After Troy Davis

By the time you read this, several news cycles will have elapsed since the US state of Georgia put to death, by lethal injection, a very possibly innocent man named Troy Davis.


An execution that a former French Justice minister (in fact, the man who helped abolish the death penalty in France 30 years ago) called "a defeat for humanity", is no longer trending on Twitter.


The tsunami of Facebook status updates decrying Troy's tragic fate has dwindled to a trickle.


A call by the filmmaker, Michael Moore, via his blog, to boycott Georgia garnered a last full measure of online outrage - a flurry of "likes", retweets and sympathetic shout-outs.


Troy Davis's name - whose name was unknown to most of the world (including myself) until a couple of weeks ago - will soon recede to the outer fringes of our collective conscience.


Not quite oblivion, but not too far off.


More state-sanctioned murder


Davis's case was so riveting because the legal gaffes that pervaded its prosecution were so revolting.


Many of us simply cannot comprehend the disconnect between the elements of "reasonable doubt" (the same consideration that led prosecutors to drop their charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn) - no physical evidence linking Troy to the murder, seven of nine witnesses recanting their testimony, etc - and the refusal of the Georgia Pardons Board to grant clemency.     


The Davis execution is barely out of the headlines, but the assembly line of state-sanctioned murder known as the US death penalty has already moved on.


A man named Derrick Mason was executed in the state of Alabama just a day after Davis. This despite a plea to the state's governor from the inmate for clemency. 


On October 18, meanwhile, another death row convict, Joseph D. Murphy, is set to face the gallows in Ohio. He will be followed nine days later by Frank Garcia, in Texas.


The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty provides a calendar of scheduled executions on its website.


The NCADP list of the soon-to-be condemned - all from either Texas or Ohio - is a litany of names you are unlikely to ever hear: Hank Skinner, Reginald Brooks, Charles Lorraine, Michael Webb, Briley Piper and so on.


Two-thirds back death penalty


Unlike Troy Davis, they will shuffle off this mortal coil to little mediatic ballyhoo. 


Recent polls in the United States show that almost two-thirds of Americans believe these condemned men - yes, they are all men - deserve the gruesome fate that awaits them. (According to Gallup, 64 percent of Americans were for the death penalty in cases of murder convictions in October 2010, versus 29 percent who were against it.)


That level of support has remained constant for nearly a decade, as the New York Times points out. But it is down from 80 percent who favored capital punishment back in 1994.


What's interesting is the possible reason for this slippage: the rising number of cases in which verdicts have been overturned due to DNA evidence.


To be sure, there have been over 1200 executions in the US since the Supreme Court allowed states to use capital punishment in 1976.


But while public opinion may be firmly behind the ultimate sanction, actual executions are ebbing: 46 in 2010, a 12 percent decline from a year earlier, and an even bigger drop from the 85 executions in 2000.


Of course, there's a clear distinction to be made between those who oppose the death penalty in cases where guilt may be in doubt - and those who simply oppose it, under any circumstance, on ethical and humanitarian grounds.


Lawyers for a moratorium


George Ryan, a former governor of Illinois, made a big splash several years ago when he declared a moratorium on all executions in his state "unless I can be sure with moral certainty that no innocent person would be put to death".


The American Bar Association, for its part, has launched the Moratorium Project for the death penalty arguing, in the words of its former president, John J. Curtin Jr., that "a system that will take life must first give justice".


The ABA contends that the US justice system is plagued by geographical disparities and ethnic bias.


In fact, studies have shown that prosecutors tend to seek the death penalty more often for blacks and hispanics, than for whites.


In North Carolina, the odds of being meted out a capital punishment are three and a half times greater if the victim is white.


Even Texas Governor Rick Perry, a top Republican contender for the presidency, is under fire for his role in refusing a stay of execution for a possibly innocent man. (Perry, for what it's worth, has overseen the execution of 234 inmates in his 11 years as governor.)


But despite the clarion calls in some quarters for a more equitable approach to justice, the idea of easing up on capital punishment - let alone abolishing it - remains unthinkable to most Americans.


Asked at a recent Republican debate whether he had ever struggled with the idea of possibly putting an innocent man to death, Perry was categorical - No.


Yet more telling - and chilling - were the rousing cheers from the audience when the moderator mentioned that Perry had overseen the executions of more peple than any other state governor: 





The Economist magazine noted this week that capital punishment is slowly "dying out" around the world as more and more countries scrap the death penalty.


Unfortunately, given the current tenor of a starkly polarized public opinion, the United States does not look like it will be joining the abolitionist ranks any time soon.









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