Was justice served in Davis, Brewer death penalty cases?

At a recent Republican presidential debate, Governor Rick Perry, capital punishment’s biggest elected cheerleader, spoke on the death penalty’s infallibility, arguing, “When someone commits the most heinous of crimes against our citizens, they get a fair hearing, they go through an appellate process, they go up to the Supreme Court of the United States if that’s required.”

That view has received an amount of skepticism not witnessed in decades thanks to two racially charged cases that each ended in execution in the states of Georgia and Texas. The cases couldn’t be any more different yet each has reignited a debate over the death penalty. However, it was the execution of Troy Anthony Davis in Georgia that has generated the greatest share of public outcry.

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In 1991, Davis was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1989 killing of Mark MacPhail, an off-duty police officer who was working as a security guard in Savannah, Georgia, when he was shot and killed while aiding a homeless man who had been attacked. Many have called into question not only Davis’ guilt in the crime, but the rationale for carrying out his death sentence after several witnesses have recanted their testimonies and complained of police coercion. Moreover, a murder weapon has never being recovered and there is still no physical evidence tying Davis to the murder.

Davis’ mother’s cries of injustice have been shared by numerous publications, and pleas for clemency have been expressed by a number of public figures for and against the death penalty — including former President Jimmy Carter, William Sessions, a former F.B.I. director, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Pope Benedict XV, in addition to 51 members of Congress.

Davis has won three delays of execution since 2007, but ran out of luck last week after Georgia’s pardons board denies his request for clemency. His legal team had since exhausted every legal option to try and delay execution, ending in the filing of a motion for a stay of execution with the U.S. Supreme Court. That request was denied, despite an outpouring of support of the international community — including nearly a million people who lent their names in support of Davis.

On Tuesday, the Court granted a stay of execution in the case of Cleve Foster, a 47-year-old former Army recruiter who was convicted of a 2002 murder and rape.

For supporters, it’s a highly disappointing end for a man many believed was put to death in vain. For Anneliese MacPhail, the mother of the murdered officer, last night’s execution was long overdue. When Davis received a stay by the Supreme Court in 2008, Anneliese told a reporter, “I’m furious, disgusted and disappointed. I want this over with.” When speaking to CNN’s Anderson Cooper last night, she repeated those feelings and added that she can now have peace.

Her remarks are staunchly different than those conveyed by family members about someone who without a doubt murdered their beloved. Earlier this week, Ross Byrd told Reuters, “You can’t fight murder with murder.” Byrd was speaking on white supremacist Lawrence Russell Brewer, who committed one of the most heinous hate crimes in modern times against his father, James Byrd Sr.

Although Byrd Sr.’s sister, Clara Taylor, was pleased with Brewer’s execution, it was her brother’s wife and children who penned letters hoping to thwart it being carried out. As Ross Byrd explained to Reuters, “Life in prison would have been fine. I know he can’t hurt my daddy anymore. I wish the state would take in mind that this isn’t what we want.”

Meanwhile, Mark MacPhail Jr., told the Associated Press, “Justice was finally served for my father.” The conflicting tones could not be any more striking. The same can be said of the attitudes of the men executed shortly before their deaths. Jasper County law officers who recently visited Brewer on death row said he expressed no remorse. However, media officials quote Troy advising minutes before execution, “Look deeper into this case so you can really find the truth.”

Some outlets have described Davis as “defiant,” only further fueling the belief that lingering racial and class prejudices make the death penalty an unfair practice.

In an open letter to supporters, Davis noted that many men with dubious legal cases still exists and called on his fate to be a push for a complete abolition of the death penalty. While there is increasing evidence of that, 64 percent still support the practice. It remains to be seen if newfound attention will yield new attitudes.