By deciding not to hear further appeals in the Troy Davis case, the Supreme Court of the United States has given Georgia officials a green light to proceed to execution. But nothing is simple when issues of life and death are on the line.
Georgia won’t be able to proceed directly with an execution because their supply of sodium thiopental, a powerful anesthetic that is the first of three shots administered during lethal injection in Georgia and dozens of other states, was recently seized by federal authorities. The producer of sodium thiopental announced that it would no longer be exporting the drug to the United States because their product was intended to cure, not kill. Georgia is one of several states that appears to have procured quantities of the drug illegally from a sketchy outfit in the United Kingdom.
Three states, including Texas, have simply substituted Pentobarbital for sodium thiopental, and the drug issue, by itself, is unlikely to delay Mr. Davis’ execution for very long.
Georgia will think long and hard before executing Troy Davis. So many witnesses associated with this case have now recanted their testimony, and so many high-profile figures (such as Pope Benedict XVI) have voiced concerns that the state of Georgia will almost certainly face international outrage if they attempt to proceed with an execution.
Since the Davis case first gained national notoriety, a plethora of DNA exonerations have greatly increased the level of public concern concerning the fairness of the death penalty. Illinois governor, Pat Quinn recently concluded that because “Our system of imposing the death penalty is inherently flawed … it is impossible to devise a system that is consistent, that is free of discrimination on the basis of race, geography or economic circumstance, and that always gets it right.” With thousands of supporters believing Mr. Davis is innocent, and thousands of others insisting that the evidence is hopelessly ambiguous, Georgia officials will be handing the abolition movement a powerful argument.
The Troy Davis story has become an epic struggle between the irresistible force and the immovable object. Death penalty states like Georgia can’t bow to the demands of capital punishment opponents without strengthening the impression that the death penalty is intrinsically unfair; but an execution could easily become a Pyrric victory.
According to the Associated Press: “Laura Moye of Amnesty International said lingering concern about the case ‘leaves an ominous cloud hanging over an irreversible sentence.’ And Kathryn Hamoudah, who chairs Georgians For Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said Davis’ case exemplifies the problems with the state’s death penalty system.
‘Proceeding with the execution of Troy Davis would be callous, careless and irreversible,’ she said. ‘The state should be slowing down to address the well-documented, serious problems with a system that irreversibly takes human life, rather than rush to carry out an execution of a possibly innocent man.'”
Make no mistake, the case is now all about ideology. Everyone know the state’s case is now too flawed to withstand honest scrutiny, but the Supreme Court appears satisfied that the original trial was relatively free of procedural errors, and that is all that counts. The Supreme Court found itself in the same position as the state of Georgia; by refusing to consider further appeals, the nation’s highest court has rid itself of a legal potato too hot for anyone to handle.