[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----USA
rhalperi at smu.edu
Sat Sep 24 13:19:16 CDT 2011
Troy Davis execution protest confronts support for death penalty----While the
Troy Davis execution may not be a game-changer for the death penalty, it has
become part of a growing conversation about ensuring that innocent people
aren't killed or die in prison.
The execution Wednesday of Troy Davis, a Georgia death row inmate who convinced
thousands across the world of his innocence, capped a sobering week of death
penalty debate likely to play into shifting attitudes in the US over the
The execution, also on Wednesday, in Texas of Lawrence Brewer, convicted of
dragging a black man to death in 1998, led to the elimination of the execution
day "last meal" in Texas after Mr. Brewer ordered an elegant feast that he
declined to eat.
Also this week, the US Supreme Court stayed the executions of two other Texas
men in order to further review their innocence claims, while Alabama went
forward with the 36th execution of the year in the US on Thursday, leading to
the death of Derrick Mason for a 1994 murder.
And lingering anger over the execution of Mr. Davis led filmmaker Michael Moore
to urge a boycott of Georgia, which he called "a murderous state."
Taken together, these events aren't likely by themselves to spark reforms of
the US death penalty system, which relies largely on states to mete out
justice. Even as Davis supporters vow to keep up the fight to abolish the
sanction, the loose coalition of human rights groups struggled to come up with
a plan for where to focus their appeals next.
"His case could set in motion a chain reaction that galvanizes the innocence
movement and put even more pressure on the justice system to get serious about
reform," writes Dax Devlon-Ross, the author of a novel, "Make Me Believe,"
about the execution of an innocent man. "Or it could just be another moment."
But while the Davis execution may not be a game-changer for the death penalty,
it did become part of a growing conversation — more across kitchen tables than
legislative chambers — about the courts' ability to ensure that innocent people
aren't killed or die in prison.
Troy Davis, whose case sparked a rare Supreme Court ruling for a new
evidentiary hearing, built a phalanx of support on the fact that 7 of 9
eyewitnesses recanted or changed their testimony, which helped turn public
opinion, including those of world leaders like Pope Benedict and President
Jimmy Carter, in his favor. The European Union issued a statement against the
execution of Davis, saying "serious and compelling doubts have persistently
surrounded the evidence on which Mr. Davis was convicted."
But it's likely that not just the prosecutor and the victim's family were the
only ones convinced of Davis' guilt in killing off-duty Savannah police officer
Mark MacPhail outside a Burger King in 1989. Court after appeals court upheld
the conviction. Last week, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles failed for
a 4th time to be convinced by arguments of faulty ballistics testing and the
alleged confession of another man to the crime.
Davis was convicted in 1991 after witnesses — including strangers — testified
they saw him shoot MacPhail as the officer came to the rescue of a homeless man
that two men, including Davis, were pistol-whipping after he refused to give
them a beer. Davis was also convicted of shooting another man earlier in the
evening, with a gun that ballistics testing tied to the MacPhail murder scene.
No conclusive physical evidence tied Davis to the crime, and he maintained his
innocence until the end, telling MacPhail's family before the execution that he
did not "personally kill" the officer, adding, "I did not have a gun."
While the bar for convincing courts of post-conviction innocence is high,
Federal District Court Judge William T. Moore last year found the changed
testimony unreliable and unconvincing. Defense attorneys, moreover, were loathe
to put 2 eyewitnesses who substantively recanted their testimony on the stand
at that hearing because of concerns about cross-examination.
Critics say the global outpouring of support for Troy Davis was disingenious,
an example of death penalty opponents picking sympathetic cases to tout while
ignoring other claims of innocence, such as those expressed by Mr. Brewer, who
was also executed Wednesday, in Texas, for the killing of James Byrd in a
While protesters helped shape the coverage of the execution, they ultimately
came up against the determination of the court system as a brief delay in the
execution as the US Supreme Court considered an appeal gave way to a lethal
injection after the court, after several hours' consideration, dismissed the
"There was this invisible support for the execution that didn't need to be
shaped or guided, and I think Troy Davis supporters were blindsided by that
invisible support," Michael Leo Owens, a political science professor at Emory
University, in Atlanta, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "It is the
To be sure, support for the death penalty remains at about 60 % in the US,
though that number dwindles to a minority, according to many polls, when
respondents are asked to pick between the death penalty and life in prison
In Florida, the 4th most active death penalty state, jury-ordered death
sentences have declined from a high of 40 a year in the late 1980s to 14 in
2010. Meanwhile, North Carolina currently has a death penalty moratorium and
Illinois, on July 1, closed its death row. California voters will have a
referendum on abolishing the death penalty next year.
"Death penalty attitudes don't change suddenly," says Michael Radelet, a
sociology professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, who studies the
death penalty. "What's more important is monitoring how arguments or
discussions about the death penalty change, and what Troy Davis has done is
make people, whether pro or con, acknowledge that people are executed despite
doubts about guilt."
(source: Christian Science Monitor)
We Can't Fight Troy Davis With Casey Anthony
In the brutal arbitrariness that is any system conducted by humans rather than
computers, Troy Anthony Davis was executed in Georgia last night while Casey
Anthony is free.
Many, especially on Twitter, have noted the racial element of the disparate
outcomes. Said one person: “Remember when people said if Casey Anthony was
black…well, there we have it. Round of applause for living in a racist,
Another person: “At least Casey Anthony is still alive, safe and warm and
probably still white and cute.” And another: “If the death penalty has taught
us anything today, it’s that Casey Anthony should’ve been black.”
Davis was executed with, reportedly, no physical evidence tying him to the
fatal shooting of a police officer.
Yet it is the lack of physical evidence that resulted in acquittals for two
other high profile cases: that of Casey Anthony, accused of murdering her
two-year-old daughter, Caylee; and that of two white New York City police
officers accused of raping a woman they had escorted home after she had too
much to drink.
Meanwhile, there was reportedly plenty of physical evidence tying to Dominique
Strauss-Kahn to the sexual assault of a Guinean hotel housekeeper, but
prosecutors dropped charges after they discovered the maid has “inconsistent
stories” and had lied on her asylum application. Strauss-Kahn has admitted only
to a sexual encounter and a “moral failing.”
Of course, there have been other high profile acquittals despite what seems
overwhelming physical evidence: That of the police officers in both the Amadou
Diallo and Rodney King cases. Let us not forget there’s even been an aquittal
of a black man, O.J. Simpson, when there was plenty of physical evidence. But
I’d be hard pressed to think of another black man going free under similar
circumstances. (If you know of one, comment below.)
The Innocence Project, which seeks to exonerate people in prison with DNA
testing, has so far freed 273 people from prison, 13 of them on death row. 70 %
of those exonerated were minorities.
All of this just underscores that the death penalty is a very final, very
definitive, and very inhumane way of meting out justice for cases that usually
have a built-in amount of gray area. Jurors and judges often have to make
decisions with something less than irrefutable, in-your-face,
no-way-of-ever-denying-it solid evidence. That doesn’t mean that everyone
should get off scot-free with anything less than a video tape of the crime in
progress—though even that doesn’t always make for a guilty verdict. Evidence is
often in the eye of the beholder.
That isn’t to say that sometimes there isn’t irrefutable evidence: body parts
in the refrigerator or buried under floor boards, for instance. In cases like
that, should the death penalty be applied? I don’t think anyone would weep for
someone who has that kind of physical evidence against him (or her). But even
those raise rounds of questions, including, is the person insane or the
mentally incompetent pawn of someone much smarter? Could the evidence have been
planted? Was it self defense? Unfortunately, one can raise questions for just
But if the death penalty is undesirable and uncertain enough for Troy Davis,
then it is for Casey Anthony too. Some on Twitter seem to acknowledge this, as
this in this Tweet by Joseph Menter: “People keep bringing up Casey Anthony… So
y’all want her to be executed too? Fight murder with murder? Naw, I’ll pass.”
I’ll pass too.
(source: Kiri Blakeley, Forbes)
Murder Is Good Politics, Bad Justice
I don't know if Troy Davis, who was executed Wednesday by the state of Georgia,
was innocent. But I do know that the evidence demanding a re-examination of his
conviction, including the recanted testimony of most of the witnesses against
him, was overwhelming.
Of course, that's now beside the point, which is exactly what is so wrong about
the use of the death penalty. No matter what evidence of innocence might be
produced in the future, it is of consequence no longer.
That's one compelling argument against the death penalty — no room for
correction — but there are others. The most egregious argument for capital
punishment is the claim that the finality of officially condoned killing is a
necessary guarantor of civilized order. It's egregious because it is not
possible to make that case without explaining why most of the democratic
societies that we admire shun the death penalty as contrary to their most
deeply held values.
Or is it China, Iran, North Korea and Yemen — which, along with the United
States, lead the world in government executions — that we most admire? There's
something stunningly disgraceful about the company we keep on this issue.
Amnesty International is the world's premier human rights organization, and it
deserves high marks for its anti-death penalty campaign. Amnesty points out
that more than two-thirds of the world's nations have abolished the death
penalty in law or practice. I defy anyone to compare the list of countries that
have retained the death penalty with those that have abolished it and then
conclude that it serves a needed purpose.
It's obvious from the experience of those nations without the death penalty and
our own 17 states that have banned capital punishment that this barbaric custom
is not a necessary, let alone efficient, means for ensuring public safety. Due
process in the United States, which claims to have an enlightened legal system,
requires death penalty procedures that are costlier than appropriate
Governments that cling to this primitive ritual of state-sanctioned murder do
so not to induce respect for law but rather to indulge a lust for vengeance.
Toward that end, it would be far more honest to have the bound prisoner stoned
to death by the governors, state legislators, prosecutors and judges who
support the death penalty rather than to employ lethal injections by disengaged
technicians. Forcing them to be the executioners in actual practice rather than
as a matter of legal theory would compel a far greater sense of personal
responsibility than politicians and some others tend to exhibit on the matter.
>From my own experience as a journalist covering this issue, the vast majority
of politicians who defend capital punishment do so out of rank opportunism,
which they demonstrate — particularly when the conversation is off the record —
by citing polling numbers rather than evidence of the death penalty as a
capital crime deterrent.
As I waited for the news of Troy Davis' fate, my thoughts kept returning to
that day in 1960 when we Berkeley students picketed the California governor's
office, pleading for a stay in the execution of convicted rapist Caryl
Chessman, who was never accused of murder. It didn't come because Gov. Pat
Brown, despite his deep reservations about the case, had succumbed to public
opinion. I never imagined then that more than half a century later, the death
penalty would still be enforced. That it is mocks our claim to be a moral
leader in this world.
It is appropriate that we grieve for the slain police officer, Mark MacPhail,
but if Davis was not the one with the gun, as he claimed to the end, the true
murderer will have gone unpunished, as suggested by Davis' haunting plea to the
MacPhail family minutes before he died: "I did not personally kill your son,
father, brother. All I can ask is that you look deeper into this case so you
really can finally see the truth."
Execution is a means of summarily ending the pursuit of justice rather than
This case was so freighted with contradictions that a stay of execution was
clearly in order. As Amnesty International spokeswoman Laura Moye said, "Today
Georgia didn't just kill Troy Davis. They killed the faith and confidence that
many Georgians, Americans and Troy Davis supporters worldwide used to have in
our criminal justice system."
(source: Robert Scheer is editor of TruthDig.com, where this column originally
Scalia Ruled That the Constitution Doesn't Prohibit Executing an Innocent Man
in Troy Davis Case
Beyond the emotional punch in the gut of Troy Davis' execution - and the
echoing cheers of a GOP debate audience for Rick Perry killing so many people -
it is worth remembering the role of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in the
Because it was during an appeal to the Supreme Court in 2009 on behalf of Davis
that Scalia - and BuzzFlash is not making this up - actually wrote a dissenting
opinion that there was nothing in the Constitution that prevented a state from
executing an innocent man (or woman).
How does BuzzFlash at Truthout know this?
Because we did a commentary back then on Scalia's jaw-dropping constitutional
assertion when the decision was rendered. (The Supreme Court ordered a Georgia
court to allow Davis to present new evidence.)
In that 2009 commentary, we quoted from Scalia's dissent:
This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a
convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to
convince a habeas court that he is "actually" innocent. Quite to the contrary,
we have repeatedly left that question unresolved, while expressing considerable
doubt that any claim based on alleged "actual innocence" is constitutionally
If the Constitution doesn't protect us from being executed even if we are
innocent, then, Houston, we have a fundamental problem of human rights in
Scalia is considered by some to be a "brilliant legal mind," but there is
nothing brilliant about authorizing the murder of innocent people.
Troy Davis -- Time to End the Death Penalty
Troy Davis' execution must be the beginning of a new resurgence in this country
to end the death penalty. The fight must continue forward and that's what will
honor the legacy of Troy Davis. As Troy said, it was not just about him but for
all the other Troy Davis that came before him and will unfortunately come after
Davis had an unprecedented amount of support that included almost 1 million
signatures calling for his clemency including former President Jimmy Carter,
Desmond Tutu, former FBI director William Sessions and Pope Benedict XVI. Since
his conviction in 1991 of killing officer McPhail in 1989, 7 of the 9 witnesses
have come forward to recant their testimony with allegations that one of the
witnesses was the actual killer. But, this was not enough to convince the
Georgia court system, the Georgia Board of Parole and Pardons, Larry Chisolm,
Chatham County's first African American district attorney or the Supreme Court
of his innocence or to spare his life. Troy maintained his innocence up to the
time of his execution, even requesting to give a lie detector test which was
The death penalty does not serve the interest of justice, the victim's families
or our society. Nationally, 130 innocent persons have been condemned to die
since the early 1970's. Some have been exonerated by DNA evidence. In Troy's
case, there was no DNA, only tainted witness testimony. Sending one innocent
person to their death is too many. In Maryland, a Commission on Capital
Punishment found that for almost every 9 persons sent to death row, one
innocent person has been exonerated.
Families of the victims wait often decades for their perceived "justice".
Annaliese McPhail, mother of the slain officer says she wanted her family to
"have some peace and start our lives." Unlike McPhail's mother, another
victim's mother is advocating for repeal of the death penalty. Vicki Schieber,
the Maryland mother of a daughter who was brutally raped and killed in 1998,
has testified before the U.S. Senate and several states, including New Jersey
which abolished the death penalty in 2007. She says she never wanted the death
sentence for her daughter's killer even though she was pressured by the
prosecutor to endorse it. She says it has brought her and her husband peace.
New Jersey became the 1st state in over 40 years to abolish its death penalty
in 2007. But recent hard fought efforts to end in other states have failed. The
momentum is growing and now is the time to keep it going. The Supreme Court has
moved towards limiting the death penalty forbidding the death penalty for
juveniles and mentally retarded and banning for crimes that did not involve
The death penalty has not been a deterrent to crime, is expensive, racially
biased and unfair. Taxpayers spend millions on a failed system. One Maryland
commission found that pursuing a death penalty case is three times more
expensive to taxpayers than pursuing a non-capital punishment case. In death
sentences, almost half of those receiving the death penalty are black. The
prison population is over 40 % black men while black men make up only 6 % of
the population. Life without parole should replace the death penalty as the
most severe punishment in America.
For the efforts led by NAACP, Ben Jealous, Amnesty International, Davis'
attorneys, Democracy Now.org and a host of others, now is not the time to stop.
To the family of Officer McPhail, may you find peace one day. And to the family
of Troy Davis, you have lost a son, brother, uncle and friend but have gained
millions of others. We are all Troy Davis.
(source: Debbie Hines.Lawyer, Political/Legal Commentator, www.Legalspeaks.com;
Death Penalty Retains Support, Even With Pro-Life Catholics, Despite Flaws
Debate over the constitutionality and morality of the death penalty has long
been an under-the-radar skirmish that occasionally emerges as part of a larger
These past few weeks it has emerged in a big way.
It was first roused at a GOP presidential debate during which the record number
of state-sponsored executions overseen by Texas Gov. Rick Perry (234 at the
time; 235 as of this writing) was a surprisingly enthusiastic applause line for
It was reanimated by this week's state executions of Troy Davis in Georgia, and
Lawrence Brewer in Perry's Texas.
Death penalty opponents seized on the execution of Davis, whose conviction of
killing a police officer was based on questionable eyewitness accounts, as an
event that could turn the tide against state-sponsored executions. Brewer, a
white supremacist, was executed for the dragging death of a black man.
History, however, suggests that despite outrage in some quarters over the
killing of Davis, public opinion will remain firmly in favor of the death
Public approval for death penalty over time.
"64 % of Americans support the death penalty in cases of murder," says Frank
Newport, editor-in-chief of the Gallup Poll.
That's actually a little higher level of support than when George Gallup began
asking Americans about their views of the death penalty back in the mid-1930s.
Support is generally higher among Republicans surveyed, and among those who
live in the South, he said, where 1,042 of the nation's 1,269 executions since
1976 have occurred. (Texas has overseen the most executions, 475 since 1976.
Virginia has killed 109 death-row inmates.)
Over the past decade, Newport says, Gallup's annual crime survey has found that
support for state-sponsored execution has remained remarkably stable, despite
revelations based on DNA analysis and other evidence that innocent people have
been put to death.
"A majority of Americans agree that innocent people have been put to death, and
they also say that the death penalty is not a deterrent to murder," Newport
The international community has also pressured the U.S. to leave the ranks of
countries that execute. The U.S. last year, according to Amnesty International,
trailed only China, North Korea, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia in the number of
Still, support has remained consistent.
"People say, we already know these facts, and we still support it," says
Newport. "Despite what's happened, we haven't seen a change in attitudes."
Take American Catholics, for example, who make up more than the quarter of the
The church - from its bishops to the Pope - have long called on Congress, the
courts and state legislatures to end the death penalty or, at least, restrain
it as part of the denomination's stated commitment to "building a culture of
But framing the issue as a moral one has not moved rank-and-file American
Their attitudes toward the death penalty are no different than others surveyed
by Gallup, Newport says.
Gerald Uelman, Santa Clara University law professor and former dean, has been
working on an initiative in California that would end capital punishment in the
state and replace it with a program requiring convicted murderers to work in
prison to provide restitution to victims' families.
A Catholic who has written extensively about the church and the death penalty,
Uelemen says that he's found that his fellow church members are not persuaded
by right-and-wrong arguments.
"What they find most persuasive aren't the moral arguments about the death
penalty, but the practical arguments - like, what the death penalty is costing
us, and what we're gaining from it," says Uelemen, who has been speaking with
many Catholic groups about the initiative.
"You can go round and round and round on the morality of it, but the bottom
line is it doesn't work, especially in California," he says, which is mired in
deep budget problems and has 721 people on death row and about 3,000 serving
life sentences without parole.
"This is one state where the dysfunction of the law is becoming the argument
that will lead to abolition," Uelemen says.
Internal polling by supporters of the initiative found that the strongest
support for the death penalty in California, if broken down by religion, was
"I found that quite disturbing," Uelemen says. "Retribution is the name of the
It's clear, he says, that the argument that may ultimately carry the day will
be all about the spending and not about the killing.
Note: Among Republican presidential candidates with a position on the death
penalty, only Texas Congressman Ron Paul opposes state-sponsored executions. He
has said it's unjust because poor defendants are more likely to be convicted
and executed, and because mistakes have been made and innocent people put to
Analysis: High-profile Davis execution raises questions
Controversy at home and abroad over the execution of Troy Davis, who was put to
death in the United States late on Wednesday for the 1989 killing of a
policeman, has renewed questions about the death penalty.
The U.S. Supreme Court rejected his last-minute plea for a stay of execution,
and Davis, 42, received a lethal injection at a prison in Georgia.
"The Troy Davis case is going to bring a lot of doubt into people's minds,"
said Fordham University law professor Deborah Denno, an opponent of the death
"It gradually erodes the death penalty more and more ... public opinion is
changing," she said.
Defense attorneys had argued Davis was innocent, citing new evidence and
witnesses who had changed or recanted their testimony, some even saying another
man committed the crime. No physical evidence linked Davis to the killing.
All the judges who reviewed the case rejected Davis's claim of innocence,
upholding his conviction and death sentence.
Other death-penalty cases have included claims of innocence, like those raised
by Davis, and racial claims. A defense attorney said a disproportionate number
of inmates in Georgia's prisons and on death row were black men, as was Davis.
The victim was white.
A Pew Research Center opinion poll in 2010 found that most Americans -- some 62
percent -- supported the death penalty for convicted murderers but Pew's
Michael Dimock said the figure had declined slowly over the last 15 years. The
polls show a drop from about 80 percent in the early 1990s.
The United States is the only western nation on an Amnesty International list
of the 23 countries that imposed the death penalty last year. The countries
were mainly in the Middle East and Africa, and China was believed to have the
highest number of executions, followed by Iran and North Korea.
The U.S. Supreme Court, with a conservative majority, generally has supported
the death penalty and shows no sign of placing a moratorium on executions any
time soon. The court reinstated the death penalty in 1976 after a 4-year
The number of executions in the United States generally has been trending
downward from a high of 98 in 1999. There were 46 executions last year and 35
so far this year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Richard Dieter of the center, a Washington-based group which opposes capital
punishment, said the battle will focus on individual states.
Thirty-four of the 50 states have the death penalty, along with the U.S.
government and the U.S. military.
"At some point, the Supreme Court might find that the standards of decency
regarding this punishment have shifted, but for now the focus is on state
reforms or state abolition," Dieter said.
"Litigators will continue to fight for their individual clients, raising all
the possible issues they can. Activists will seize on a few of those cases
because they illustrate the broader problems that the death penalty presents,"
Nearly 1 million people signed an online petition against the execution. Pope
Benedict, Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu and former U.S. President Jimmy
Carter were among those to express concern about the fairness of Davis's trial.
Despite attracting international attention, the case generated little comment
from U.S. politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike.
Texas Governor Rick Perry, the frontrunner in the race for Republican
presidential nomination in 2012, has presided over more executions than any of
his peers since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.
He received enthusiastic applause from the audience at a debate of Republican
presidential candidates in California this month when he strongly defended his
state's record in meting out what he called the "ultimate justice".
Supporters of the death penalty, such as Kent Scheidegger of the Criminal
Justice Legal Foundation in California, said a federal judge a year ago
rejected the claims by Davis as "smoke and mirrors."
"The Davis PR machine managed to whip up a froth of outrage anyway," he said in
a blog post. "Large numbers of people have a grossly distorted view of the
facts of this case, and that is not good."
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