Troy Davis and the American justice system

Shawn Gude

Shawn Gude is a writer, graduate student, activist, and assistant contributor at Jacobin. His intellectual influences include Chantal Mouffe, Michael Harrington, and Ella Baker. Contact him at or on Twitter @shawngude.

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120 Responses

  1. greginak says:

    heavy sigh….very sad, very trueReport

  2. Koz says:

    The pov that the anti-death penalty activists represent has a fair bit of currency in the country at large but they hurt their interest by misdirected advocacy, in a couple of ways.

    1. The American people are much more sympathetic to claims of innocence than racial bias, ineffective counsel, and the rest of it.
    2. They are also more or less at peace with the death penalty, and the important reforms of the criminal justice system don’t have a huge amount to do with it.

    I am particular interested in the latter. Police misconduct, incompetence and bad faith in handling evidence, overzealous drafting in criminal statutes, almost complete lack of accountability for prosecutors: these are the problems of the criminal justice system, and they exist at every level of criminality, from traffic tickets to capital cases.

    By comparison, the death penalty is applied as humanely as you could hope for.Report

  3. Jaybird says:

    I only hope this will buttress the movement to reform our racist criminal justice system.

    Be careful what you wish for. You might get something like this.Report

    • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

      You know, I’ve followed the Troy Davis case for a while now (years), I followed it very closely for the last few weeks, and I followed it by the minute (on Twitter and Democracy Now!) yesterday, and I held back tears when I heard that the Supreme Court had denied the request for a stay. I followed it so closely because it is a miscarriage of justice, whether the man is innocent or not. In the Jasper case, the man clearly was not innocent, and I will readily admit not feeling the same sense of tragedy and anger, but I followed that case (less closely) yesterday as well, and I felt anger when he was executed as well. Who was it that said, some people may deserve to die, but do we deserve to kill them? The death penalty is wrong in all cases, even those that involve people I consider despicable.Report

  4. E.D. Kain says:

    Thanks for posting on this Shawn. I have some thoughts on this over at Forbes.Report

  5. Will Truman says:

    I only hope this will buttress the movement to reform our racist criminal justice system.

    The problem is that movements to reform our criminal justice system tend to be most strongly advocated by people that use the opportunity to take a gratuitous swipe at Dick Cheney. For instance.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to Will Truman says:

      Um, no. That is not the problem. The problem is that it is good politics to be very tough on crime, has been for 25+ years, and good for prosecutors’ careers to achieve convictions regardless of guilt, and obtain sentences as harsh as possible in high-profile cases, very much to include capital punishment in cases of particular public ignominy. So the problem is simply a political one, but one that existed long before Dick Cheney or his detractors came around. That is a red herring.

      Beyond that, there is nothing gratuitous about mentioning (Cheney or his colleagues’) record in the course of conversation about the need for criminal justice reform. I think there is reasonable doubt as to whether a conviction could be achieved in the case of Cheney, Bradbury, et al., so the lack of action on the part of DOJ (Incidentally to Scott: it would political interference for the president to decide that the DOJ will prosecute Dick Cheney, just as it would be for him to forbid that from happening: if you have evidence that either of these has happened, please forward it) in my view is within the department’s discretion. (Incidentally to Scott: it would political interference for the president to decide that the DOJ will prosecute Dick Cheney, just as it would be for him to forbid that from happening: if you have evidence that either of these has happened, please forward it if you’re inclined.) But there is more than enough evidence on the record to justify a criminal investigation. And the point is that, even if a crime were rather clearly committed by Cheney wrt to torture, for example, it is a near certainty that he would escape conviction, if not prosecution, because of who he is. At least, that is what Shawn is maintaining; it is what Glenn Greenwald maintains. On the other hand, justice is meted out with swift certitude in the case of crimes allegedly committed by ordinary Americans – and with more swiftness and certitude if you are black. And more still if you are black in the South. And that two-tier justice system – one for the rich and powerful, a separate one for the powerless – is at the heart of the need for reform in the criminal justice system. We can have a debate about whether we should have capital punishment in a ideal justice system, and that would and should be a passionate debate (which in my view has a clear answer because even in an ideal justice system mistakes will be made). But a “fair” death penalty could sit atop a justice system that produces fair outcomes consistently, and we would not be in need of criminal justice reform; just an ongoing debate about the death penalties and perhaps the harshness of sentencing generally. That is not the situation we are in. What we have is a fundamentally unfair criminal justice system that produces results that are systematically skewed against the poor, powerless, and non-white. And it’s on top of that system that we have an even more skewed death penalty, which is now routinely executing innocent people or people about whose guilt there is significant doubt.

      Dick Cheney has not only admitted to ordering a technique for which the U.S. has in the past tried soldiers for war crimes; he has also shot a man in the face while hunting. But it is simply the case that neither you nor I can imagine him being hauled in front of a jury for either of those acts (and it is entirely plausible that neither you nor i could be nearly so sure that we would avoid consequences for similar acts). There are many contexts in which making reference to these facts about Cheney would be gratuitous. But in considering and characterizing the current state of our criminal justice system overall, the case of Richard Cheney (and of others in the Bush II administration) are just clearly relevant data to the conversation.Report

      • I will cop to “gratuitous” not being the best word choice on my part. I would prefer “unnecessary” or “counterproductive.”

        Honestly, I am not really in the mood for a long and protracted discussion on how opposition of the death penalty undermines its (and my) cause at nearly every turn.Report

        • Michael Drew in reply to Will Truman says:

          I don’t think it’s much of a cause, really. It’s pretty much just a settled political matter that it is the regime in the places where it is a part of the culture, and where not, not*. It just also happens to be one of the questions of public policy on which I happen to think there is something like a matter of moral and practical fact that it is incomprehensible to me that people differ from me on. And yet they do.

          I’d be interested in hearing your account of how the movement undermines itself whenever you want to share it, though.

          * The federal death penalty is somewhat more contested (as any federal matter will be), but it’s also not where the majority of the injustice is located, and hence I think is not as great a target for opponents’ and activists’ attention.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Michael Drew says:

        When you make it obvious that this is part of a broader political agenda, then it makes me more inclined to believe that you’re misrepresenting this issue to advance the broader political agenda.

        Dick Cheney has not only admitted to ordering a technique for which the U.S. has in the past tried soldiers for war crimes; he has also shot a man in the face while hunting.

        Yeah. Stuff like that there. The shooting was an accident, and the victim is still alive and chose not to press charges. If you can’t even resist misrepresenting easily verifiable facts, why the hell should I trust you on stuff I can’t personally verify?Report

        • Michael Drew in reply to Brandon Berg says:

          Would there be any way for me to reference Cheney without making it “obvious” that it’s part of a broad political agenda? because if not, it seems like you’re just saying that flash-point political figures won’t even be part of a successful issue campaign, no matter how relevant. Which, if that is what you are saying, then, while I disagree, fair enough.

          The shooting was an accident, and the victim is still alive and chose not to press charges. If you can’t even resist misrepresenting easily verifiable facts, why

          I’m not sure what I’ve misrepresented. Yes, the victim survived. So? Shooting someone by accident is not something that never carries legal consequences with it. The only point I made is for us to run a thought experiment about if one us us did the same thing, whether we could be as sure as Cheney was that we’d never see such consequences. That the guy didn’t press charges is not 100% outside of the potential causal chain of that observation/assertion. It is likely that if you or I were vice president and went hunting and shot someone, the person would likely not press charges as well. But if we weren’t, the likelihood might change considerably. Certainly, if the matter were to go to court, the treatment by courts and and access to quality counsel would change considerably. But then you realize that, while the idea that you or I could be hauled into court for such a mistake is pretty plausible, the notion that a former vice president would be just strikes as fairly preposterous. And even more so for alleged crimes that can be seen as part of the man’s official “policy” duties.

          Contrasting this with the experience of someone who lost his fight to save his life as a result of a conviction on the basis of nine eye witnesses of whom seven have recanted, the issue we have in our criminal justice system is laid bare. It is not blind, and it does not treat you the same no matter who you are. There are numerous examples that can be used to illustrate this, but Dick Cheney is among them.Report

  6. Christopher Carr says:

    I’ll admit it: I’m a member of Here’s the email I got tonight from Patrick Schmitt:

    “Dear Christopher,

    The state of Georgia killed Troy Davis tonight.

    Despite so much doubt about Troy Davis’s guilt — including seven witnesses who changed or recanted their testimony, and three jurors who convicted Troy who later asked that his life be spared — Georgia’s parole board decided he should die. And so tonight at 11:08 Eastern Time, he was killed by lethal injection.

    His sister, Kim Davis, wanted to tell you what her brother said before he died:

    “When Troy saw that more than 250,000 members signed a petition that was delivered to the board in his name, he called to tell me he was deeply moved. He told me he knew that he had supporters around the world, but he had no idea that the support was that widespread.”

    Kim has said that she’ll keep fighting, for the next Troy Davis and the one after that. And she knows so many of us will join her in this fight.

    Troy Davis was not alone when he died. Thank you for standing with him.

    – Patrick and the entire team

    P.S. Troy’s case has brought international attention to deep, long-existing flaws in our criminal justice system. If you’re interested in becoming more involved in advocacy around the death penalty, visit Amnesty International, The Innocence Project, or the NAACP. You can also start your own campaign on this issue on”

    I’d echo what Patrick Schmitt says: AI, the Innocence Project, and the NAACP all do great work regarding the death penalty.Report

  7. Scott says:


    Exactly why is Cheney a war criminal? Blame Barry for not going after him. Troy Davis got quite a bit of due process, more than he would have gotten in most of the world so quit whining. You mention “lethal poison” in your post, which is a bit redundant as I thought most poisons are lethal. If you don’t like that method would you prefer the electric chair or hanging?Report

    • Christopher Carr in reply to Scott says:

      I’d prefer gladiatorial contest to the death myself. There’s no dignity in getting pumped full of poison.Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to Scott says:

      Poisons are harmful by definition, but not necessarily lethal. The chemicals used in chemotherapy would be an example of nonlethal poison.Report

    • James Hanley in reply to Scott says:

      Troy Davis got quite a bit of due process, more than he would have gotten in most of the world so quit whining

      The fact that something could be worse does not mean that we cannot insist that it be even better. The economy is worse in Greece than in the U.S., so should we stop being concerned about the state of our economy? My health is not great, but could be worse, so I shouldn’t try to make it even better? A student gets a C on a paper; it could have been worse, so he shouldn’t try for an A next time?

      And let’s note the gratuitously emotive term “whining.” Apparently anyone who recognizes that there are injustices in our system and wants to eliminate them is just a whiner. Real men stoically accept the injustices meted out to others.Report

      • Jason Kuznicki in reply to James Hanley says:

        Real men stoically accept the injustices meted out to others.


      • Chris in reply to James Hanley says:

        You know, Davis got quite a bit of due process, more than he would have gotten in some of the world (most? where is this most? also, it clearly wasn’t enough due process). But you know what he wouldn’t have gotten in most of the rest of the world? The fucking death penalty, that’s what!

        Seriously, if you want to measure our country against others, this is one area in which we are clearly lagging way, way behind.Report

        • Scott in reply to Chris says:


          So your argument is that the you don’t like the outcome and that proves that Davis didn’t get enough due process?Report

          • mark boggs in reply to Scott says:

            Might have something to do with 7 of the 9 folks who made the decision now saying they were *wrong*.Report

          • James Hanley in reply to Scott says:

            So your argument is that the you don’t like the outcome and that proves that Davis didn’t get enough due process?

            Nice misrepresentation of Chris’s argument. There’s been plenty of argument on here that we don’t like the process, and that shows that Davis didn’t get due process. And that’s what makes the outcome so unjust–that a man was executed as a consequence of an undue process.

            You’ve got the arrow of causality turned exactly backwards.Report

          • Chris in reply to Scott says:

            Scott, I don’t like the outcome, it’s true. I didn’t like the outcome for Brewer, either, and we knew damn well he was guilty, because he told us he was, and the evidence was pretty overwhelming even if he hadn’t. But even if I didn’t mind the death penalty in cases like Brewer’s, the fact that Davis was convicted on eye witness testimony that has, for the most part, been recanted, and has been shown to have been produced by coercive police tactics, and the fact that another dude may have confessed to the crime (a witness for the prosecution, no less!), and the fact that the courts basically either ignored all of this or argued that it was too late, would make me feel that he didn’t get due process. I honestly can’t fathom why it doesn’t make you feel that way.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

        Real Americans care about real injustices, like marginal tax rates, not fake issues like the execution of innocents.Report

  8. James K says:

    I had heard that the execution was immanent, but not that it had happened. To execute a man when the conviction seemed so unsafe is incomprehensible. What is clemency for, but to fill in the gaps in the system?Report

  9. desmoinesdem says:

    I oppose the death penalty period, but especially oppose applying it in cases that rely on eyewitness testimony rather than physical evidence of guilt. What part of “reasonable doubt” do the Georgia governor and justice system not understand?Report

    • Kimmi in reply to desmoinesdem says:

      … most eyewitnesses are not credible. Any word on whether people with photographic memories are more credible?Report

      • NoPublic in reply to Kimmi says:

        True eidetic memory is excruciatingly rare. So much so that your odds of having a person with photographic memory as an eyewitness to your crime are somewhere around the same as your odds of winning the lottery while being struck by lightning (only a mild exaggeration. The odds are something like 1 in 10 billion or perhaps an order of magnitude less if you include some other forms of exceptional memory).

        (Disclaimer: I have been involved in medical research on memory)Report

        • Kimmi in reply to NoPublic says:

          … 10 billion seems a bit off, considering that I know someone with photographic memory. But hey, I could just be the weirdo who knows the only guy ever to have this condition. (disclaimer: he can’t remember anything that is written. apparently deciphering writing takes up too much of his brainpower). But he can remember what it was like to be three years old (even if all the colors were brighter back then).
          [doing a quick wikisearch, I’m not going to say that he doesn’t use mneumonics, just that if he does, they aren’t consciously applied.]

          Note: it still doesn’t help find the car in the parking lot. Because he can remember ALL the times he put the car in the parking lot. Even after you filter out by weather conditions, it’s still unhelpful.Report

          • NoPublic in reply to Kimmi says:

            I don’t want to get into the various modes and definitions of unusual memory mechanisms because they’re not really relevant here but what your friend has may be called photographic memory but that is not what the medical community calls it. Real eidetic memory is holistic. A person with eidetic memory recalls a picture of a thing. They can then examine this picture as if it was the thing itself. The number of documented cases is very small and the number where the memory persisted for more than a few hours is smaller still. Your friend likely has mild hyperthymesia, which is a different memory disorder whereby a person can remember certain things they themselves experienced in great detail, often for years. So they may remember on November 12th 1965 they got hit in the face by a snowball, and what they were wearing, etc. Total hyperthymesia (which encompasses not merely some events but all events a person witnessed) is also fairly rare. It is, however, an experiential memory not a visual one and it is therefore subject to some of the same vagaries as normal eyewitness testimony.Report

            • Kimmi in reply to NoPublic says:

              … how would you test if “They can then examine this picture as if it was the thing itself”? … is this like the person who can move around a room in the darkness, after only seeing it once?

              … this is the type of person who feels lost when a construction site magically transforms into a building — as if the world has gotten all plasticky, and anything he thought he knew has changed.

              [sorry OP for the massive tangent. ]Report

              • NoPublic in reply to Kimmi says:

                Typically this is done with random image testing, where a context-free set of images such as random patterns of dots or lists of words in multiple languages and orientations is provided and then recall of them is tested. A person with true photographic memory can reproduce such things even if they have no context or meaning or they cannot understand the language or even alphabet of the words. Generally the recall only persists for a short time and gradually decays. The last time I was actively involved in the field (about 2 decades ago) there had been no documented cases of long term photographic memory.Report

    • Scott in reply to desmoinesdem says:


      A jury didn’t have any reasonable doubt which is why Davis was convicted and got the death penalty.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Scott says:

        7 of 9 witnesses recanted their testimony. It’s more than just a little bit possible that the jury only had no reasonable doubts because they believed testimony that wasn’t true. It’s truly disturbing that you appear to have no qualms about putting someone to death based on recanted testimony. As long as it seemed good enough to the jurors at the time, it’s good enough for you now, eh?

        As I said above, I guess it takes a real man to stoically accept injustices meted out to others.Report

      • Pierre Corneille in reply to Scott says:

        One thing Scott might want to consider is that one can be a proponent of capital punishment (although I am not) and still oppose its use in this case.Report

  10. The overall sentiment of the post was nice – the Cheney comparison was pointless and partisan.Report

  11. Jason Kuznicki says:

    To the conservatives here:

    Why is the Cheney comparison “pointless” and “partisan” — when saying “Barry should have done something” isn’t?

    There was a time when state issues were state issues, and federal ones were federal, and the two worlds were fairly separate. But creating out of the ruins of federalism a partisan double standard is just insult to injury. If Obama is fair game, Cheney is too. And if the one is not, then neither is the other.

    My own approach is both-and: I’d love to see Cheney held to account in an international criminal court. I also fault Obama for not using the presidential pardon more, erm, liberally. If I were president, I would make it my goal to use that power very, very extensively.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      Actually, I just double checked, and a president can’t pardon state-level crimes. I may also have been misreading Scott’s suggestion. Oops.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      If I were to throw something together, I’d say that bringing up Cheney in this particular case was not germane.

      It was the equivalent of saying “while people are stuffing their fat asses full of McDonald’s”. Is there anything Cheney could have done to prevent this execution (other than throw his weight around)?

      Bringing him up seemed to be an expression of frustration on the part of the writer rather than something that had a whole lot to do with what we thought the topic of the post was about.Report

      • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jaybird says:

        That weight would be considerable, because it would be enough to shake plenty of conservatives out of their smugness about the whole affair.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:


          I imagine that had George W Bush and Rudy Giuliani gotten together to make a commercial about 9/11 and how Troy Davis would be even worse because we’d be doing it to ourselves, it’d make an even bigger impact.

          There are plenty of folks who, had they challenged this execution, would have made a huge difference.

          The complaint was not that Cheney didn’t do anything, though… but that we live in a country where Cheney gets deferential treatment from reporters while Troy Davis gets executed.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Jaybird says:

        To channel Robin Hanson, gratuitous Cheney-bashing is a method of signalling tribal affiliation. It’s not about any actual relevance Cheney has to the topic at hand. I’m not particularly fond of Cheney, or of the Bush administration generally, but I just roll my eyes whenever I see something like this, especially given that he’s been out of office for nearly three years. “Oh. It’s one of those people.”

        “You know those people who you don’t particularly like or trust? Well, I’m one of them. Oh, and you should take that other thing I just said at face value” is not a sound rhetorical strategy.Report

        • Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg says:

          It’s worth noting that libertarians pretty much never do this. We didn’t like the Bush administration. In fact, many of us feel deeply betrayed by it. But we don’t think of “You know who I hate? Dick Cheney!” as the perfect accessory to any conversation. It’s purely a shibboleth of the left.

          Which is not to say that we don’t have our own, necessarily.Report

          • Michael Drew in reply to Brandon Berg says:

            Hmm, betrayed, you say?Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

              I wouldn’t have said “betrayed”.

              I would have described the feeling I had as a “slowly sinking realization that he was as bad as his saner critics said he was” punctuated by irritation when Social Conservatives pointed out how much we should like him because, after all, he finally vetoed something in 2005 or some crap like that.

              I’d say that that’s a good description of Obama as well. (I seriously thought that he would lighten up raids on Medicinal Marijuana dispensaries.)Report

    • Jason – Shawn never mentioned Obama in his post.Report

      • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

        Scott mentioned “Barry” in a comment. I presumed he wasn’t talking about Barry Manilow.Report

        • Mike Schilling in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          Bonds, maybe? He (also) gets blamed for more or less everything that’s wrong with the world.Report

          • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Mike Schilling says:

            But Barry Manilow writes the songs…Report

            • dexter in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

              that makes the whole world change radio stations.
              A few years ago there was a man in La. who was convicted of rape because he was indentified by the victim. One can’t get much closer to the perp than rape. To make a long story short, after a mere 13 years of legal wrangling by lawyers he was exonerated by DNA evidence and his brother was convicted . So, if one dies because of eyewitnesses people ought to have at least some doubt.
              A question for the lawyers around here. Why would a DA fight to keep DNA evidence from being entered after the fact? Wouldn’t they want to really know who did it?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to dexter says:

                Why would a DA fight to keep DNA evidence from being entered after the fact? Wouldn’t they want to really know who did it?

                I’ve pondered this question over and over again.

                The only explanation that makes any sense to me is that Prosecutors tend to think that anybody who makes it to this point in the process is definitely guilty. Maybe not of the thing that they may have gotten arrested for this time… but guilty nevertheless.

                I think it was the BTK killer that was a serial killer that stopped killing for 10 years and then started up again.

                The theory used by the cops was that BTK must be a guy who was caught, went on a 10 year stretch, then started up again when he got out. (This turned out to be inaccurate… but the logic isn’t obviously unsound.)

                So, I’m guessing, the fact that the DNA may not match this particular case is irrelevant to the DAs. The attitude that it probably matches some other cold case in the back is the only one that makes sense to me.

                All of the other explanations I’ve come up with are much worse than that one.Report

              • Koz in reply to Jaybird says:

                “I’ve pondered this question over and over again.

                The only explanation that makes any sense to me is that Prosecutors tend to think that anybody who makes it to this point in the process is definitely guilty. Maybe not of the thing that they may have gotten arrested for this time… but guilty nevertheless.”

                Actually, I think the answer is simpler than that. They don’t care, at least on an individual level.

                They’ve internalized the adversarial nature of the justice system in bad ways. Something like this: I’m here to prosecute the guilty, therefore the people I prosecute are guilty. For those who are innocent, that’s what the defense bar gets paid to show, and secondarily that’s what the judge and the appellate courts are for. It’s not my department.Report

            • MFarmer in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

              If we can blame Barry Manilow at least we’ll get some justice. Would anyone oppose giving the death penalty to Manilow for what he did to music?Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to MFarmer says:

                Having the State execute Barry Manilow accomplishes nothing. He is merely a symptom.

                What we want to do is carry out ‘police actions’ against the entire city of Branson, MO. Only then can we sleep at comfortably at night.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to MFarmer says:

                We’re in a sad, sad state as a country when Barry Manilow, a milquetoast pop star, can release a new album, make millions, and joke around with crowd on his umpteenth show in Vegas while Troy Davis is mercilessly injected with lethal poison. This is the height of inhumanity.Report

    • Koz in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      Two things about Cheney:

      1. What Brandon said about the hunting accident.

      2. Cheney doesn’t fit the jigsaw puzzle of the criminal justice system in the way the OP tries. Cheney couldn’t do anything for Scooter Libby even though he supposedly tried.

      Scooter Libby, Martha Stewart, and Conrad Black are very good examples of defects in the criminal justice system, in particular prosecutors run amok. The fact that these are wealthy defendants doesn’t change that, it emphasizes it. If the Feds can bulldoze wealthy and politically connected defendants on marginal cases over presumably confident defense counsel, they can certainly do it to us.Report

  12. Chris says:

    Shawn, I understand why you included Dick Cheney in this post: you feel (as I do) that he committed heinous crimes, and not only has he not had to answer for those crimes in a court of law, but he never will have to do so. It contrasts quite well with the injustice of Davis’ execution, I agree. I do not think, however, that this was the time or the place to make that point.

    To the death penalty supporters:

    Yesterday, two men were murdered by the state, one in Georgia and one in Texas. They were both convicted of murder, but their similarities end there: one was black, the other was a white supremacist; one was convicted solely on eye witness testimony for shooting a police officer, the other not only admitted to committing the heinous crime for which he was sentence to death, but as recently as this week told a Houston reported that he had no regrets and would do it all over again; the case for one’s conviction fell apart over time, with all but 2 eye witnesses recanting, some saying the police coerced or otherwise manipulated their testimony, while the other, as I said, admitted he committed the crime. I oppose the death penalty in all cases, so for me, despite the differences in the cases, the executions of both of these men were morally unacceptable. However, even if you are a proponent of the death penalty, I cannot understand why you would not be outraged at the execution of the man who was convicted on eye witness testimony alone, much of which has since been recanted, without a shred of physical evidence, and clear evidence of police misconduct, even if you are not outraged at the execution of the white supremacist scumbag in Texas. Perhaps the Georgia and Federal courts followed the letter of the law in reviewing Davis’ case and denying him clemency, but even that is no reason not to be outraged. A man who had simply not been proven guilty by any standard other than those of a state that uses trials merely to give the appearance of fairness to pre-determined sentences should not be executed, even if you think the death penalty is a legitimate exercise of state power. You might think it’s a shame that some death penalty opponents appear to be using this case to further their agenda, but in what world is it moral, no, in what world is it sane to not only fail to speak out against, but to actually defend injustice simply because you don’t like the people who are speaking out against it, or don’t approve of the way they are going about it? This is not an abstract political argument: a man died yesterday, despite the fact that the state that killed him had failed to prove, by any rational standard, that he was guilty.Report

  13. That this has been derailed into a conversation about Dick Cheney is absurd. Some people really don’t like Dick Cheney and they think his actions are immoral to the same degree as state-sanctioned killing. They are under no obligations to genuflect towards your delicate sensibilities if you feel otherwise, and to say that their refusing to do so somehow absolves you of the responsibility to address the argument against the death penalty is, well, chickenshit.

    This is coming from someone who is not even a particularly passionate opponent of the death penalty (I think in the abstract there are some crimes that can be justifiably responded to with death, but that the system as it exists in the US is grossly, ridiculously dysfunctional).Report

    • Elias – I can’t speak for anyone else but my complaint would be that bringing up Cheney muddies the waters of what could have been a very pure intellectual discussion about the criminal justice system. The resulting Cheney derailment of the thread seems to confirm this.

      I am a death penalty opponent. I’d love to discuss that. Shawn’s reference turned this into a political bickering match. It’s unfortunate.Report

      • mark boggs in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

        Again, I’d be interested in how this conversation goes if he used the President who perjured himself and was basically given a pass as the example.Report

      • Koz in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

        “I can’t speak for anyone else but my complaint would be that bringing up Cheney muddies the waters of what could have been a very pure intellectual discussion about the criminal justice system.”

        Yeah, no shit, that should be pretty obvious for Elias. As far as the main point goes, like I wrote above the death penalty itself is a distraction from the corruptions of the criminal justice system since the death penalty apparatus (legal and logistical) is one of the least corrupt parts of it.Report

      • My intent in bringing Cheney into the discussion was to make a larger point about the immoral disparities endemic in our justice system. I hate vapid partisan debates, but I think the difference in justice meted out to Dick Cheney—yes, a Republican, but also a rich, white man who wields incredible power— and Troy Davis—a non-affluent, ordinary black dude— is quite telling. For me the point was not to bash a Republican that I loathe (I have little love for the Democratic Party either). And I probably wouldn’t have even chosen Dick Cheney if he hadn’t been in the news lately. The truth is there are a million other examples you can conjure up that involve a person in power getting off scot-free and an ordinary citizen (especially one who happens to be a minority) getting screwed by our justice system.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Elias Isquith says:

      I’d like to take the opportunity of Troy Davis’s execution to talk about the drug war.Report

  14. E.C. Gach says:

    James Fallows has some interesting thoughts and a link to a great piece on the legal philosophy surrounding capital punishment:

  15. MFarmer says:

    There are two issues here — one being the death penalty, which I oppose.

    The other is the innocence or guilt of Davis. If you stick with the case as it was tried in court, not in the public, Davis was found guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Many people, including a judge who had no reason to do other than consider the evidence, have to be wrong while Davis is right. If you look closely at the case, the reasonable doubt exists with the recanting witnesses and the claim that Red Coles did it. I would advise looking at the evidence closely. Davis was proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but the death penalty is the wrong punishment.Report

    • DarrenG in reply to MFarmer says:

      Davis was proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt

      Your qualification of “as tried in court” does a lot of work here, though.

      The jurors who determined his guilt weren’t given access to information we now have regarding police misconduct and coercion of multiple witnesses or any information about Red Coles as an alternate suspect.

      This also doesn’t take into account the fact that jurors routinely give too much weight to eyewitness testimony given its lack of accuracy.

      As others have said, the criminal justice system, particular in some states, doesn’t seem to deal particularly well with information that comes to light after the original trial.Report

      • MFarmer in reply to DarrenG says:

        Have you read the case? The defense failed to find Coles when they had a couple of months, and, when Davis’s life was on the line at re-hearing, they didn’t call two, I think, recanting witnesses, and they didn’t put Davis on the stand. Read the case and you’ll have to conclude Davis was guilty. There was plenty of reasons to doubt the recanting witnesses narrative, and Red Coles. The Judge looked at all of this, and he had plenty of pressure to change his sentence, but he still concluded Davis was guilty — the judge is not a monster, but a competent official of the court, and he would have changed his mind if the evidence was compelling — he had no reason to do otherwise — he had no motive to be unfair, especially with someone’s life at stake. You are going by what’s been circulated in the public.Report

        • DarrenG in reply to MFarmer says:

          You are going by what’s been circulated in the public.

          As are you, I believe, unless you are claiming access to privileged information unavailable to the rest of us.

          I’ve read a fair number of details of the case, and yes the defense didn’t do everything they probably could and should have; that doesn’t argue in favor of Davis’ guilt, though. In fact, I think the “he got a bad defense” argument is another strong argument against capital punishment in this case.

          As for the judge, I’m not even sure which judge you’re referring to, but none of the judges involved in the original trial or subsequent appeals and clemency process adjudicated guilt, which is part of the problem here — Georgia law is apparently strongly deferential to original jury verdicts, which didn’t allow for the full facts of the case to ever be adequately reviewed in court.

          Read the case and you’ll have to conclude Davis was guilty.

          Based on what I have read I have concluded that there isn’t sufficient evidence of Davis’ guilt to merit an irreversible verdict of any sort. Regardless of all the other details, eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable and that was the entirety of the prosecution’s case.Report

          • MFarmer in reply to DarrenG says:

            Okay. This is useless.Report

            • James Hanley in reply to MFarmer says:

              This is surprising, Mr. Farmer. You’re insisting that we accept the jury’s decision, even though there’s reason to believe that the jury based their decision on flawed evidence. Maybe you read the case and concluded Davis was guilty, but in that case are you not relying on the same quite possibly flawed evidence the jury was?

              You claim there was “plenty of reason to doubt the recanting witnesses narratives,” but you don’t bother to tell us what those reasons are. The very fact that 77% of witnesses recanted strongly suggests there’s really something going on. But you say, without detail, “plenty of reasons to doubt” them. So what the fuck are those reasons? On what basis should anyone just take your word for it? If you’ve got a real for sure argument instead of mere assertion, then for god’s sake bring it out!Report

            • Tom Van Dyke in reply to MFarmer says:

              Yes, it is useless, Mr. Farmer. Welcome to the epistemological jungle.

              I spent a few hours reviewing the various claims and concluded that as usual, there’s no point in spending another minute on theological debate. Do I think he did it? What possible difference would that make?

              There have been a half-dozen sparkling moments of clarity in this thread; the rest is cant, laundry-listing, question-begging, and the high-fiving of banalities.

              Litigating the particulars of the Troy Davis case is a fool’s errand. Even if he was guilty as hell, any system populated by human beings will err, a near-statistical certainty.

              The con- side can be distilled to a succinct and principled argument via fallibilism: Since anything that involves human beings cannot be perfect [for whatever reason—animus, bias, ambition, callousness, apathy, mere laziness], the finality of the death sentence is argued as an unacceptable ethical hazard.

              The particulars of the Troy Davis case are addictive for some, but there will always be another case. He either did it, or he was yet another black man railroaded by the system.

              Our “system,” of courts and juries and the rules of evidence and appeals and even a special court proceeding ordered by the US Supreme Court, failed to find the truth, that he didn’t do it. Or they failed to satisfy all doubts—because all doubts can never be satisfied—although he really did do it.

              [Whether “the system” is racist, or only a little bit racist makes no difference. Until racism is eradicated [likely never], there will always be another Troy Davis and that discussion will be replicated ad infinitum.]

              So let’s boil it down. The system is not infallible and the death penalty is final. The particulars of this case or that case do nothing to still the waters.

              I haven’t even got to the rest, but if you poke around, there are sub-blogs at the League of Ordinary Gentlemen. I have written on the Troy Davis on one of them. All are invited, although they are asked to check their rhetorical grenades at the door. Adults only.Report

  16. MFarmer says:

    I think the jury was like 7 black and 5 white.Report

  17. Katherine says:

    Doesn’t the President have the authority to pardon people? Did Obama let this man die just because he didn’t want a political controversy?Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Katherine says:

      We touched on this in Jason’s comment above (the one marked September 22, 2011 at 9:49 am).

      Presidents can’t pardon state-level crimes.Report

    • James Hanley in reply to Katherine says:

      There was a minor international flap a few years ago caused by that constraint. IIRC, it was a case from Arizona concerning the conviction (maybe execution?) of a Mexican national. Mexico wanted the U.S. Prez to step in, and there was much confusion caused by the fact that the Prez had no authority over state criminal law. Many people unfamiliar with our (unusual) constitutional structure had difficulty grasping that was a reality, not just an excuse (by, again IIRC, W.).Report