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.
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One problem, legal analysts say, is courts are vested in jury verdicts, which can be fallible. Doubts alone are rarely enough to overturn a finding of guilt, but in cases like Davis's, where there is impassioned belief of innocence, it "raises doubts about whether the legal system can tolerate this potential error in allowing a person to be executed," says James Acker, a criminologist at State University New York in Albany.Skip to next paragraph
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But the Davis case also had powerful emotional impact that made him a cause célèbre among human rights activists working to end the US death penalty. A black man being executed for the murder of a white man in the Deep South raised longstanding and deep-seated concerns about racial inequities in the justice system.
Davis's execution stood in sharp contrast to the execution the same day in Texas of Mr. Brewer, a white man convicted and sentenced to death for a heinous hate crime against a black man.
"Can we have the death penalty and actually avoid the possibility of killing innocent people?" writes Rashad Robinson, executive director of the activist group Color of Change. "In a criminal justice system that routinely misidentifies black suspects and disproportionately punishes black people, black folks are more likely to be wrongfully executed."
Death penalty opponents often point to the fact that over 130 death row inmates have been released since the 1970s given new evidence, including DNA. But proponents of the death penalty use the same data to argue that those numbers validate what Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist once called executive branch "fail-safes," such as clemency boards, that prevent the execution of the innocent.
President Jimmy Carter said the Davis execution should result in the abolition of the death penalty in the US. "If one of our fellow citizens can be executed with so much doubt surrounding his guilt, then the death penalty system in our country is unjust and outdated," Carter told the AP.
Sixty-four percent of Americans support the death penalty to punish egregious murder, according to a 2010 Gallup survey.
Whether the Davis case has an impact on the use of the death penalty in the US in the future is an open question. Already, the number of executions in the US has been steadily dwindling over the past 15 years, even in Southern states where capital cases are most common.
Meeting with activists before his execution, Davis reportedly said, "You have a choice. You can either fold up your bags after tomorrow and go home, or you can stand and continue to fight."
Some still see the uproar over Davis's execution as "manufactured" emotion smartly packaged by activists and the media to build opposition to the death penalty.
"We have consistently won the case as it has been presented in court," said Spencer Lawton, the original prosecutor in the Davis capital murder case. "We have consistently lost the case as it has been presented in the public realm, on TV and elsewhere."