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Troy Davis execution: Did the death penalty deliver justice?

For his supporters, the execution of Troy Davis marked a grave injustice and showed the death penalty at its worst. But others found their faith in the justice system reaffirmed by the fact that the Davis verdict stood after an abundance of case reviews.

By Staff writer / September 22, 2011

Minister Lynn Hopkins comforts her partner Carolyn Bond after hearing that the US Supreme Court rejected a last minute plea of Georgia death row inmate Troy Davis In Jackson, Ga., Wednesday.

Stephen Morton/AP

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ATLANTA

A last-ditch appeal to the Supreme Court pushed back Troy Davis's execution by several hours, but in the end, Mr. Davis died by lethal injection Wednesday night in a prison in Jackson, Ga.

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"I am innocent," were his last words to the family of Mark MacPhail. "I did not have a gun."

Mr. Davis was convicted of the 1989 murder of Mr. MacPhail, a Savannah, Ga,. police officer.

For thousands around the world, Mr. Davis's death marked a grave injustice, given vexing questions and new doubts about his guilt.

But while many saw the execution as symbolic of a fallible justice system, and an immoral punishment, others found their faith in the system reaffirmed by an abundance of court and executive reviews that, time after time, let the verdict against Davis stand.

The Davis case is but one in a long series of death penalty cases that push individual states to debate the morality, legality, and efficacy of the death penalty.

This week alone, the US Supreme Court ordered stays for two men in Texas scheduled to be executed, while a third, Lawrence Brewer, was executed Wednesday night for the dragging death of James Byrd near Jasper, Texas, in 1998. Alabama has an execution scheduled Thursday.

Davis was convicted in 1991 for the shooting death of off-duty police officer MacPhail, who had come to the aid of a homeless man being beaten near a Savannah, Ga., Burger King. A jury of seven blacks and five whites found that Davis had shot a man earlier in the evening and used the same gun to fire into MacPhail's face and chest, killing the young father of two before he had a chance to draw his weapon.

The murder weapon was never found and defense lawyers cast doubt on a ballistics test that linked shell casings at the scene to casings found at another shooting for which Davis was convicted.

Since the verdict, seven of nine witnesses in the case changed or retracted their accounts, and new witnesses have pointed to the possibility that another man at the scene fired the weapon. But Federal District Court Judge William T. Moore said those new statements amounted to "smoke and mirrors" to obfuscate the original verdict.

On Tuesday, a Georgia clemency board, for the fourth time, declined Davis's request to commute the sentence to life in prison. The Georgia board has commuted three other death row sentences in the last decade.

President Obama, through his press secretary, said he had no jurisdiction to intervene in a state court matter, although experts say executive power under the Constitution includes the power to commute sentences.

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