After several hours of last-minute deliberations, the Supreme Court declined to halt the controversial execution of Troy Davis, and he was pronounced dead in Jackson, Georgia, at 11:08 p.m. after receiving a lethal injection. Davis had been found guilty of the 1989 murder of off-duty Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail. The conviction was called into question when seven of the nine eyewitnesses recanted their testimony, with six claiming that police pressured them to identify Davis, who maintained his innocence until the end. No physical evidence tied Davis to the crime and no murder weapon was ever found. Tied down to a gurney last night, Davis looked toward the MacPhail family and said, “The incident that night was not my fault, I did not have a gun I did not personally kill your son, father, and brother. I am innocent.” To his executioners, he said, “May God have mercy on your souls, may God bless your souls.”
“I’m not joyous,” said MacPhail’s mother. “I’m feeling a little bit relieved. It has been a long, long battle. I’d like to close the book.” Davis had received three prior stays on scheduled execution days, but all final bids this week, including Davis’s request to take a last-minute polygraph test, were rejected. When supporters asked President Obama to step in, he said in a statement that only the court or a parole board could do so. White House spokesman Jay Carney said, “[T]he president has written that he believes the death penalty does little to deter crime but that some crimes merit the ultimate punishment.”
Hundreds of death penalty opponents gathered outside of the prison to protest, carrying “I Am Troy Davis” banners and chanting “Shame on you” at Georgia state troopers marching in riot gear. Amnesty International and the NAACP held a press conference, with NAACP head Benjamin Jealous predicting that the Davis case would be a “game-changer for the death-penalty debate.”
Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick asks whether Davis’s execution could be a tipping-point moment for the death penalty in the United States, not because Americans have suddenly decided it is morally wrong — a majority of the country has supported capital punishment for many decades — but because it is unfairly implemented. Coming on the heels of numerous death-row inmates who have been exonerated by DNA evidence, the Davis case underlines growing concerns about unreliable eyewitnesses, “grotesque levels of racial bias that infect the capital sentencing system, and the various types of police misconduct,” she writes.
In Texas, a few hours prior to Davis’s death, Russel Brewer was executed for the notorious hate-crime killing of James Byrd Jr., much to the dismay of the victim’s son, who said, “You can’t fight murder with murder.” Brewer and Davis were the 34th and 35th executions in the United States so far in 2011.
This post has been updated with additional information.