Davis had been convicted of killing a police man, Mark McPhail in 1989. For the past 22 years, Davis has sat on death row, appealing his conviction and the death sentence he received. While there was some limited physical evidence at the crime scene, prosecutors admitted that the most compelling evidence to the jury was the testimony of nine witnesses who testified that Davis was the shooter.
Since Davis's conviction, however, 7 of those 9 "eyewitnesses" have since recanted, swearing that their previous testimony was coerced by police eager for a conviction. Yet no court ever heard their revised testimony. Despite petitions signed by over one million people and pleas from former president Jimmy Carter, Rep. John Lewis (a civil rights pioneer who worked closely with Dr. King), former FBI director William Sessions, and even the Pope, Davis was executed without a new trial.
96% of the nations of the world have abolished the death penalty, but it remains a form of "justice" in the United States. The United States, along with China, Iran, Sudan, Yemen, and North Korea — countries we regularly condemn for heinous human rights violations — remain the countries that execute most frequently. Why do we equate murder with justice?
On the same day that Davis was killed, Lawrence Brewer a white supremacist whose body was covered in KKK symbols, was also killed. Brewer was a racist thug who tied a black man, James Byrd, to the back of a truck in 1998 and dragged him to his death. Brewer's final words, in contrast to Davis's, were, "I'd do it all over again."
According to Ross Douthat, writing in The New York Times, nearly two thirds of Americans favor the death penalty because people "want to believe our criminal justice system is just and not merely a mechanism for quarantining the dangerous in order to keep the law-abiding safe."
Is this sort of justice merely a story we tell ourselves to feel good about our society? Illinois, for example, has enacted a moratorium on executions ever since 13 men on death row were proven to be innocent.
For some, like former President Jimmy Carter, "the injustice of murdering an innocent man is too grave" to allow capital punishment to continue. To others, like the eloquent Sister Helen Prejean, the question is not whether these men should be put to death but whether we have the right to kill.