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Could Troy Davis execution lead to repeal of the death penalty?

September 22, 2011 | 12:41 pm

Troy_Davis_Too_Much_Doubt

Troy Davis’ execution is renewing a campaign to overturn the death penalty in the United States. Former President Jimmy Carter is at the forefront of those calling for such a repeal, blasting the death penalty as "unjust and outdated."

"Rosalynn and I are deeply saddened by the execution of Troy Anthony Davis by the state of Georgia. If one of our fellow citizens can be executed with so much doubt surrounding his guilt, then the death penalty system in our country is unjust and outdated. We hope this tragedy will spur us as a nation toward the total rejection of capital punishment."

Amnesty International was using the hashtag #TroyDavisLives on Twitter to encourage people to sign an online petition to abolish the death penalty. "Let this be the beginning of the end of the #deathpenalty," wrote one person circulating the petition on behalf of the human rights organization.

Davis was executed late Wednesday night for the 1989 murder of an off-duty Savannah, Ga., police officer. Until the very end, he insisted that he was not responsible for killing Mark MacPhail. "I am innocent," he said, just moments before the lethal injection was administered and he was pronounced dead.

His execution followed an extraordinary fight to keep him alive after several  key witnesses in the case recanted their testimony. High-placed support came from a variety or corners, including the former president as well as South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Pope Benedict XVI, former FBI Director William Sessions and former Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.).

Richard Dieter, executive of the Death Penalty Information Center, said Davis' case could signal a watershed moment in the fight to overturn the death penalty because even many proponents of the death penalty had questions about whether Davis was guilty. It all raised the troubling prospect that an innocent man might have been put to death -- and underscored the irreversible nature of the punishment.

Currently, 34 states allow the death penalty, as do the military and the federal government.

While Dieter's Washington-based research center does not take a position on the death penalty, he predicted that this ultimate punishment will one day be banned in the United States. "Not tomorrow," he told The Times. "But as long as you have such nagging problems about guilt and innocence continue, I think the death penalty is facing demise."

And if it does, he said, Davis' execution will have no doubt played a role.

Dieter said he couldn't recall the last time a death penalty case triggered such widespread demonstrations, including protests held outside the White House, the U.S. Supreme Court and the prison, as well as throughout Georgia and in a smattering of other places across the country.

"This was an on-the-street sort of thing," Dieter said. "It was surprising. this really did blossom into something else. Even if you support the death penalty, you are not in favor of executing the innocent. This was both a case and a time that came together."

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--Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: Protestors outside the Georgia prison where Troy Davis was executed Wednesday. Credit: Reuters /Tami Chappell

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