the Courts, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Restless says:

    The celebration over Troy Davis’ death is what’s puzzling. Is the chance of making one’s opponents angry or offended so important? Do we progressives loom that large and terrible in the minds of (some of) our opponents? Are we genuinely worth debasing one’s self over time and time again?

  2. Hey Norm says:

    Two things:
    1). I just do not believe any of us is perfect enough to sit in judgement of another. Who the f’ am I to put another man to death? The arogance it takes to be in favor of the death penalty is astounding to me.
    2). It is impossible to be pro-life…and be for the death penalty. Like so much of the conservative doctrine…it’s upside down. The level of hypocrisy these contradictory views take is astounding to me.

  3. Restless says:

    Here’s the thing: one of James Byrd Jr.’s murderers was put to death last night, and while I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t feeling any satisfaction that his admitted, unrepentant killer was no longer among the living I’m not going out and doing cartwheels over it.

  4. mattb says:

    the Supreme Court ordered a review of all the evidence in the case by a Federal Judge, who found that the evidence that led to conviction was sufficient and that the doubts that had been raised over the years were not sufficient to overturn the sentence.

    One o the dirty little secrets of habeus review is that there is no real framework for defining what “sufficient” and “reasonable” are. It’s important to remember that in a Habe/Federal review the Judge (often their Clerk) is not supposed to be determining guilt or innocence… only if a change in the evidence or the conduct of the trial would have caused a “reasonable” jury to reach a difference verdict (though how this is different in actual practice from deciding guilt or innocence is a big issue).

    As far as the Supreme Court… the problem here is that they should only be ruling on Constitutional Issues (i.e. suspension of federally granted rights). That means they can only look at a narrow band of fact and within a legislatively crafted framework that is connected to but not the same as a state justice system.

    Personally, this situation is exactly why I cannot support the death penalty. In an ethical and moral modern society that sentence should have been commuted to life without parole.

  5. MBunge says:

    “who seem to want to gleefully celebrate Davis’s death.”

    It’s disgusting but not that hard to understand.

    According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the average time a condemned prisoner spent on death row between 1977 and 1983 was 51 months. By 2009, that wait had grown to 169 months. Why the increase? Many reasons, no doubt, with one of them certainly being incessant appeals by death row opponents even on behalf of unquestionably guilty murderers. Rather than continue to fight it out in the political world where it belongs, death penalty opponents have taken to subverting the legal system itself and trying to effectively ban executions by making the process too long and too costly.

    To put it another way, one the things that made it harder to save Troy Davis’ life was all the times death penalty opponents have gone to the mat and beyond for killers whose guilt was without any doubt.

    Mike

  6. MM says:

    The thing that makes no sense is that people like Ann Coulter, who are convinced that government employees are, nearly to a man, incompetent boobs, have no issue with government employees investigating, prosecuting and presiding over the criminal cases that result in a death row conviction.

  7. mannning says:

    This situation has one legal ramification that puzzles me. I was under the impression that all persons that “are present and act together” during the commission of a murder were equally guilty, regardless of who actually pulled out the gun(or other weapon) and killed the victim. If this is true, then Troy assumes equal guilt with his buddies that were assaulting the victim. Again, if true, the entire gang should have been prosecuted for murder as well. Will someone clear this up for me?

  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

  9. Tlaloc says:

    The celebration over Troy Davis’ death is what’s puzzling.

    Not really, you’re talking about a political movement that now openly cheers letting people die and torturing helpless prisoners. There is a rabid nature to it that’s deeply disturbed. Frankly it’s nothing less than evil.

    I only wish the dems weren’t one step behind the GOP on the road to hell.

  10. @mannning:

    While “are present and act together” probably applies in terms of guilt or innocence on the murder charge itself, I don’t think it applies to the aggravting or mitigating factors that allow for application of the death penalty.

  11. mattb says:

    @MBunge:

    Rather than continue to fight it out in the political world where it belongs, death penalty opponents have taken to subverting the legal system itself and trying to effectively ban executions by making the process too long and too costly.

    No offense, but this is a terrible talking point. Essentially you are saying that people are at fault for taking advantage of their constitutional/federal rights.

    Further you are conflating guilt and sentencing which are fundamentally different within the US.
    In many of those cases where a person admitted their guilt, the issue was not with the matter of guilt or innocence, but the application of law that led to the application of the death penalty. For example, cases have had to do with proprietorial misconduct in the sentencing section of the proceeding which is separate from the finding of guilt (see: http://www2.wspa.com/news/2011/sep/21/12/reaction-legal-expert-tiffany-souers-friend-inman–ar-2440096/ ) or an inmate agreeing to a plea without fundamentally misunderstanding sentencing guidelines and procedures (see: http://rapidcityjournal.com/news/local/article_e2367cf5-035d-5cf8-806a-8802ab5cefbb.html )

  12. mattb says:

    BWT, for those interested, here is a PDF with a LOT of good statistical data on the DP — including data to back up PD’s assertion that the race of the victim has more to do with a death sentence than the race of the perp.

    http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/documents/FactSheet.pdf

  13. Nikki says:

    Doug, thank you for this post. It brought tears to my eyes.

  14. mannning says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Thanks SD, that clears up the first point.

    Given that we incarcerate murderers for life in various states, are there any statistics on the murder rates in the prisons? Seems to me that unless these prisoners are held in isolation 23/7 or 24/7, there is a good chance there would be murders committed on prison grounds at a greater rate than for ordinary, less violent criminals. Once you are in for life with no parole, it is meaningless to put you in for life x two, so there is little incentive to behave well. Perhaps committed to isolation for life would work in the first instance!

  15. Racehorse says:

    @mannning: Could it be that these people made a deal to implicate Davis in exchange for not being prosecuted?

  16. Fiona says:

    @mannning:

    I believe what you’re referring to is the felony murder doctrine, which holds that if a murder occurs during the commission of a felony by multiple parties, all parties are held equally guilty even if only one pulled the trigger. For instance, if in the commission of an armed bank robbery, one robber gets an itchy trigger finger and shoots and kills a bystander, all participants in the robbery would be charged with murder. Not sure if the death penalty applies to felony murder.

  17. Eric Florack says:

    Even the story you quote, Doug, has several hurdles… any one of which could have, given what they felt was sufficient doubt, stopped this process. None did, simply because none of them felt any doubt.

    I don’t place them on the same level, but there’s a lot of folks who to this day defend Manson, too. At what point is there enough proof to satisfy those who are…. you should pardon the pun… dead set against capital punishment? Seems to me you’re going to have better luck persuading Islamists to stop trying to wipe out the Jews.

  18. An Interested Party says:

    At what point is there enough proof to satisfy those who are…. you should pardon the pun… dead set against capital punishment?

    How many innocent people have to be executed before those who support the death penalty are given pause and rethink their support? Evidence such as that in Doug’s link which shows that 1/3 of Americans believe that innocent people have been executed and are still in favor of the death penalty is certainly much more relevant to the discussion than a pathetic attempt to drag Charles Manson into it, but it is Eric Florack who did that, so such shabbiness is to be expected…

  19. Racehorse says:

    How about the Connecticut home invasion case, Steven Hayes and his partner – one of the most horrendous crimes in US history. Who, pray tell, does not support the death penalty for these animals? How about Hitler, Himmler and the concentration camp gestapos pray tell? How about mass murderers and serial killers, pray tell? How about the animals who kidnap and kill children, pray tell? If you were a juror would you actually not give any of those “people” the death penalty, pray tell? Crimes that are so horrendous and against the whole of humanity and civilization, that tear at the fabric of society can have only one punishment. These “people” cannot be allowed to exist in any form once they have been proven guilty, such as the names that I have listed. Can anyone put forth a logical, sensible argument that those animals should be allowed to live?

  20. @Racehorse:

    If you were a juror would you actually not give any of those “people” the death penalty, pray tell?

    Because (unlike TV, where there is always tons of incontrvertible evidence, followed by the killer breaking down and confessing in open court), I know that real trials are rarely open and shut, even in the best of cases. And when you count in the possiblity of corrupt prosecutors, fraudulent crime lab technicians, and incompetent cops, I realize there’s significant possibility of error and that my desire for vengence is not worth the risk of accidentally killing an innocent.

    In other words, I keep in mind that I’m an adult who is capable of keeping my emotions under control and making rational decisions, even if it doesn’t make my id happy.

  21. mattb says:

    @Racehorse:

    These “people” cannot be allowed to exist in any form once they have been proven guilty, such as the names that I have listed. Can anyone put forth a logical, sensible argument that those animals should be allowed to live?

    If killing those men can only be accomplished by sacrificing people innocent of the crime that they have committed or even the guilty who are the victims of prosecutorial misconduct … then yes, they should be allowed to live in prison, for the rest of their lives with no parole.

    To support the current system means to support a system that has killed and will kill again innocent people. It means that you are comfortable with sacrificing those lives in order to get your “justice.”

  22. mattb says:

    @Eric Florack:’

    Even the story you quote, Doug, has several hurdles… any one of which could have, given what they felt was sufficient doubt, stopped this process. None did, simply because none of them felt any doubt.

    It is always amazing for me to see conservatives, who fundamentally distrusts the government at all levels and argue that it can’t do anything right, and that the courts are filled with political appointee’s and judicial activists suddenly has so much confidence in “the system” when it comes to putting someone to death.

  23. Jimblogger says:

    It’s funny how people make a big deal about this the “day of” yet he’s been sitting in a cell for 20+ years waiting to get the needle. How many people even knew about this 5 days ago?

    Troy Davis was convicted. There is nothing anyone can do so we all might as well stfu.

  24. Eric Florack says:

    Kim Kardashian has spent a fair amount of time recently, talking about Troy Davis, and the injustice of the Death Penalty. But I personally find it interesting that so much angst as been spent on Davis and none on the other convicted murderer who was put to death yesterday… Lawrence Russell.

    Oh, I’m sure you don’t recall the name. And perhaps in fairness, without a sexy brunette taking up his cause, most folks wouldn’t. Russell, for the record, is the racist moron who tied James Byrd to the back of a truck and took him for a scrape around the neighborhood. Dragged him to death.

    Now, please note that both men swore to the last second that they were innocent. Both were liars, of course, having been proven such at many points during their legal ordeals.

    So, let’s understand this one… If the guy is black and killed a cop, in what was clearly a hate crime, he deserves to avoid his punishment. If he’s white and killed a back guy in what is equally clearly a hate crime, he gets the needle without even a whimper?

    (interesting aside, Russell became something of an item over W not wanting to sign a hate crimes bill, if I recall… the left insisting that Because he wouldn’t sign such a bill, he shared blame with Russell for the act. Absurd, yes, but that’s what passes for thinking on the left, anymore. In any case you’d think someone on the left would ahve remembered it Maybe they’re prefer we didn’t. )

    See, here’s the issue; The opponents of the death penalty seem to me to be rather selective on the flags they fly on this issue. And the flags they fly all tend to tilt left. And we’re not supposed to notice these things. And, sadly a lot of folks don’t… even ones that call themselves conservatives.

    Oh, I’m sure there are some sincere folks in every political corner who object for some reason of their own to the death penalty. Trouble is, they tend to get used by the left, even if they don’t know it.

  25. Eric Florack says:

    How many innocent people have to be executed before those who support the death penalty are given pause and rethink their support?

    We are supposed to assume they have been?

  26. Eric Florack says:

    @mattb:

    It is always amazing for me to see conservatives, who fundamentally distrusts the government at all levels and argue that it can’t do anything right, and that the courts are filled with political appointee’s and judicial activists suddenly has so much confidence in “the system” when it comes to putting someone to death.

    Perhaps you’re unaware…. this is not simply a case of the government doing so, since such trials invariably have juries involved. Not government. People.

  27. mattb says:

    @Eric Florack:

    Perhaps you’re unaware…. this is not simply a case of the government doing so, since such trials invariably have juries involved. Not government. People.

    Eric,

    This is perhaps the dumbest statement I have seen you make. Beyond the fact that the entire trial is bound by legislature crafted by governments, overseen by government officials (Judges — who in some cases are appointed — not elected), and monitored by the government… you are suggesting that the presence of the jurors by itself makes this “of the people.”

    By this very logic, the government itself is necessarily “PEOPLE” to considering that we elect our representatives and (as with the jury) ask them to make decisions for the greater body of the electorate (in the same way that the jury is supposed to represent the people by proxy).

    You can’t have it both ways. If the courts are the people then the government is the people to.

  28. mattb says:

    @Eric Florack: God you are just so willfully ignorant. First of all Byrds own son said that he objected to the execution of Brewer ( http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/09/21/us-texas-execution-son-idUSTRE78K35B20110921 ) and others did join in on that call. Was it the same level of cause celeb? No. But there were still protesters present at the execution… see:
    http://www.beaumontenterprise.com/photos/article/Scenes-from-Lawrence-Russell-Brewer-s-execution-2182647.php#photo-1615958 (for pictures of them in slide show)
    and
    http://www.myfoxhouston.com/dpp/news/local/110921-lawrence-brewer-execution

    Secondly most of us who object to the death penalty objected to the execution and wanted to see Lawrence get life without the possibility of parole. I know I do.

    BTW — making the evidence sound anywhere near equivalent across cases is a bold faced lie. Doug has already dealt with the issues muddying the issues in the Davis case. The evidence against Brewer and the two others convicted is far more solid on all accounts.

    We are supposed to assume [innocent people] have been executed?

    God, again I cannot understand how someone who is so typically paranoid of government prosecution and infringement upon their freedoms and safety can at the same time be so secure (especially in the face of continual mounting evidence) that there has never been a single innocent (of the crime they are charged of) person executed.

    Eric, if you’re not straight up trolling, you appear to be totally lacking in imagination, irony and apparently take great pride in how willfully ignorant you are. Not to mention taking special pride in protecting your fragile and nonsensical world view.

  29. mannning says:

    On the military side of the DP equation is the well-used procedure on the battlefield to shoot forthwith any enemy soldiers caught impersonating American soldiers or spying behind the lines against us. Does the desire to eliminate the DP extend into this military combat domain?
    Does it extend to traitors and spies caught in the US during a war, or not?

    Of course, objection to the DP may well extend to a blanket objection to war itself, and to the desire for our military to avoid killing the enemy…whether in a declared war or an undeclared war combat situation.

    Under what circumstances is it permissible to shoot to kill, war or no war? By police or military?

    Is authorizing a shooting engagement overseas by Congress and the President something to be avoided at all costs? It most certainly hasn’t been avoided, obviously, by Obama, nor Bush II, nor Clinton, nor Bush I, nor Nixon, Reagan, Carter, LBJ, Kennedy, Truman..or their Congressional counterpart majorities, right down to George Washington.

    There seems in my mind to be a contradiction here if we are dead set against the death penalty on a onezy-twozy basis, but very much supportive of combat engagements of all types, resulting in literally countless deaths of our opponents and nearby civilians. Is it OK if they shoot first?

  30. Eric Florack says:

    T

    his is perhaps the dumbest statement I have seen you make. Beyond the fact that the entire trial is bound by legislature crafted by governments, overseen by government officials (Judges — who in some cases are appointed — not elected), and monitored by the government… you are suggesting that the presence of the jurors by itself makes this “of the people.”

    Thee jury could have shut the process down at any time. They did not. That was not the government’s doing. They looked at the evidence and so ruled. Do you really distrust the jury system so much?

  31. Eric Florack says:

    God, again I cannot understand how someone who is so typically paranoid of government prosecution and infringement upon their freedoms and safety can at the same time be so secure (especially in the face of continual mounting evidence) that there has never been a single innocent (of the crime they are charged of) person executed.

    Yet, you provide no proof. Indeed, you find it impossible to deal with the concept of their guilt being proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

    I find your arguments….Unconvincing, at least.

  32. matt says:

    @Eric Florack: Wayne Felker is the first executed person in the US to have DNA testing used to prove hi innocence after his execution. Hard science proves that at least in this case an innocent man was executed.

    As for Davis the fact that 7 of the 9 witnesses recanted and described being bullied into fingering Davis is a cause of concern to say the least. One of the 9 was a jailhouse snitch which is an exceedingly questionable source of information. I also read that the other of the 9 was actually a guy who people now finger as the trigger man.

    I could sit here and list more names because like I stated earlier Wayne Felker was just the first of a series of executed people who were found innocent after the fact thanks to DNA testing.

    Hell look at the state of Illinois where so many people on death row were found to be innocent thanks to DNA testing that they actually banned the death penalty..

  33. mattb says:

    @Eric Florack:

    They looked at the evidence and so ruled. Do you really distrust the jury system so much?

    Yes.

    This is based on having been exposed to a lot of cases where things went wrong in the trial and were not corrected. This is based on long discussions with trial lawyers and judges. This is also based on discussions with people who have served on juries.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for a different system. However, as the case stakes go up, my trust in fair proceedings goes down (for a variety of reasons).

    The jury is, at best, only as good as the Judge. Why? Because the jury are non-experts and don’t know/understand the rules as well as the rest of the players. An overzelous prosecutor (or defense attorney) can easily run roughshod over a weak judge. And the results play hell with the jury.

    Put a different way… how did you feel about juries the day OJ got off? Or recently with Casey Anthony? Are you consistent enough to say that the jury got those two right?

  34. mattb says:

    @Eric Florack:

    Yet, you provide no proof.

    The proof is out there — here’s a collection of examples:
    http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/executed-possibly-innocent

    The issue is none of it has been recognized by the state because as a rule the cases are closed upon execution and courts rarely if ever hear additional material on the case. Out of sight, out of mind.

    Indeed, you find it impossible to deal with the concept of their guilt being proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

    No I don’t. In fact there are many cases where I think that is very possible. That said, I also believe that in numerous cases that is not possible. And given that, and the necessary human flaws of our legal system, I cannot buy into state sponsored execution when life in prison without parole is a viable option.

    And yes — I can live with the idea of killers spending the rest of their lives in prison. And frankly, I think it’s more important for the system (overall) that someone who is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt is released (though hopefully retried) if there is a level of misconduct on any state actors part that influences the outcome.

    The only reason you seem to be defending the death penalty is a frankly naive (especially given your other positions) belief in a system that you apparently have very little working experience with. Either that or you just choose to ignore the evidence because it doesn’t suite you pat little world view.

    Then again, I’ve yet to hear your defense of the death penalty (other than “juries” work).

  35. Davod says:

    Don’t many states have harsher penalties if a policeman is killed?

  36. Davod says:

    @mattb:

    “And yes — I can live with the idea of killers spending the rest of their lives in prison.”

    There is movement to declare life without parole as crual and unusual.

  37. mattb says:

    @Davod:

    Don’t many states have harsher penalties if a policeman is killed?

    That’s often an unwritten rule. Prosecutors tend to be more likely to pursue the death penatly in cases of LEO murder

    There is movement to declare life without parole as crual and unusual.

    I’m sure there is. That’s where I get off. There is no question that some people/crimes warrant a permanent removal from general society. But that removal should always be able to be reversed if it can be proven something significant went wrong with the system.

    It sucks, but that is the price of freedom.

  38. Racehorse says:

    @mattb: Could anyone live with the idea of Hitler, Stalin, or Himmler being locked up for life, and possibly still living today? How about child killers? I am talking about open and shut cases, no doubt whatsoever about guilt. Let’s don’t get into the “insanity” plea – it won’t work here. Allowing these type of people to live would do incalculable damage to civilization.

  39. Ben Wolf says:

    @Racehorse:

    Allowing these type of people to live would do incalculable damage to civilization.

    How?

  40. mattb says:

    @Racehorse:

    Could anyone live with the idea of Hitler, Stalin, or Himmler being locked up for life, and possibly still living today? How about child killers?

    Last time I checked, the jails in multiple states (where there is no death penalty) have convicted child killers living in them. I suspect there are even some child killers serving life sentences in death penalty states. And since the death penalty is banned in most of Europe there are lots of convicted prisioners living in prison over there.

    It seems to me that you keep on living (and posting) without a problem. Likewise, while we can’t be sure if you would have survived if Hitler had been captured and sentenced to life in prison (I mean that + childkillers might have really stopped you breathing), its pretty remarkable that you’ve lived this long given the number of Nazi/Axis war criminals who were living out their lives in prison during your lifetime:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Axis_war_criminals

  41. Lyn says:

    Davis was black.

    That’s it that’s all you need to know if you’re wondering why his case became a celebrity cause. Davis was a violent criminal before he murdered Mr. MacPhail. Davis was pistol whipping a man when Mr. MacPhail, an off-duty cop working as a guard, intervened. Davis shot and killed Mr. MacPhail.

    I won’t speculate as to Kim Kardashian’s reason for the “I am Troy Davis” tweet or T-shirt or whatever. To do so would imply that Kim Kardashian has reason and I just don’t feel comfortable doing that. But I am positive if Davis were white this story would’ve just been a one or 2 line story the day after the execution.

  42. matt says:

    @Lyn: That’s what you 1 witness and a jail house snitch says… The other 7 witnesses that were there don’t agree..

  43. Eric Florack says:

    No I don’t. In fact there are many cases where I think that is very possible. That said, I also believe that in numerous cases that is not possible.

    And so, let’s make the justice system toothless. Right?
    Sorry, no sale.