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Death penalty support may be dying

Connie Schultz

Connie Schultz

More than a week has passed since the execution of Troy Davis, who insisted he was innocent until his eyes closed forever.

Georgia won this battle, but it has potentially ignited a movement to eliminate the death penalty in this country. If we’ve learned anything from Davis’ execution, it’s that our judicial system is too flawed — too human, really — to claim the right to kill another human being. And this time, millions of Americans were paying attention.

In the weeks leading up to Davis’ execution, a grass-roots effort to publicize Davis’ case mobilized tens of thousands of people — including some of the greatest legal minds in America — to protest his scheduled execution. People who never had cared two minutes about a stranger’s execution could tell you that seven of the nine witnesses in Davis’ case had recanted.

Immediately after his execution, Facebook news feeds exploded with posts of anger and despair. I’ve been writing about false prosecutions for 10 years, and I never have seen such widespread outrage against the death penalty.

In Ohio, where I live, Gov. John Kasich recently spared the life of death row inmate Joseph Murphy. Kasich took into consideration the convicted murderer’s horrific childhood, as well as lobbying by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. This is the fifth time since June that an Ohio execution has been postponed or called off.

Though Kasich’s decision to spare a man’s life is a just outcome, the underlying principle of gubernatorial authority in executions is jarring — one person with all that power over another person’s life. We elect fellow humans to be governors, not gods.

Speaking of God, I have a question for those self-proclaimed Christians who continue to find biblical wiggle room in their defense of the death penalty: How do you do that with a straight face? Our country was not founded as a Christian nation, no matter how many times you insist otherwise. But if you’re so sure it is one, then you’ve got a real problem with the Word. It’s “thou shalt not kill,” not “thou shalt not kill except in Ohio, in Texas, in Georgia...”

And what kind of Christian — strike that: what kind of human being — applauds executions? That was a mind-freeze of a moment at a recent Republican presidential debate. NBC’s Brian Williams noted that Texas Gov. Rick Perry has authorized more executions — 234 — than any governor in the history of the United States, and before Perry even could respond, the audience erupted into applause and whistles.

Instead of recoiling in horror or even chastising the merrymakers, Perry pointed to the applause as proof of widespread support for the death penalty.

“I think Americans understand justice. I think Americans are clearly, in the vast majority of cases, supportive of capital punishment.”

Give the governor a clue, please.

Contrast the crowd response at that debate with the behavior of those who actually witnessed Troy Davis’ death last week. There’s no hootin’ and hollerin’ when the reality of the death penalty unfolds right before your eyes.

Rhonda Cook, a crime reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has witnessed 12 executions, and she attended the one for Davis. She described for NPR’s Neal Conan the response of her fellow witnesses, including a number of reporters, the murder victim’s son and brother, and three people who were there for Davis:

“In the chamber, nobody moves; nobody speaks; nobody reacts. And of all that I’ve covered, I’ve never seen anybody do anything. Everyone is very stoic.”

And so Troy Davis is dead.

Amnesty International urged Davis’ supporters to “take a moment to honor the life of Troy Davis and (victim) Mark MacPhail. Then, let’s take all of our difficult feelings and re-double our commitment to abolition of the death penalty.”

That was Davis’ dying wish, too, which he expressed as he lay on the gurney:

“All I can ask ... is that you look deeper into this case so that you really can finally see the truth.

“I ask my family and friends to continue to fight this fight.

“For those about to take my life, God have mercy on your souls. And may God bless your souls.”

Georgia has scheduled another execution for next week.

God has nothing to do with it.

Email Connie Schultz at con.schultz@yahoo.com.