Dead man walking

September 21, 2011 • 12:46 pm

In four hours the life of Troy Davis will be snuffed out by the state of Georgia.  What will happen is something like this scene from Dead Man Walking (NOTE: besides the execution, there’s a bit of graphic violence, so don’t watch of you’re squeamish).

If we’re going to do this—and many people are happy that we do it—then it should be televised.  Those who favor the death penalty need to know exactly what it involves.

171 thoughts on “Dead man walking

  1. Those who favor the death penalty know very well what it involves, and they don’t give a damn. Their desire for revenge tramps all empathy, AND all rationality. It does not even occur to them that giving any government the power to put its citizens to death is not only barbaric but extremely dangerous. Americans in particular don’t like to even think about the fact that the US stands practically alone among the “civilized” world in practicing the death penalty. That fact alone should be plenty of food for thought.

    That was a great movie, by the way.

    And amazingly, the death penalty is an issue with which I’m in agreement with the Catholic church, which is one of the most corrupt institutions in human history.

    1. Well, the conversion of the Catholic Church to some form of humanity is quite recent. I asked Opus Dei (the NY office) ten years ago whether they opposed executions in the US, and they replied, “no,” with some waffling arguments that did not make any sense. I asked the same question five years later, and they said they opposed executions.

      Is it a coincidence that the States executing people coincide more or less with the Bible Belt?

      1. So much for being “pro-life”.

        There were and are elements in the RCC advancing a “consistent life ethic” which opposes abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment and (by some proponents) all military action equally, on the grounds that human life is sacred, period. Obviously I disagree in several ways, but I’ll give the folks credit for at least taking their own ethical claims seriously, as opposed to only when convenient.

  2. “If we’re going to do this—and many people are happy that we do it—then it should be televised.”

    Not in favor of that. Too much of a public spectacle. But I agree that most people don’t understand the horrors of institutionalized murder.

  3. Um, remember how there used to be public hangings? It was considered a great day out with the kids, I understand. Put it on TV and you’d have people throwing rec room parties with beer and chips, like they do for major league sports events.

    Don’t ever underestimate the human capacity for blood-lust, especially if a suitably despicable victim can be created.

    1. Good points. It would be the “next big thing” in reality TV and I bet it would be outrageously, and sickeningly, popular

      And since when does seeing violence on TV make it more real? If anything, it would likely desensitize people to it.

        1. I read a novel where a church would arrest criminals and televise their trials. They would play up the lurid details of their alleged crimes and blasphemies and tell the audience that if the did not receive a certain dollar total of donations, the horrible criminal would be released.
          Sometimes, they would switch up and insist that someone would be executed but the donation plate with the most money in it would determine the manner of the execution.
          Reality TV.

  4. If we’re going to do this—and many people are happy that we do it—then it should be televised. Those who favor the death penalty need to know exactly what it involves.

    As if most of the ghouls who bay for blood aren’t, themselves, asking for that? The US isn’t Japan, where people are hanged in silence.

    The Teapartiers and other Republans would just love a good televised execution. They’d demand the abolishment of poisoning in favour of something more spectacular: Electrocution, hanging, firing squad or the guillotine.

    In fact I suspect that demand would drive up supply to the point of more people getting executed. The manner would be decided by textmessage voting. People could enter contests to be the executioner. Bets would be taken on how long it take for death to be declared. And on the subsequent exoneration of the victim.

  5. Yeah, besides what Eamon Knight said above, consider those people cheering for executions at the debate. Or how many people are still fans of Bullfighting, and try to rationalize it as “art” and “culture”. They sleep very well at night.

        1. What is interesting is that although officially the Catholic Church opposes the mistreatment of animals, it never has condemned bull-fighting, Spain being viewed as a bulwark of Catholicism. Shows that religion is entirely a “social construct.”

  6. I hate the brutality of it and what it does to all of us.

    Add to that, a fair percentage of the time the person is not even guilty.

    As I recall, the parents of the girl who was murdered (on which the film was based) go to every execution in the state since then. Apparently they found no peace.

  7. Lawrence Russel Brewer and Shawn Berry chained James Byrd, Jr to the back of a pickup truck, dragging Byrd until he was dead and his body was in pieces.

    Brewer, a white supremacist, is scheduled to be executed today. James Byrd’s son, Ross, has been pleading for clemency.

    The death penalty in this country is wielded so imperfectly and with such unfairness that it really should not be used. This does not mean, however, that the planet would not be improved by the absence of people who do heinous things.

    1. To tell you the truth, emotionally I feel that some people deserve to die for inflicting such suffering on others.

      But as I said, killing them just adds more brutality into the world.

      And this assumes that we’ve even convicted the right person, which as we’re seeing now is not always the case.

      Keep them locked up, yes. Kill them in cold blood, no.

    1. Exactly what is a “twitter campaign” going to do? Geez, I am as against this execution as anyone, but wasting time on a twitter campaign directed at Red State Georgia official seems worse than useless.

      1. Well, it’ll do precisely nothing if it doesn’t happen!

        As Jose (José?) says, it at least raises awareness.

        And some Twitter campaigns (why the scare quotes?) have achieved much more than that…


        1. Twitter campaigns have achieved much more? Really? Like what? Many of our current problems would not be if many of the people who focus so much on twitter actually did something like vote.

            1. Uh, I think the media did cover this story. I guess if you live in a cave and only get news from twitter, you might not know. But, who the hell lives like that?

  8. “In four hours the life of Troy Davis will be snuffed out by the state of Georgia.”

    … along with the 40 INNOCENT lives that will be ruthlessly taken at the hands of criminal murderers. And 40 more tomorrow…and 40 more the day after…

    It’s hard to resent the death of a murderer when you think about his murdered victim and the horrible angst of her family.

    Of course we can just lock them up forever. But how much will that cost to tax payers?

    1. While I’m too lazy to look up the references, locking up people is cheaper than applying the death penalty, what with all the appeals and so forth.

    2. So it’s OK to murder someone for the crimes others may commit in the future? And in this particular example, there’s even a good chance Troy Davis is innocent.

      1. No, I didn’t say that. But murderers are likely to kill more than once, so for every murder we get rid of, we’re potentially saving at least one innocent person’s life. Sounds like a fair trade to me.

        1. And who said anything about releasing them instead? It’s about money, then? How much money does it take to stop viewing executions as barbaric, as a society?

        2. And if, as appears to be the case this time, they are killing an innocent man, isn’t the real killer out doing his/her crimes anyway?

          Execution isn’t solving any problem.

          1. An imprisoned man has already confessed to this particular murder. What’s more, it’s true enough that a death sentence and the consequent appeals process are much more costly to the state than jail without parole.

            There is no support at all for the assertion that a murderer is likely to murder again.

        3. I know nothing about this particular case but murderers are well known to have the lowest recidivism rate of any crime. It is generally a crime of passion happening in the moment, rather than a life style choice.

        4. Heber, do you have a reference? Homicidal maniacs and other serial killers, by definition, kill more than once. But as a general pattern for murder, I’m not so sure. Even so, where does institutionalized murder get us? It makes no sense morally, socially, or economically.

        5. Perhaps you should have a Minority Report type world where you lock up every ‘potential’ killer thus saving ‘innocent’ lives.
          I think it ridiculous to base a justice system on what might happen rather than on what DOES happen. You cannot prejudge.

          1. We ‘prejudge’ all the time, refusing parole based on one’s likelihood to offend again. It’s risk analysis.

    3. “It’s hard to resent the death of a murderer when you think about his murdered victim and the horrible angst of her family.”

      Ummm, there’s a good chance that Troy may be innocent. Maybe you’re talking about murderers in general and not Troy specifically, but it overlooks the fact (at least I’m pretty sure it’s a fact) that the death penalty has not been proven to be an effective deterrent (and like Alex mentions, it is actually more expensive than imprisonment).

    4. … along with the 40 INNOCENT lives that will be ruthlessly taken at the hands of criminal murderers. And 40 more tomorrow…and 40 more the day after…

      So we’re in agreement that the death penalty does absolutely nothing to reduce crime or make the world safer?

      It’s nothing but sheer vindictiveness and bloodlust?

    5. @Heber – Yes – the US locks up more people than most other countries – why not kill them all and save the money, or is that being flippant? Yours is hardly a heavily taxed country despite what the Tea Party would have its supporters believe. And of course you only have 47 million people below the poverty line –
      If you want to reduce the number of murders might I suggest a good place to start would be getting rid of the guns.

  9. You are giving your fellow Americans way too much credit. It you charged admission you’d make a bundle. You could probably even show this on pay-per-view and even have a paying lottery for those who want to “throw the switch”… even make a reality show out of it.

    1. Exactly. In a sense it would be less annoying because it’s more honest and doesn’t try to skip around the fact that a lot of people are just bloodthirsty barbarians.

      1. You could combine it with the presidential elections.

        The the loser gets thrown to the alligators.

        Or skip the elections all together and have the candidates kill off eachother. Perhaps in a holmgang to make things a bit more even.

        1. To those not familiar with a ‘holmgang’ – literally an ‘island going’ – it was a Germanic/Scandinavian practice whereby a sort of duel was fought on an island.

            1. Perhaps – go to/going – I prefer to use homophones where they are close to the source language, & as holm is still used in English (usually as a toponym) going seems to fit. It would be hard to walk to most islands!

    2. I am in total agreement with you. Televising executions would do nothing but desensitize an already empathy-challenged public to the barbarity of the process.

      Jerry, go back and read Dickens – or just read the historical accounts of huge crowds that went to public executions in England. The horror of the event was entertainment.

  10. I hate the death penalty because of the way it is enacted now, and because so many prosecutors are willing to convict in order to gain re-election.

    However, there are people, who commit heinous crimes that never get “reformed”. Society is better off without them.

    1. I agree that society is better off without the worst of the worst, but society is far> worse off by itself becoming a cold-blooded murderer.

      The solution is not to drench our own hands in the blood of our enemies, but rather to forcibly eject them from our midst. Since exile doesn’t work any more, that leaves us with incarceration, which comes with it certain moral imperatives for humane conditions.

      And, if we ever find a cure for the ills that cause the monsters to do their deeds, we would have another imperative to offer it to them and release them after successful application. Yes, that’s science fiction today…but there’s another of those moral imperatives to do what we can to make it a reality.

      Obviously, prevention is even better still. End prohibition and devote the same resources to education as we currently do to the military, and crime would all but vanish while prosperity would skyrocket.



      1. I totally agree.

        The Death Penalty is a very dangerous solution, especially the way it is enacted now.

        The corrections system has to be, basically, overhauled and rethought in order to provide the best service to a society.

        Even so, it’s an option I would not get off the table.

      2. There is a new book that sounds interesting on this sort of area –
        That Used to be Us: What Went Wrong with America – and How it Can Come Back by Thomas L. Friedman, Michael Mandelbaum

    2. So where do we draw the line? (Incoming slippery slope argument!)

      There may well be people you would like to see wiped off the face of the Earth, but who’s to say that everyone agrees with you? Or more interestingly: are you willing to see people you like killed, in order to get rid of the ones you don’t?

  11. I can’t get my mind around the simple inconsistency of “you’ve killed”, which we all know is wrong, therefore, “we’re going to kill you”.

      1. If you agree that killing in self-defense is morally right, then you just have to extend your acceptance to killing when in defense of others. So, if it is true that murders are likely to kill again, then one could argue that the death penalty is a form of a society self-defending itself.

        1. Not if the society has equally-effective and less abhorrent alternatives. Which we do.

          Your argument is one for the return of Hammurabic atrocities. Why do you hate society so much that you long for such barbarism?


        2. You could argue that, but it would be a bogus argument because society is not under imminent threat from Death Row inmates. They’ve already been rendered harmless by locking them up. Killing them doesn’t make us any safer.

        3. Someone who calls himself “Heber” says: “If you agree that killing in self-defense is morally right, then you just have to extend your acceptance to killing when in defense of others.”

          So the police should shoot speeders on sight… Or people driving with bad eyesight…

        4. Heber: “So, if it is true that murders are likely to kill again, then one could argue that the death penalty is a form of a society self-defending itself.”

          Yes, one could argue that…but one would be wrong. Pony up with evidence, dude. An incarcerated person is no longer a threat to society at large, and I’m guessing you already know that.

    1. By that argument, there’s essentially nothing you could do to punish or restrain criminals.

      By your standard, all of the above are “inconsistent”:

      “You held someone captive, which we all know is wrong, therefore we’re going to hold you prisoner for years.”

      “You took someone’s property, which we all know is wrong, therefore we’re going to fine you.”

      “You invaded someone’s privacy, which we all know is wrong, therefore we’re going to force you to attend therapy sessions.”

      1. I guess I didn’t use bullet proof wording but I don’t think your examples make my argument wrong. I think taking a life is on a different ethical level than your examples making the death penalty unique.

        The problem for me is the leap to execution as the most severe punishment available for the ‘most severe crime’. If it’s the most severe crime and there are other options available as punishment (jail), we shouldn’t do it. We gain nothing from killing an incarcerated person.

        I think it is relatively easy to distinguish between just retribution and the maintenance of a society that we all want to live in on one hand and vindictiveness on the other.

  12. If there is any doubt at all, no death penalty.

    However, if my niece’s husband, who used a machete to hack her and her 8 year old son (his step son) to death, had not later hanged himself, I would have been pleased to have very slowly tortured him to death.

    You’re right. I lose all rationality when I think of that little boy going into his mother’s bedroom that morning and seeing her lying dead, hacked up, bloody, and him trying to flee and being caught from behind and held down and hacked to death himself.

    When I think about how utterly terrified he must have been, I don’t give a fuck about being rational. And I don’t give a fuck what anyone else thinks.

    When I am being rational, I think about a little boy who doesn’t get to grow up and argue about shit in the abstract.

    1. As much as your tragedy pains and saddens me, and as understandable as I find your sentiments…yours is a case study in why crimes are committed against the state, and not the victims.

      Passion such as yours is a vital part of the human condition, but it has no place whatsoever in the criminal justice condition.

      (Consider: what if he were framed? Perhaps even by a police investigator whom your niece’s husband had cuckolded? What if he committed the crime while under the influence of prescription medication contaminated with a psychosis-inducing agent? Would you really be rationally capable of dispassionately considering such possibilities?)


        1. And that’s exactly the point.

          The state must be impartial, else emotion will cloud reason and prevent the discovery of all the facts in the case.

          Let’s turn it around. If you are someday framed or otherwise falsely accused of a heinous crime you didn’t commit, wouldn’t you want the dispassionate, impartial state to be the one to determine the facts of the case rather than the enraged victims?

          If your niece’s husband had been framed, that would mean that the real killer is still on the loose. Wouldn’t you rather have a dispassionate, impartial state discover that fact so you can direct your hate to the true criminal and your compassion to your unjustly maligned relative?

          And do you honestly think you’re in any sort of a state to be able to make such dispassionate, impartial evaluations yourself?



    2. Emotionally, I’d feel the same way about punishing the murderer. But would I, in the heat of rage or hunger for revenge, be equipped to actually find the right person, be sure of his guilt, and administer ‘justice’?

      But that’s one reason we have to let cooler heads find a solution that does the least harm to society while still protecting others from further harm.

    3. Your niece’s husband: an example of a human who was too heinous to live. When I think of people like this, it’s not the death penalty that enters my mind. It’s not punishment. It’s not revenge. It’s just that they’re too heinous to live. I imagine a large red button with the cretin’s name on it, and all that we have to do is push OFF.

    4. While I sympathize with your feelings (I have a horror story of my own), it seems pretty obvious to me that policy should be decided by arguing shit in the abstract, and not be people so deranged by grief they don’t give a fuck about being rational.

    5. This is hideous, but to be honest this guy sounds more likely to be insane than evil. We had a man here who persuaded his girlfriend to kill his wife who was later found in the boot of a car. Now this I call evil. He killed himself leaving her to face the music, but if he hadn’t he’d be in gaol having a much worse time than he is now. Convicts are criminals but they do have some standards.

      1. What’s insane? He did this in the early morning. Stayed there throughout the day. He cleaned up. He ate. He got his passport. He went to the bank and cleaned out the accounts and left. And he did all of it, with his son in the house. He stopped at his son. He told his son he loved him and would see him soon.

        Which is another way in which we were destroyed, because I can’t look at or think about my younger nephew the same anymore.

        1. Horrifically appalling. Were you to have the opportunity and go through with his murder, it’s possible you wouldn’t be treated too harshly; juries & even the law at times look differently at crimes of passion…Battered women have been known to get lenient sentences…

          I’ve often reflected that I would surely feel exactly the same should someone murder one of my kids.

          But I vote the anti-capital-punishment candidate whenever possible. Murder by those blind from grief and rage is different from murder by the state. The latter is fraught with errors, for one thing, enforced very inequitably, and the alternative–life-time incarceration–does not implicate all of us in what to cooler minds is immoral.

    6. Appalling story. My poor uncle was murdered on holiday in Turkey, but is was a stranger killing. Shot in the bank by a teenager while walking with my aunt. He was imprisoned, but later while doing military service he killed his girlfriend’s father I think. I do not feel anything (but pity perhaps) for the person who did this. He was from a dysfunctional family. I am sure my uncle suffered to some extent but my aunt who ran from the scene has to live with that memory of that. Your terrible story is different – you have a deep emotional involvement because the murderer was known to you and a relative. What makes me feel saddest is your surviving great nephew though, who is it seems a victim of his father as much as his mother & brother were.

    1. As a resident of one of them, I point out that at least 16 US states plus the District of Columbia have abolished the death penalty.

  13. There is the issue of whether capital punishment deters homocide. Some recent econometric studies (such as Dezhbakhsh, Rubin and Shepherd, American Law and Economic Review, 2003) claim it does. Other studies claim it doesn’t, but the question is still open.

    Even if it does, I oppose it on the grounds that people have been executed, and may be executed in the future. Better a dozen guilty murderers live than one innocent person is executed. Unless, I guess, someone can convince me that an execution deters the murders of even more innocent people

    1. “Good bye, Troy Davis, and good riddance.”

      Well, someone who calls itself JT, not having the courage to identify itself, feels that it can say anything stupid. I had a friend in Connecticut who got arrested because he looked just like the police portrait based on several witnesses of an armed robber who had assaulted a shop. Fortunately he had a watertight alibi, but if not, he would have sat behind bars for a dozen years.

      Anyway, why the majority of people commenting hide themselves behind pseudonyms mystifies me. Is there a thought police in the US?

      1. My friends call me JT because my first name is Jason and my middle Todd. Nobody’s hiding here pal. Look I respect your right to disagree with me, but I do support the death penalty for capital murder. When I say goodbye, Troy Davis, and good riddance, I mean it sincerely, and would say it right to your face if you were here. Dismissing it as stupid and then supplying an anecdote to support your insult seems pretty weak to me. I sometimes think that people who lean left (I’m one of them) can be pretty damned intolerant of opposing view points.
        For me it’s as simple as the punishment should fit the crime. But I’m willing to be persuaded that I’m wrong.

        1. My insult? You cannot insult an anonymous poster. You might have been a spambot.

          “The punishment should fit the crime.”

          So it is revenge? But the worst crime is to be cavalier about evidence and send someone to the gallows just to avoid to have been proven wrong. And of course, there is the aspect of human dignity (how you view yourself)–murdering someone because he murdered is being as base as the the murderer.

          1. “murdering someone because he murdered is being as base as the the murderer.”
            I disagree. Isn’t incarcerating someone no better than kidnapping them? Do we then become kidnappers when we take away someone’s freedom? Are we just as base?

            1. Jason Todd ??? writes:
              “I disagree. Isn’t incarcerating someone no better than kidnapping them? Do we then become kidnappers when we take away someone’s freedom? Are we just as base?”

              No. We put murderers behind bars to protect us. We don’t have to murder them in turn. But putting grass smokers or drug addicts behind bars, that is really base, I agree.

        2. Well, supporting the death penalty for capital murder is one thing, wishing this particular human being good riddance is quite another — unless you have complete faith in a verdict that increasingly looks unsound.

          So, do you? What do you know that the addresses the 10 points the Guardian raises: ?


        3. You are wrong. Wrong! It is the job of society to administer justice not retribution. To protect citizens criminals can be incarcerated in some cases even permanently but it is not the responsibility of society to rape the rapers and murder the murderers.

    2. I realize that Jerry didn’t include this info in the article, but before making such a crude comment about Troy Davis perhaps you could have done a bit of research. It is quite likely that he is INNOCENT.

      Still want him dead?

  14. Of course, what’s going to happen to Mr. Davis is a tragedy, because a possibly innocent man will be killed while the guilty go free.

    And one does not need to be either an atheist or a Roman Catholic to see that the death penalty is a spectacularly sensitive measurement with regard to whether a particular country is civilized or not. Hint: the US isn’t.

    However, the real issue is that these sorts of campaigns happen only at the very last second, often when the legal proceedings have gone on far too long in order to effect the outcome. Frankly, at this point, its a lot of wasted energy that only polarizes people.

    You want to stop this execution? Get in your time-travel machine and go back 25 years and start am effective campaign to abolish the death penalty in the US.

    The only effective way to stop the execution of an innocent man is to stop the execution of guilty men and women. And that requires political will and a deeper moral commitment to the value of human life than is currently possessed by many (if not most) in the US. Including commenter #17 (JT).

    1. Although this is the most widespread campaign for him, it’s not recent. Amnesty International has been on it for a long time. This is the guy’s FOURTH execution date. Last time it was canceled 90 minutes before execution.

    2. US public opinion is often surprisingly progressive on all sorts of issues (healthcare, war, free trade), but yep,the death penalty isn’t one of them.

      Two-thirds of the population think it’s fine and dandy for their political system to murder citizens, and half think that this cruel punishment isn’t imposed often enough. Reminds me of Gandhi’s quip about Western civilization: “I think it would be a good idea.”

    3. I cannot understand why it is OK to kill someone when the state sanctions it but not when it does not. The US & UK governments are for example guilty of the deaths of thousands in the various on-going Middle East conflicts. But because it is state sanctioned it is ‘OK’. Hmmmm…

  15. The most despicable thing that someone can do is kill another human being; and to set an example for the killer and for all of society we will kill him. What sense is that? This isn’t proper justice this is our society acting like a huge lynch mob.

  16. This is quite shocking:
    From the Guardian article:

    “Higher courts in the US have repeatedly refused to grant Davis a retrial on the grounds that he had failed to “prove his innocence”.

    So we are back to the Middle Ages: If you are thrown in the water, and sink, you are guilty. If you float, you go free.

    I thought that in a democratic and enlightened society the magistrates have to prove that the defendant is guilty, and not that the defendant has to *prove his innocence.* What is going on???

    1. It was the other way around: if you sink and drown, you were innocent. If you float, you were guilty and got executed. Screwed either way. 😛

  17. In principle I am not apposed to the death penalty, in practice too many people are wrongly convicted for it to be safe. It is bad enough when someone is found to have been locked up for 25 years for something they didn’t do, but at least you can try to make up for it. If they’re dead there’s nothing you can do. It’s just not acceptable to go around killing people who probably murdered someone.

      1. I suspect she means that she’s not opposed to the death penalty for those who are guilty of the capital crime they’ve been charged with. Just to be clear, I don’t mean found guilty, but are guilty.

    1. Even if you have video of the murder in progress, you can’t know what was going on inside the killer’s head. Suppose you execute someone and then ten years later a new technique of DNA analysis reveals that he was probably suffering from an undiagnosed mental illness?

      Frankly I just don’t see any benefit of capital punishment to society as a whole that outweighs this sort of uncertainy. The only tangible benefit I see is to prosecutors’ political careers, and that’s a pretty shameful reason to be killing people.

  18. Even DNA evidence is not all it’s purported to be. Even if the DNA analysis indicates that the chance of it being another person is 1 in several billion, the chance of having a mixup or mistake somewhere along the chain of evidence, however small, must be much higher, and that’s the probability that should be considered.

    1. This might be a case where we should commute his sentence to life in prison. But, you’ve got to admit, there are some open and shut capital cases. Take Ted Bundy, for example. Anybody here heart broken about terrible Ted getting the needle?
      I didn’t mean to be crass earlier, but I think there are cases where the death penalty is reasonable. Serial killers, for example. Some people don’t deserve to breathe.

      1. Take Ted Bundy, for example. Anybody here heart broken about terrible Ted getting the needle?

        you idiot.

        that’s exactly WHY the death penalty should be abolished:

        the only arguments in favor of it are emotional ones, as you just demonstrated.

      2. Man, I keep going over the evidence and I’m convinced Troy Davis was guilty. First off, the guy had previous gun convictions and was a known violent gang member (his street name was RAH, Rough as Hell). He was convicted of shooting a man about an hour before he killed officer MacPhail (he’s never disputed that conviction, for which he received a 20 year sentence) and the ballistics matches the ballistics in the MacPhail shooting (that’s physical evidence, folks). That’s almost enough right there. It puts the murder weapon in his hand an hour before the shooting and gives him a motive to shoot officer MacPhail.
        Next, we have nine eyewitnesses from the second shooting (the one for which he was executed) who testified two years after giving their statements that they (their statements)were correct. Only years later, once Davis’s legal team and family members had talked to the eyewitnesses did we get some wavering. It’s pretty obvious what happened here—it’s pretty easy to sow doubt in eyewitnesses years later. Even so, two eyewitnesses did not recant.
        Further, Davis fled to Atlanta after the crime, and there was blood spatter on his clothes though it could not be tested for DNA because it was too degraded after being in storage for years (there was no DNA testing at the time).
        He did it. He damn well did it. This was about the death penalty, about politics, not about guilt. This fella was guilty. There’s a reason twelve courts reviewed his case and did not act to overturn it.

          1. Your source is biased. The Guardian is left-wing anti-death penalty. Do you deny he was convicted of shooting another person an hour before shooting MacPhail? Do you deny that ballistic experts testified in court to a match between the two shootings? Do you dispute the science behind ballistics testing, and if so, why? Doesn’t matter that a gun was never found (does that surprise anyone?) Do you deny that all nine testified in court only two years later that their statements given after the crime were correct? Do you deny that the recantations came after pressure from Davis’s legal team and family? Do you deny that Davis supporters threatened to expose the names of the other two if they didn’t also recant?
            This fella did it. They got the right guy. It’s plain as day.

            1. Do you deny what the Guardian and other countless journalistic sources state?

              And, of course, still no source for your assertions.

        1. “Some people don’t deserve to breathe.”

          Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it…

          The Schofield Kid: [after killing a man for the first time] It don’t seem real… how he ain’t gonna never breathe again, ever… how he’s dead. And the other one too. All on account of pulling a trigger.

          Will Munny: It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have.

          The Schofield Kid: Yeah, well, I guess they had it coming.

          Will Munny: We all got it coming, kid.

          ^ Why “Unforgiven” is my favorite Western of all time.

      3. “Some people don’t deserve to breathe.”

        What he deserves is irrelevant. Wall Street and Washington DC are full of people who have done far more damage to society without actually breaking any laws. This should make it obvious that the law is not about giving people what they deserve. It’s about deterring crime and preventing criminals from re-offending. The death penalty does nothing to advance these goals.

        What it does do is to allow people to feel righteous about wishing someone else dead. It also allows prosecutors to build careers out of pandering to this urge. Neither of these is anything to be proud of.

  19. According to a CBS news article last updated at 10:45 p.m. ET, “Davis’ execution is expected to begin shortly.”

    What is more worthy of comment in light of the above discussion/comments is a statement by Spencer Lawton, the DA who secured Davis’ conviction in 1991:

    ‘”What we have had is a manufactured appearance of doubt which has taken on the quality of legitimate doubt itself. And all of it is exquisitely unfair,” said Lawton, who retired as Chatham County’s head prosecutor in 2008. “The good news is we live in a civilized society where questions like this are decided based on fact in open and transparent courts of law, and not on street corners.”‘

    A “civilized society” does not force a person to live for 20 with the prospect of his execution hanging over his head.

    1. The news is reporting that the State of Georgia has just murdered Davis.

      Of course, that’s not the language they’re using, but that doesn’t alter the facts.

      In related news, the State of Texas has also just murdered one Lawrence Russell Brewer.

      The worst crime of all is that nobody will ever be held accountable for these two crimes, or countless more just like them.


  20. Our [Sweden] large newspapers prints the stats on the abolishment of death penalty each year. 2/3 of nations have stopped.

    But the remaining kills more people than the smallest wars. Sadly, according to stats death penalty doesn’t work as a deterrent.

    1. I gave a context from another country (Australia), and you have given the world stats. And it is known that lots of things don’t work as a deterrent, however its about the political football of what we call in Australia, Laura ‘n Order – law and order).

  21. The “Quote of the Day” on AWAD today:

    But what then is capital punishment but the most premeditated of murders, to which no criminal’s deed, however calculated it may be, can be compared? For there to be equivalence, the death penalty would have to punish a criminal who had warned his victim of the date at which he would inflict a horrible death on him and who, from that moment onward, had confined him at his mercy for months. Such a monster is not encountered in private life. -Albert Camus, writer, philosopher, Nobel laureate (1913-1960)

    1. France is an interesting case. When Mitterand came to power in the 1970s, the first thing he did was to bring capital punishment to the parliament. A majority of France’s population was in favour, but the parliament voted with a large majority against capital punishment. This clearly shows that opposition to capital punishment is linked with the level of education.

    2. Yes, this exactly.

      There can be no justification, no excuse for the state perpetuating such an heinous crime. It goes so far beyond the pale as to be unimaginable in its cruelty.

      Incarceration is bad enough, especially given the condition of American prison life; one should not be subjected to repeated sexual torture at the hands of a sadistic gangster for mere possession of personal quantities of recreational drugs. However, we as yet have no better way to defend society against those who have demonstrated they are a threat to it by causing actual harm.

      But the barbarity of premeditated, cold-blooded murder carried out by agents of the state deliberately acting in the name of all society…it’s so far beyond the pale that further words fail me.


  22. I really, really cannot express my horror and sadness at this human folly: to kill for justice. I cannot fathom it. Just …. stop it.

    1. Excellent workshop Ichthyic. Thanks for sharing, shall pass it on. We who belong to WEIT, are aware of the importance of frameworks over feelings, and its good to have evidence for those who are not so fortunate.

  23. Well, notwithstanding JT’s half-truths above, I’ve run across some disgusting “facts” that right-wingers are spouting indiscriminately at rapid-fire pace.

    You will read or hear that there were actually 34 witnesses, and the 7-of-9 figure is a lie.

    Those were “witnesses” for the prosecution, not eyewitnesses.

    The source for now seems to be easy to track… wait for it…

    ANN COULTER (did you guess?)

    1. Please state my half-truths. Be specific. I hate Anne Coulter as much as anyoneand would never use her as a source. I agree with people on this site on almost every issue from religion to gay rights to abortion, etc. but I do support the death penalty. I don’t take it lightly.
      The evidence for and against Davis has been reviewed many times over by various judicial bodies and not a single one has found compelling evidence to overturn or commute his sentence. Why? A conspiracy? A personal hatred for Davis? Come on people. How many people on this site know about his conviction for shooting a man in the face just one hour before he shot MacPhail? How many people know that the bullet taken from the guy’s face was compared a bullet taken from MacPhail and found to be a match? Well, Davis’s lawyers sure as hell knew about it and that’s the evidence they we’re appealing just before his execution. That’s the most damning evidence against him and they knew it, they’ve always known it. Strangely, mainstream media is omitting this from their reports. Imagine that.
      This is science, the same science we use to criticize religious interpretations of the world. Your ideology is blinding you. You don’t just get to pretend that science doesn’t matter when it contradicts your prejudices. We can argue about the morality of the death penalty, but Davis was guilty. Notice how he found Jesus in prison and even the Pope has supported his bid for clemency. Most of his support is coming from religious groups, it seems. All you need to do is find Jesus in prison and suddenly you’re innocent. Disgusting.
      Funny how little the media cares about MacPhail and his family.

      1. “We can argue about the morality of the death penalty, but Davis was guilty.”

        We are arguing about the morality of the death penalty, and the guilt or innocence of this one man is irrelevant to that argument. So why do you keep bringing it up? Even if he was guilty, how does that excuse the fact that innocent people are wrongly executed with some regularity?

        1. I’m replying to comment #31. Please try to put my comment in context before posting.

          “innocent people are wrongly executed with some regularity”
          Maybe in Saudi Arabia, not in the US. Not true. That’s propaganda. Check your facts. And try not to do what religious fundamentalists like to do, that is, head straight for the “sources” that agree with them. Try looking at what death penalty proponents say and weigh the evidence.

          1. The context of #31 is found in #24, in which you put forward your personal conviction of Davis’ guilt as an argument in support of the death penalty.

            And if you seriously believe that nobody gets wrongly executed in the US, you’re simply delusional. (examples)

      2. Funny how you evoke “science”, implying some kind of infallibility that goes along with it. How much do you know about ballistics?

        On the fallibility of four commonly-used forensic methods. There’s lots and lots more (from better sources out there, of course). I simply do not have the time to do your educating for you, though.

        Here’s another starting point on polygraphs, though. (while inadmissible in capital cases, is many times instrumental in the vetting of witnesses who later give admissible fraudulent testimony) Another on how inept the judicial system is, which includes how it works like a series of one-way turnstiles. These observations aren’t to be taken lightly, either.

        Why do you dismiss this mountain of argumentation so lightly, JT? And then claim your support of the death penalty is a decision you do not make lightly? You have scrambled brains for breakfast recently?

      3. And what’s the physical evidence for that other shooting? Where’s the gun for that other shooting? The other half of your half-truths are what I mentioned before, and what’s on the link that you say is “biased”.

        Do you really think it’s that much of an open-and-shut case? Without physical evidence or a confession? That’s the problem. I don’t think anyone here is sure that he’s innocent as much as you seem to be sure he’s guilty.

        And you’re still not mentioning where you’re getting your information.

  24. JT has apparently never heard of a place called Europe.

    It is a condition sine qua non for any state wishing to join the European Union that it must have abolished the death penalty.

    There are 27 member states of the EU. In none of them are there any gallows, gas chambers, electric chairs, guillotines, or any other execution apparatus except in museums.

    Now, according to the logic of people such as JT, it is precisely the fear of execution that keeps people in line, and stops them from committing murder.

    So obviously countries that have abolished the death penalty must have much higher murder rates than the US. Right?

    Surely Europe must be a murder wasteland, where bodies litter the streets?

    Except that it isn’t. Of all EU member states, only two (Lithuania and Estonia) have murder rates higher than the US.

    The 2008 figures, published by the UN, show that there were 5.2 murders per 100,000 people in the US. In Lithuania the figure was 8.6 per 100,000 and in Estonia it was 6.3. But in most of the EU, figure was much lower than in the US. Even Northern Ireland, despite decades of sectarian violence, only had a murder rate of 1.4 per 100,000 inhabitants.

    There could hardly be clearer evidence that the death penalty does not deter, and that societies that do away with capital punishment do not suffer higher rates of murder as a result.

    1. Lithuania has a large Russian population that was imported after 1945. Now they are somehow rejected/not acknowledged by the native Lithuanians. So I can imagine Vodka is flowing freely…

    2. Nope, I’ve never heard of Europe. And you’re right, I’m sure that comparing crime rates between Europe (wherever that is) and the US and attributing any differences soley to whether or not the death penalty exists is the scientific way to do a study. Good work.

  25. There’s something I find interesting about all those official death-methods, and it’s all the means used to not let the executioners know who actually killed the executed… All triggered a gun, all pushed a button, but only one was directly responsible. Supreme laws can order someone’s death, but yet, at a personal level, very few are capable of actually pull the trigger. I wish judges and prosecutors could at least once in their career do it themeselves… and face the consequences. If that means anything to them, on a personal-moral-basis.

  26. Jason Todd (too chicken to give his surname) says:

    “Try looking at what death penalty proponents say and weigh the evidence.”

    Here is something from a supporter quoted in the website listing arguments pro and contra judicial murder:

    “Retribution has its basis in religious values, which have historically maintained that it is proper to take an “eye for an eye” and a life for a life.”

    So you are in good company.

    1. Okay Alexander, I’ve had about enough of that. If you think pseudonyms remove any credibility from the statements made on this site, then you have a lot of work ahead of you. Just about everyone who posts on this site does not give their full name. Have you bothered to mention that to the folks that agree with you? Get back to me on that.

        1. Please, that’s a whole other issue that has been discussed many times, including here in other threads. (If you’re interested, search for the “Da Roolz” posts; I believe there’s a good discussion of the topic there.)

          There are many valid reasons for pseudonomy; it is by now an established custom of forum/blog culture; and really, “JT,” being the guy’s initials & nick-name is hardly a ‘nym in the first place.

    2. surely you noticed how many supporters of Davis were praying outside the prison. You did notice right? Maybe you forgot. Did you also notice how the pope came out in support of Davis?

        1. If you had paid attention you would know that the Catholic Church opposes the death penalty. If they didn’t, the would have lost the last bit of credibility they have.

  27. Hello, fellow nonbelievers! I have lurked here for a long time, but have not posted anything until now.
    I assumed Troy Davis’s innocence when I heard about the recantations, too. However, it seems that Davis overstated his case. According to my source, (which I will provide), many of those “recantations” looked suspect to the courts for various reasons. This comment would get quite long if I posted all the details myself, so I will provide the relevant link.
    Information about testimonies and recantations:
    That link contains other relevant sources as well.
    I do not think that Davis told the truth anymore.

  28. This is my last post on this topic. I don’t want to get into an argument about this; I respect this site and what Professor Coyne is doing here too much to let that happen.
    I admit that I get a bit angry when I think about the MacPhail family and what they’ve had to go through. I should not have said what I said about Davis (I said good riddance) and apologize for that.
    I’ll also admit that I do have some reservations about the death penalty and am willing to let reason win the debate. I know that my emotiuons cloud my reason a bit when it comes to this particular issue. Like I said, I am open to having my mind changed on this, and feel that, in time, I will probably end up being convinced that the death penalty is immoral (I can feel it). In truth, I am almost there. The good thing about this site, unlike some others I know, is that people are more tolerant of opposing views and do not descend into vicious attacks at the sign of dissenting viewpoints. We’re mostly on the same side of most issues, but we don’t agree on everything.

    1. That’s why I love the site, too. For what’s it’s worth (not much, really) I can easily envision myself PERSONALLY “imposing” the death penalty on another person, given the right circumstances and frame of mind. I can also see a death penalty as being a moral thing in other times or places – when a given society does not have terribly secure ways of incarcerating. In the good old days, the only way you could reasonably be sure someone did not re-offend was to kill them. Preemptive self-defense of the tribe, really.

      The biggest slam dunk for me against the death penalty has to be simply how absolutely fucked up our (US) judicial system is. Add to that how most of its members (and juries) have God=judgement=hell on the brain – and the bias THAT entails – and it makes the entire picture of our society both revolting and terrifying to me. As in, get me outta here.

  29. I am against the death penalty on the fact that if a mistake is made, and an innocent person executed, the mistake is permanent.

    On the other hand, I can picture situations where I think I would instantly kill another person without remorse. Hopefully that opportunity will never face me, and I’ll never know.

    1. Being against the death penalty because a juridical error is possible is a valid argument. But I think there is a more important aspect, and here I agree with JT who questions the morality of executing someone for a crime. I think nobody on earth has the right to decide whether someone (who is defenceless, and not threatening your or someone else’s life) can live or not. I think this is a basic tenet of humanity and humanism, and a basic principle of human rights. We have the right to protect ourselves, and stop another killing by incarcerating a killer, but not to kill in turn. In fact killing someone is proclaiming yourself a god who has the right to wield absolute power over the victim-an ultimate form of arrogance. The fact that a former governor of Texas could just decide about the life and death of dozens of inmates– whether the decision was based on some form or reasoning or by the flipping of a coin makes no difference–is simply grotesque.

  30. I wonder if we (or rather, you) would have the death penalty if it were not for religion?

    To be fair, the blood/revenge-lust seems fairly fundamental, and not dependant on believing the invisible sky fairy ordered it.

    If, as someone pointed out, there is a correlation between the Bible Belt and death-penalty states, can we see a map?

    1. Shuggy : “I wonder if we (or rather, you) would have the death penalty if it were not for religion?”

      To start out you could wonder why Alan Turing, one of the great geniuses of the 20th century in the UK, killed himself in 1954, at age 41. The reason is that the UK magistrates adhered to laws that were based on the Bible, that is, laws based on prejudices that existed 2000 years ago and that were “frozen in” into society by religion, up to the 20th and even 21st century. I mentioned the “eye for an eye” principle in this discussion. People attack me for saying that religion is at the base of social regression–I’m looking for examples where (Christian) religion inspired progressive legislation, but I’m not holding my breath.

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