'Innocent' Troy Davis executed by lethal injection

Amid a storm of protest, the US state of Georgia has executed 42-year-old Troy Davis – despite troubling evidence that shows he may not have committed any crime.

At 11pm on September 21st, 2011, alleged murderer Troy Davis spoke his final words: 'For those about to take my life, may God have mercy on your souls. I am innocent.'

But after more than twenty years of appeals, and despite a huge international campaign, Troy Davis was executed – killed by lethal injection for a crime many say he did not commit.

As an unemployed black man of 20, Troy was convicted of the 1989 murder of policeman Mark MacPhail. An army veteran and father of two young children, MacPhail was shot in the face after trying to prevent a homeless man being abused in a Burger King parking lot.

The murder was a terrible tragedy, but thousands of people around the world believe that there is not enough evidence to link Troy Davis to the crime. The State of Georgia, they say, has now doubled the original harm by executing an innocent man.

The crucial question is: was the case against Troy Davis proved 'beyond all reasonable doubt'? The conviction was largely based on statements from eyewitnesses, the majority of whom have since recanted their statements. Many claim they were pressured into accusing Davis by police investigators. There is no DNA evidence from the crime. Worst of all, another man present at the scene is said to have confessed to having murdered MacPhail himself.

For Davis' supporters, these troubling facts are easily enough to undermine the validity of his conviction. Under the circumstances, they say, it is an outrage that Davis should be called to pay the ultimate price.

But for the courts of Georgia the doubts were irrelevant. After an initial guilty conviction, Davis had been given hearing after hearing, and there had been no progress on establishing his innocence. It was time, decided the judges, for justice finally to be done.

In the USA, 34 states still use the death penalty, and America joins Iran and Pakistan in the global top five for capital punishment. Indeed, Davis was not the only American to be executed on Wednesday: he was joined by a notorious white supremacist who carried out a sadistic racial murder by dragging a black man behind his truck along a bumpy road. For the 64% of Americans who support the death penalty, it's cases like this, and not the doubtful conviction of Troy Davis, that stick in the mind.

Reform or abolition?

When a government has the right to dole out death, fatal mistakes can never be ruled out. Surely whatever satisfaction the death penalty might provide is no compensation at all for even a single unjust execution.

But although the conviction of an innocent person is terrible, many think that the death penalty itself must stand. Some crimes are so terrible, they say, that execution is the only possible way to get justice.

You Decide

  1. Should America abolish the death penalty?
  2. Does Troy Davis' case present a fundamental threat to the death penalty – or just to the way it works at the moment?

Activities

  1. Write a speech for Troy Davis' supporters, marking his death and exploring what this means for the death penalty in the USA.
  2. Choose one of the countries which still practise the death penalty, and research their record of sentencing. In what way does this differ from America? What does this suggest about the fallibility of the death sentence?

Some People Say...

“It is better to release ten guilty people than to kill one innocent.”

What do you think?

Q & A

How was Troy Davis executed?
Like most on death row today, by lethal injection. Other methods include hanging, firing squad or gas chamber.
Why did his appeals fail?
It was a lot to do with the system of appeal in America. Once someone has been convicted of a crime, an appeal must establish, with clear and convincing evidence, thatno reasonable juror would find the accused guilty. This is designed to prevent endless wrangling, and to uphold the strength of an initial conviction – essential to continued trust being vested in the courts. But it makes appealing existing convictions very difficult.

Word Watch

Appeals
Offenders who are facing the death penalty are allowed to appeal against their sentence should important new evidence come to light. This appeals process can often take years to complete.
Georgia
One of the southern states of the USA, Georgia is politically conservative and generally supports the death penalty. The state has executed around 40 people since 1976.
DNA evidence
Some of the strongest evidence in modern court proceedings comes from DNA. Tiny fragments of hair or skin can provide conclusive proof that someone was at a crime scene, or that they handled a murder weapon.
White supremacist
A racist who believes that white people are superior to all other ethnicities.

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