Coverage of the Execution of Troy Davis
The fight to save Troy Davis from lethal injection has been called “the most extraordinary and controversial legal odyssey” in the history of the state of Georgia. That fight came to an end on Wednesday with Davis’s execution, twenty years after he was sentenced to death for the murder of an off-duty police officer. There was no physical evidence linking Davis to the shooting of Mark MacPhail and seven of the nine witnesses who claimed to have seen him do it ultimately recanted their testimony. Davis’ case has catalyzed widespread doubts about the validity of eyewitness testimony and the death penalty itself. Here’s a roundup of some the best coverage of this story.
-“Fourteen bankers boxes filled with petitions containing 663,000 signatures were delivered to the [Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles] on Thursday; more petitions delivered over the weekend and earlier this morning brought the total number of people asking for clemency up over 800,000,” reported Kung Li of Facing South, noting that such high-profile figures as Bishop Desmond Tutu, former FBI Director William Sessions and Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr., had publicly called for clemency for Davis.
-Legal analyst Dahlia Lithwick of Slate asked whether the uncertainty over Davis’ guilt would turn public opinion against the death penalty.
-Political scientist Scott Lemieux discusses how the legal system’s faith in eyewitness testimony, which was all the evidence there was against Troy Davis, has been profoundly shaken in the years since Davis was convicted. Lemieux argues that new understanding of the limitations of eyewitness evidence created significant doubts about Davis’ guilt, but the justice system proved itself incapable of responding appropriately.
If the system isn’t flexible enough to respond to new knowledge, which tends to pile up in the years or decades between conviction and execution, maybe it doesn’t deserve to wield the power of life and death.
-Troy Davis, a black man, was denied clemency by the same parole board that granted last-minute clemency to a white murderer three years ago. Samuel Crowe confessed to hacking a store manager with a crowbar and shooting him. Crowe reportedly turned his life around in jail, but Davis also changed for the better in jail. The two main differences were race and the fact that Crowe expressed remorse while Davis proclaimed his innocence. At the very least, this is evidence of the perverse logic of a justice system that rewards the outwardly remorseful guilty while punishing those who refuse to admit their guilt (perhaps because they are innocent and honest).
-On the night of the execution, Rutgers historian William Jelani Cobb stood with the crowd keeping a vigil outside the prison where Davis was put to death. “But what was most surprising and disturbing is that the group was more than 90% black. For all the discussion about the implications of the death penalty for the country at large this broke down, as always, to an issue of race and black people would have to do the heavy lifting if any change were going to occur. The racial balance skewed so heavily that when a young white couple sat down on the grass next to me I asked them what organization they were with. The woman’s reply hit me hard: ‘We’re not with an organization. I know Troy Davis – my brother is on death row with him,’” he wrote for Ta-Nehesi Coates’ blog at the Atlantic.com.
Photo credit: Facing South.