Minutes before he was put to death, Troy Davis asked his supporters to "continue to fight this fight" — but will they, and how?
The Georgia inmate's case outraged hundreds of thousands of people around the world who found the evidence against him weak, and opponents of the death penalty hope their anger provokes a backlash against capital punishment. Some activists say a fitting legacy of the case would be laws that bar death sentences for those, like Davis, whose convictions are based on eyewitness testimony.With Davis gone, however, the loose coalition of groups who pushed for his freedom may simply crumble. Much may depend not on the death penalty's most strident opponents, but on less politically active people who were drawn into the debate by Davis' two-decade struggle.
That includes Melvin Middleton, who believes capital punishment can be appropriate. After learning more details about Davis' case, he decided to show up at a downtown Atlanta rally opposing the execution.
"If you're going to take someone's life, you better be damn sure you are making the right decision," he said. "I don't know if he's guilty or not, but he's not proven guilty."
Davis was executed late Wednesday for the 1989 murder of off-duty Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail. Defense attorneys said several key witnesses disputed their testimony and other people claimed that another man confessed to the crime, but state and federal courts repeatedly upheld the conviction.
Davis maintained his innocence even as he was strapped to a gurney in the death chamber, where he told the MacPhail family to "look deeper into this case so that you really can finally see the truth."
Prosecutors and MacPhail's relatives say they have no doubt that justice was done, but among Davis' supporters, frustration runs deep.
"We did not want to lose Troy Davis as a casualty of this war, but I do think that his execution in a real sense will only add momentum to the movement of those of us who understand that the state really cannot be trusted with the ultimate punishment," said the Rev. Raphael Warnock, who spoke on Davis' behalf at a pardons board hearing this week.
Already, there are calls for lasting changes to the capital punishment system from Davis' advocates. Former President Jimmy Carter said he hopes "this tragedy will spur us as a nation toward the total rejection of capital punishment." Filmmaker Michael Moore posted a statement on his website calling for a boycott of Georgia.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who visited Davis on death row, said he will push for a national ban on capital punishment in cases that rely on eyewitness testimony. Maryland passed such a law in 2009.
"We must not only mourn what happened to Troy Davis but take strong measures so that it does not happen again," Sharpton said.More...