Analysis: High-profile Davis execution raises questions

Thu Sep 22, 2011 5:54pm EDT
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By James Vicini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Controversy at home and abroad over the execution of Troy Davis, who was put to death in the United States late on Wednesday for the 1989 killing of a policeman, has renewed questions about the death penalty.

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected his last-minute plea for a stay of execution, and Davis, 42, received a lethal injection at a prison in Georgia.

"The Troy Davis case is going to bring a lot of doubt into people's minds," said Fordham University law professor Deborah Denno, an opponent of the death penalty.

"It gradually erodes the death penalty more and more ... public opinion is changing," she said.

Defense attorneys had argued Davis was innocent, citing new evidence and witnesses who had changed or recanted their testimony, some even saying another man committed the crime. No physical evidence linked Davis to the killing.

All the judges who reviewed the case rejected Davis's claim of innocence, upholding his conviction and death sentence.

Other death-penalty cases have included claims of innocence, like those raised by Davis, and racial claims. A defense attorney said a disproportionate number of inmates in Georgia's prisons and on death row were black men, as was Davis. The victim was white.

A Pew Research Center opinion poll in 2010 found that most Americans -- some 62 percent -- supported the death penalty for convicted murderers but Pew's Michael Dimock said the figure had declined slowly over the last 15 years. The polls show a drop from about 80 percent in the early 1990s.   Continued...

<p>Supporters of convicted killer Troy Davis react in the protest area at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification prison after learning of a delay in the execution of Davis by lethal injection in Jackson, Georgia September 21, 2011. REUTERS/Tami Chappell</p>