The night the lights went out in Georgia

By Phil Plait | September 21, 2011 9:43 pm

Shame on you, Georgia.

Shame.

We don’t know if Troy Davis was actually guilty of killing a police officer or not. But that’s the point. Seven out of nine witnesses recanted, another person apparently confessed, there is no physical evidence linking Davis to the murder, and the defense claimed there were serious procedural issues with the case. Any or all of these are enough to cast doubt on the conviction. The fact that he was executed, despite all this doubt, makes it clear this system is terribly, terribly broken.

If any good comes out of this, I hope at the very least it’s that a solid discussion of the irrevocable nature of the death penalty emerges. Even if you feel capital punishment is justified — and I would disagree with that, strongly — I hope you’d agree that even one innocent person executed constitutes a major problem. The case of Troy Davis shows in a brutal and soul-shaking way just how the legal system in Georgia at least, and the nation as a whole, is seriously screwed up.

Shame on Georgia? Shame on all of us.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Piece of mind, Politics

Comments (278)

  1. I have invited discussion on my G+ page as well. We really need to revisit this topic.

    Good call.

  2. Frane

    I have no idea about Troy Davis trial and guilt but taking lives is barbaric and unacceptable in ALL circumstances. Period.

  3. Michelle

    Agreed. I’d say that Canada is better, but sometimes I hear people say that the USA’s penal system is an example because of the death penalty, and I sink inside.

    I got problems trusting the government with my taxes, and you want me to trust them with someone’s *life*?

  4. Aaron Thornton

    I couldn’t agree more. I noticed the article on MSNBC had nearly 2 million views within an hour of it being posted. A lot of people are taking notice; we can only hope that something like this pings the conscience of a decent portion of the population. Hopefully it will help get the ball rolling on the abolishment of capital punishment, but I suspect it may take a few more cases like this before it starts to sink in.

    Anyone who says the government should have the power to make these decisions is saying that they would trust the government with their life. I’m certainly not willing to trust them with mine, and I’d be hypocritical to say I’d trust them with anyone else’s. There are just so many things wrong with the death penalty, it’s hard to pick a place to start.

  5. Dan I.

    I don’t have any moral qualms against the death penalty as a punishment per se. But it is a broken system. The fact that you can execute someone with ZERO physical evidence of guilt (meaning you have NO direct evidence, just circumstantial) is a serious problem.

  6. Levi in NY

    We are all murderers now.

  7. Razorgeist

    Im not a huge fan of his but I think this quote is apt “The day is coming when will be certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that we’ve executed an innocent person …on that day we’re all murderers” – Penn Jillette

  8. Casey Mac

    The death penalty is wrong.

  9. fletch

    Executing an innocent man is only half the FUBAR here. The other half is that if he was innocent, there is now a killer running around free that will never be put on trial for his deed. Free to kill again.

    This is SO messed up on so many levels. What the hell is wrong with our countrymen :(

  10. JMS

    So finally, this blog has been revealed to be not about astronomy or any science but about the writer’s personal politics and feelings. His blog his rules and all that.

    As for this case, it seems like the press shows that there was reasonable doubt but the various courts and the Board of pardons, which had all the evidence available and looked at it for 22 years, disagreed. Could it the equivalent of “settled science” where cosmic rays and cloud formation are not to be ever entered into evidence?

    Anyway there are better science blogs out there anyway. I am outta here; leaving this pity party that Plait never tires of.

  11. Red

    Just a terrible situation all around. MacPhail’s family seems to be getting lost here, but this has to be excruciating on them too. Horrible. The whole damn thing is just horrible.

    I guess the legal side of it is something along the lines of he already got convicted so it’s not as if the prosecution has to reprove its case at evey appeal. It’s up to the defense to prove gross mistakes were made and simply noting that several witnesses recanted doesn’t do that. Still, though, it should be enough in a clemency hearing to get the execution stopped.

    What a f’ing mess.

  12. tacitus

    The death penalty is just one symptom of how broken the US justice system is.

    America imprisons five to seven times more of its own citizens than does any other democratic nation on the planet — that’s not 50% more, but 500% more. More even than China (a communist dictatorship) and Russia (a corrupt oligarchy) do.

    Land of the Free?

    I think not.

  13. What Dan said.

    I said more here: http://www.happypuppysunshineblog.com/2011/09/02/minority-report-indeed (if such postings of URLs are allowed).

    I figure there’s a good chance Davis committed the crime. I also don’t care when it comes to the death penalty.

  14. tacitus

    So finally, this blog has been revealed to be not about astronomy or any science but about the writer’s personal politics and feelings. There are better science blogs out there anyway. I am outta here.

    Don’t let the door hit you on the way out…

  15. fletch

    @JMS this is not about politics. Nor is it about Phil’s feelings. It is also not even really about the death penalty itself (though personally I think it’s barbaric). It is about facts. Facts which our legal system (and you) are ignoring. Phil is all about the facts and correcting people who get them wrong. Good riddance, you will not be missed.

  16. marcus

    Are we talking about China.or the US here… because both their apparent lack of respect or care for the lives of their citizens is so similar I’m having problems telling them a part.

  17. Jean-Rene

    Whether or not Troy Davis was guilty may be the point from a legal perspective, but in the broader debate on the death penalty it is quite beside the point.

    The question is not whether criminals deserve to die, but whether the State should be allowed to kill. A different question altogether.

  18. Dayman
  19. delphi_ote

    @JMS A blog where the writer expresses their opinion?! OMGWTFBBQ?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?111111eleventy11!

  20. JMS

    By the way:

    “What we have had is a manufactured appearance of doubt which has taken on the quality of legitimate doubt itself. And all of it is exquisitely unfair. The good news is we live in a civilized society where questions like this are decided based on fact in open and transparent courts of law, and not on street corners.”
    — Spencer Lawton (prosecuting attorney)

  21. Michael Davis

    I’d suggest you stick to your area of expertise, with respect to your blog, sir. If you have a personal one, as “Phil Plait, the guy who does that really cool astronomy blog,” that would be perfect. But pandering to your readership because it’s disproportionately leftist is very lame. Tell us about the star you named for Troy Davis. Spare us the moralizing.

    At one point in time a jury of Mr. Davis’s peers was convinced, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he was guilty. Over the decades, memories fade, witnesses can be convinced to change their story, alibis can be manufactured. However, unless direct physical evidence exists that unquestionably exonerates the convict, the verdict stands. Like it or not, parole boards, and courts up to the USSC looked at this and said, “sorry, he was convicted, and all you have is witness that may have been tampered with over the years.”

    The really sad thing is that none of you commentors, or Phil for that matter, care about Troy Davis as a person, despite your preaching. You only care because you oppose the death penalty on principle. Its the latest “Free Mumia” cause celebre coming around again, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

    I’ll miss your column, Phil. I respect Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer. I didnt sign up for Phil Plait, political polemicist. Preach to the converted elsewhere, not on Discover Magazine’s dime.

  22. If you can think about the universe, and have compassion for one frail life, and say out loud that improvements could be made in the justice system, I see nothing wrong with that. Also, in addition to death penalty guaranteeing the execution of the wrong man inevitably, there is no evidence that it deters crime. There is no less crime committed in states that have death penalty than those that do not.

  23. Wzrd1

    @JMS, so, ONLY science is permitted upon this soapbox? I’ve considered that case myself, though I’m a senior information security professional. I guess I’m unprofessional, huh?
    For, science is important, not REALITY, in your world view.
    So, considering that 7 of 9 witnesses recanted AND a majority claimed harassment by the police enforcing their testimony, THEN considering Georgia’s miserable human rights history, even into THIS VERY YEAR, I respectfully and thankfully wish that the door does not hit you on the way out, delaying you. For if it does, you took too long departing.
    Full disclosure, I was deployed to Georgia in the not so distant past. As well as other southern states. Georgia STILL insists upon wishing the past back into the present.

    @Michael Davis #17, I’m actually PRO-capital punishment. HIGHLY so. But, when 7 of 9 witnesses recant and a solid majority claim that the authorities induced their testimony, I have grave reservations.
    I’m also QUITE familiar with the Free Mumia cause, it’s in my local area. But, there were very FEW complaints of irregularities.
    I’ve had to get my black servicemen out of Georgian jails, jailed for essentially being black in the wrong neighborhood. In ONE case, I had to rather, erm, convince the local constabulary of our resolve to free our soldier. I suspect my being armed and the three armed men behind me may have something to do with that, but I’ll NEVER suggest that we hinted at the use of force in the effort of our unjustly and uncharged soldiers.
    That would be illegal…
    But, ALL had berets that were a rather green color…
    Sorry sonny, but I KNOW that state ALL too well.
    So, you are welcome to see the door NEARLY hit you on the way out.
    Pause and it will.

  24. Liz

    I think people should stop using this case as an excuse to show outrage against the death penalty. This is about a horribly mishandled legal case, and an incorrect sentence of a man that was carried out.

    Just because the evidence (or lack of evidence in this case) was embarrassingly handled, doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the sentence itself. It means it’s resorted to way too easily and incorrectly used. If there’s doubt – don’t use that sentence.

    If you feel like a better human being for disagreeing with the death penalty, you’re fooling yourselves on some level. The facts are, whether we want to acknowledge it or not, there are some extremely dangerous criminals out there who cannot or do not want to be rehabilitated (Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy – for example). That’s just the world we live in right now. When men turn into monsters and we decide to take risks by keeping them alive because of our inability to make difficult decisions, that’s when the shame is on us.

    My disgust with this and similar executions lays in the denial of our basic legal right to have a fair trial; innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. That is all that this is about.

  25. Tavi Greiner

    I think this Tweet sums it up: “@pasupatidasi: I am @correcthealth ….tonight I killed a man with the whole world watching….no one could stop me…I will kill again”

  26. Stuart A Milc

    @ Michael Davis

    Good riddance…as if a Citizen shouldn’t have an opinion of his or her County’s medieval policy, or an obvious case where the system has failed miserably.

  27. HvP

    The last time I was called to jury duty the prosecutor asked if any of the potential jurors had difficulty with the lawful conviction of the defendant based SOLELY on the testimony of the only available witness.

    I spoke up. I was very clear that witness testimony has time and again been shown to be greatly unreliable and that it is considered to be the absolute worst form of evidence possible. As I expected I was dismissed from the jury pool. My heart sunk knowing that anyone else who shared similar doubts could also be dismissed, leaving only those jurors that were gullible enough to convict a person based on a single person’s perceptions. I only hope that maybe I had some effect on the remaining jurors. Or maybe they dismissed them all to get a fresh batch of sheep. Who knows.

    And this is the legal system we have made for ourselves. Courts are not about facts, or truth, or justice. They only concern themselves with perception, and money, and revenge.

  28. ian

    This is a blog, not The Journal of Astronomy. Whether I agree with the content of the more personal posts or not (which varies), I never understand the uproar over posting anything that doesn’t contain Hubble photos or an astronomy news flash. Why don’t we have the same uproar when Phil posts about Dr. Who, or a convention? Are those any more astronomy than this is?

  29. Michael Davis

    @Wzrd1: If I read it correctly, it says “Discover Magazine” on the masthead there. When Phil contracted to be the writer of “Discover Magazine’s Bad Astronomy Blog” then yeah, there came a duty to stick to the subject they pay him to write on, not treat it like his personal political soapbox.

    BTW, your inflated sense of self-worth regarding your profession? That has no bearing on the right or wrong of Troy Davis’s execution. What has bearing is the 12 people who convicted him, the various appeals courts up to and including the USSC, that have said, “sorry, you can try this case on the pages of cnn.com and TVs everywhere all you want, but that means nothing before the bar. Here you have to make a legal argument.” That argument hasnt been made.

    Do you really think that his “defense team” had seven credible witness recantations in their pocket for the last several years, but only chose to trot them out days before his final execution date? I have news for you, they could not have been strong enough evidence for a real appeal, only for an appeal to public opinion as a delaying tactic. If you do believe his “defense team” then perhaps you mistakenly define “professional” as “sucker who will belive anything that matches his personal politics.”

    Am I the only one that picked up on the rather lulzy fact that Spencer Lawton, the prosecutor in this case, also prosecuted Jim Williams? That case became the backbone of the plot of the book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”

  30. Wzrd1

    @JMS, you said you were leaving forever, yet you troll on. I’ve NEVER met a DA who recanted, even when the jury said NOT GUILTY. Even when misconduct was proved and he/she was disbarred. Your point is invalid.

    @ian, I can’t agree more. Though, I HAVE sighted a blue box in the past, with great relief, as it was a TURDIS. ;)
    Though, the Dr Who episode at the “hotel” left me feeling a lot flat… :/

    Michael Davis, do you REALLY want my FULL CV, which only a fool would disrespect? I made a casual mention to make a point.
    The defense team actually presented the 7 recanted testimonies MANY years ago. I was reading the case with interest while I was fighting in the war. And I MEAN fighting. I got to read it when I got back to the FOB.
    So, past performance is proof or ALL performance?! WOW! I know 6 spies that should be released from prison, they performed BEFORE. I know of 20 murderers that PERFORMED previously, so they should be released. BRILLIANT notion! Did good once, does good always!
    Bet that you’re in favor of Manning too, huh? May he rot in prison. But then, I have read the CLASSIFIED reports on that and won’t discuss THAT.
    I won’t risk joining him.

  31. Cathy

    The only thing that gives me hope in this grim moment is that all of my friends – aged 35 on down – who live in the state of Georgia with me – are as horrified by this as I am. Maybe our generation will actually put an end to this shame, someday.

  32. Tim Cole

    I have no *philosophical* objection to the death penalty in severe cases. My objection to capital punishment is pragmatic: I have no faith in the criminal justice system, either here in Canada or in the United States. The principle behind the adversarial trial system is dangerously flawed. Truth can’t emerge when each side is dedicated to winning the “debate” at any cost. It seems to me that the present system is no more rational than trial by combat.

  33. Wayne on the Plains

    I got turned off on the death penalty when I learned that it’s more expensive than life imprisonment, but I think the irrevokability of it is a good argument also. My brother, however, recently told me a better pro argument than I had heard before. It’s a statistical argument, and I don’t know if the actual numbers would back it up (if you could measure them at all), but it goes like this: If it is more likely that a guilty person would break out and kill again than an innocent person be wrongfully executed, then in the interest of saving more innocent lives the death penalty is warranted. I don’t know if I’m doing justice to his argument, but that’s the way I remember it. I think that it’s an idea that thinking people should consider, rather than the arguments based on emotion from either side.

  34. Kathy

    Thank you for this, Phil. I don’t feel this is a political topic… I feel it’s a human one.

    To my mind the most appalling part of this circus was the four hours that lapsed between sending the plea to the Supreme Court and the denial being returned. We’ve decided again and again as a nation that the death penalty does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment, but those four hours sure seemed to. They were grueling for me just as an observer; I cannot imagine what they were like for Troy Davis–or his family.

  35. Grendel

    Science happens, and is discussed within the context of the society that enables it. There is no clear disconnect between astronomy and the socio-political environment, indeed the more liberal culture that has evolved in the western world has helped science to flourish.

    To those that are having a go at Phil for expressing an option outside of the field in which he is an acknowledge expert I would ask – what limitations would you seek to place on any person as to what they can think or speak about?

    Phil has never hidden the fact that he believes that skeptical and critical thinking skills are vital in science. Why rant against the application of these skills in other areas?

    @JMS you provided a quote by the prosecutor as justification for your position. Don’t you feel like that individual has a vested interest in maintaining that view?

  36. Mouse

    While I am saddened by this, tremendously, and am in NO way in favour of using the death penalty for any crime, I think what this shows is our society’s extreme blood lust institutionalised. Yes, we have a legal system which is intended to dispense some form of justice, but instead it is overwhelmingly biased, which is shown over and over. Do I think Davis was guilty? Perhaps he was, I wasn’t there or at the trial to second guess the decision at the time of conviction. Were all procedures followed? Probably. Do I think subsequent information has arisen? I don’t know. Did it warrant investigation? Absolutely. Was that investigation done? It seems so.

    So, while we can all talk about “reasonable doubt” at this time, I think most of us are looking at a series of anecdotal and non-corroborated findings and committing the act that we so often despair of in others, namely, confirmation bias with our own emotions.

    I am in tears tonight for the ending of another’s life. I was in tears when Officer MacPhail was murdered. How long do we have keep killing each other? We look at Davis then, back in 1989 and see only a murderer. We look at him yesterday and see a human being. What does it take to always see people as human beings, to see ourselves in them? How long do we have to suffer the othering, the separation, the “I got mine the hell with you” zero-sum game?

    If we can take one thing from this, it’s to begin to realize how much what we do on an everyday basis may hurt someone else. The murder of MacPhail was not a random act of violence. Things led up to it. Things which, through our selfishness and denial of the humanness in others, cause them to go beyond themselves and become themselves brutal, selfish and capable of anything. Troy Davis in 1989 was not someone most of us would like to meet. It seemed like an easy conviction. But we all come from someplace, and how do we make that journey to adulthood better for *all* of us?

  37. Charlie

    It seems the argument can be boiled down to what we ask Kindergarteners: Do two wrongs make a right?

    Another thought on life and death: If capital punishment of guilty parties is barbaric, how do we justify abortion which ends a life before it has a chance?

  38. Daniel

    I find it kind of funny how political ideologies can sound completely ridiculous when turned on it’s head. Liberals ‘in general’ support the right for a woman to terminate a pregnancy yet have problems with the state terminating the life of a danger to society. Conservatives ‘in general’ support the second amendment yet stretch the first amendment’s seperation of church and state.
    While I agree that our system is very corrupt and in need of total overhaul, I believe we do still have need of the death penalty in certain cases.

  39. Michael Davis

    oooh, shake your resume in my face some more, Wzrd! It makes your arguments so much stronger. Sorry, I was only an officer with five jump chump wings in a leg infantry unit, I guess that makes my opinion so much weaker than yours, w.r.t. the topic at hand. So those seven recantations were presented “MANY years ago.” They’ve therefore been considered by several levels of courts since then, and not seen as compelling enough to overturn the conviction, *or even commute the sentence to life w/o parole?* Yeah, not helping your argument there. Was Logic part of the curriculum in the Q course?

    Totally not following your next paragraph. I suspect you were beginning to lose emotional stability, so I’ll just let that lie.

    I notice that none of the real die-hard (I’f you’ll pardon the pun) opposers of the death penalty were frothing at the mouth regarding today’s execution of Lawrence Russell Brewer. Wait, he was a white racist, so it’s OK to kill him because it’s hard to get any good PR for protesting his execution. Situational ethics are bad enough, but situational convictions are even worse.

  40. MarkP

    Actually, we do know. He was convicted, lost every appeal, and Moore’s 172-page ruling enumerates in extensive detail why he lost the evidentiary hearing. I’m not a fan of cop-killers, or of executing innocents. But no one I’ve seen proclaiming Davis’ innocence has read Moore’s ruling, which made it quite clear that we did indeed execute the cop-killing bastard.

    But I invite you to read it yourself (it’s actually pretty easy-going). http://savannahnow.com/troy-davis/2010-08-24/read-judge-william-t-moore-jr-172-page-order

  41. Wzrd1

    Cathy, no snowflake considers itself responsible for the avalanche.
    In my military life, we had one adage: “Lead, follow or get the hell out of the way.”
    I suggest YOU take a lesson from that, rather than speaking anonymously in a blog. LEAD! SHOW the way, the followers will follow.
    Or do as your parents did and accept what is, regardless of the horrific nature of the consequences.

    @Tim #25, erm, trial by combat IS still legal in civil cases. There is NOTHING in the constitution against it and most of the states don’t prohibit it. BUT, it’d take appeals to get it… Not saying it’s right or wrong, only saying what IS allowed in this nation.

    @Kathy #27, YOU have stated YOUR POV plainly, when you complained that the SCOTUS *DELIBERATED* for 4 hours, rather than arrive at a rash, snap judgement of death being cruel and unusual punishment. While, I AGREE that his case deserves review, based upon the recanting of testimony, I do NOT agree with the DELIBERATION of the SCOTUS, who MUST review based upon PROCEDURE AND LAW, not new evidence. It’s one of a few fundamental flaws in our system of justice.

    As for Phil’s post, he posted an OPINION. As ANY human should be permitted to and as ALL scholars SHOULD do. Or should we go back to the view that the sun orbits the Earth?
    We ENSURE that a WELL ROUNDED education is given to our scholars, before gaining their sheepskin. Should we not refute that what we REQUIRE?
    If so, should be burn our universities, like good commies?

  42. BJN

    The death penalty isn’t immoral just because it’s not reversible and innocent people have been executed. It’s immoral because a rational society doesn’t demonstrate that it’s wrong to kill by killing. It’s immoral because it makes all of us, no matter what our opinions, complicit in killing. And it’s immoral because vengeance is a destructive and irrational basis for any action on behalf of society.

    JMS and Michael Davis, I think it’s intellectual cowardice that you can’t listen to a different viewpoint than your own without running for the exit. A real skeptic is open to argument and reasoned discussion.

    Wzrd1. Just because you only CAPITALIZE words in an ODD typographic version of Tourette’s Syndrome DOESN’T mean you’ve successfully avoided NETIQUETTE rules for NOT shouting via CAPS lock. Really, I agree with most of your points but your oddball style is very annoying to read. And shouting at intervals is still shouting.

  43. TW

    >>We don’t know if Troy Davis was actually guilty of killing a police officer or not. But that’s the point. <<

    bull.

    Dr. Phil maybe instead of regurgitating erroneous and dishonest information, maybe you should look up the real facts of the case…

  44. Abbie

    If it is more likely that a guilty person would break out and kill again than an innocent person be wrongfully executed, then in the interest of saving more innocent lives the death penalty is warranted. I don’t know if I’m doing justice to his argument, but that’s the way I remember it.

    That argument is patently ridiculous, because *nobody breaks out of jail*. Idiotic.

    Life in prison serves every purpose execution does (deterent, punishment, isolation, etc) without being irreversible murder.

    To the two idiots supporting murdering the innocent: yes, the case has been heard and not overturned for decades. That doesn’t make Troy Davis guilty- it makes the system incredibly corrupt.

    While there is a nonzero chance he did commit the murder, there is also a (much larger) chance he didn’t. Therefor, killing him was wrong. The Supreme court are murderers.

  45. Gravee

    I think you guys are missing Phil’s point. It is simply wrong that someone can be convicted without any physical evidence and can be put to death, but then they are not able to appeal because there is no physical evidence exonerating them. If witness testimony is all there is, and it comes into question, is it to be ignored? He wasn’t even asking for a new trial, simply a stay of execution.

    Full disclosure: I believe in the death penalty, but only for serious crimes with irrefutable physical evidence.

  46. Daniel

    Also funny: shouldn’t the witness’ recanting be just as unreliable as their original testimony?

  47. Michael Davis

    @BJN: No, its intellectual weakness that leads you to conclude that I am guilty of intellectual cowardice. I made a rational decision here. Phil is an astronomer, an entertaining one. However he has displayed that he is unable to keep his personal political opinions apart from his duties as a blogger for Discover Magazine. I find it highly unprofessional. If the editor of Field and Stream or Car and Driver chose to rant about this issue, they would, rightly, be reprimanded if not outright fired. This in the Wild West internet, however, so Phil will probably get away with it. That doesnt mean I have to choose to support him.

    There is an old aphorism that holds that the more educated a person is on one specific narrow topic, the higher they tend to hold their opinions on any subject, even those in which they have no expertise. Phil, you’re an astronomer, not an attorney, much less a criminal lawyer experienced in death penalty law. You do your employer a disservice when you hold forth on topics you know little about, in their name.

    Congrats, readers, you think that the court of public opinion is more important than the ENTIRE US LEGAL SYSYTEM. Yeah, glad you weren’t there for the Scopes trial.

  48. Simon

    I’ve often thought it odd that the US, and it’s right wing in particular, are so keen on the death penalty.

    Why give the state (i.e. the executive, legislature, and judiciary, rather than a federated one) the power to kill someone it believes is a criminal? It doesn’t need it, therefore it shouldn’t have it.

    I guess you’d say it was down to the jury… but it’s not the jury pulling the trigger.

    Simon.

  49. Wzrd1

    @Daniel, hence NEGATING their testimony.

    Michael, you neglect the FACTS.
    DO we educate our scholars, engineers and scientists in ONLY their field? NO! We FORCE a “well rounded course of education”.
    YOUR statements smack of a cultural revolution, as was held in the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China and Iran.
    So, one with a WELL ROUNDED education would have opinions OUTSIDE of their PRIMARY field of expertise.
    Just as I do.
    In real life, I’m a senior network administrator, senior windows network administrator and a senior information security administrator.
    I’m ALSO quite proficient at killing people. Due to my PREVIOUS position in doing such things and leading men to do such things in Afghanistan. I’ve even killed men with my bare hands, out of desperation in battle.
    Should I put THAT on my resume or CV?
    Of course not!
    I’m ALSO a skilled certified electronics technician. One of note in my fields over the years.
    I also am known to manage to get vegetables to grow in environments where they SHOULD NOT grow.

    Now, in YOUR world, I’d be accused of a chain saw murder. ZERO physical evidence, regardless of the TWO chainsaws I own being clean. 9 witnesses claiming I killed the victim. Even IF I was in another state at the time. 7 later admit that they were coerced, I should die.
    Thankfully, WE had insurance packets.
    JUST in case our government turned against its most dedicated defenders, we assembled packets.
    As in triggering WWIII packets. In any way you slice them.
    Because, ONE thing we ARE good at is surviving. And NEVER quitting. Indeed, never KNOWING how to quit was our key element to survival.
    Because, the REAL world, unlike your shallow opinion of what it is, really IS EXTREMELY nasty.
    Meanwhile, babies love me, animals adore me. Humans don’t know what the hell to do with me…
    Don’t really care. My close friends are just that. My wife is my wife. My family knows me. :)
    But, when push meets shove, you’re glad to see my shove back hard.
    And hate me for shoving.

  50. Lisa

    Wow, there are some wildly different “facts” I’ve read on this case. I thought there were 34 witnesses for the prosecution, not 9? And I thought the bullet casings were physical evidence?

  51. You know what really makes me even more sad (if such a thing were possible given the potential state murder of an innocent man)? On other sites where this story is, there are people in the comments PRAISING this act and proclaiming that “justice has been done”.

    When people get whipped up into a frenzy over “justice”, no one is safe. Like the old saying says: “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” This is true not only of the government, but of the other people in society.

  52. HvP

    Michael Davis,

    If you want to go back to the entry where Phil’s blog was accepted into the Discover Magazine retinue you will discover (haha) that they were already quite well aware of his political and personal opinions and the way in which he discussed them on his blog. He stated that they asked him to become a part of Discover’s blogs anyway and never asked him to limit or censor his political musings. If he had violated his agreement with Discover in any way we wouldn’t be reading this right now.

    Also, it is the responsibility for anyone with a conscience to speak out against those things which they believe to be abhorrent. The arena of public discourse is the means by which adults convey their opinions in an attempt to gain a greater understanding. As has been stated by not only Phil, but many others here as well, the ‘ENTIRE US LEGAL SYSTEM’ is the problem, and we would like to fix it. The way to fix it is by voting. The way to gain votes towards change is by conversing in public discourse. This blog and comment section is one area of discourse further to that cause. Do you see how this works?

    Besides, the politicians who make the laws are very often less informed, less educated, less qualified, and less objective than any expert in any issue that this country now faces yet seem to be hell bent on ignoring the experts when it suits their political aspirations. And I can tell you that experts in human perception are very clear about the fact that eyewitness testimony is inherently unreliable, misleading, and fallible. Any system of law that can execute a person based on such shoddy standards is itself an unreliable perversion of justice.

  53. Daniel

    @wzrd1 true, but that doesn’t automatically make him innocent, which seems to be what a lot of people here are assuming…

  54. fletch

    >> That argument is patently ridiculous, because *nobody breaks out of jail*. Idiotic.

    @Abbie I thought that as well. I searched and found a slate article (whom I trust) It says “not very often” http://www.slate.com/id/1007001/ It also says that the number of recaptures has actually exceeded the number of escapes for several years. It goes on to say that most of the escapees are from minimum security prisons, so not too likely to run off and murder someone.

    I still can’t discount Wayne’s idea 100%, though the scenario seems pretty unlikely. When this tiny percent of violent prisoners escape, they could conceivably go murder someone before they’re re-caught.

    However, this seems much more like a Hollywood movie than reality to me. I’d think that anyone escaping from prison would want to hide out and keep a low profile, you know, by like … not murdering people.

  55. Wzrd1

    Arik, in MANY cases, I’d share their view. BUT, in a few cases, I agree with THIS case. It NEEDS a new trial. BUT, our current system of justice prohibits it.
    Indeed, one can be convicted and when it reaches the SCOTUS, ALL witnesses and evidence can be PROVED false and you’ll STILL die, as the SCOTUS can only concern itself over PROCEDURE.
    Facts being proved by the liars of previous years.

    BUT, hanged if I can figure out a GOOD and JUST system that doesn’t tangle itself into a hopeless knot AND cures our system. I did YEARS ago, but dealing with attorneys, I learned otherwise….

  56. Wzrd1

    @Daniel, #42, BUT, a SHADOW of a doubt is sufficient to acquit.
    Or at least convert the sentence.
    TRUST me. I’ve BEEN in bases where I couldn’t flatulate without significant examination to prevent leakage to the enemy.
    HE would be in that life.
    It MAJORIALLY sucked. Indeed, faced with life with that or dead, I’d go for the dead thing and I’m one who NEVER learned HOW to quit.

  57. Daniel

    @HvP I agree absolutely that executing someone based SOLELY on eyewitness testimony is a travesty. But that does not mean the death penalty should not be used in certain circumstances.

  58. andyo

    Disheartening seeing bloodthirsty barbarians trying to rationalize execution. Reminds me, as I said somewhere else, of other idiots trying to rationalize bullfighting and other such spectacles as “art” and “culture”.

    And Michael Davis, you’re an idiot. What are you doing complaining about Phil not posting about science, when you don’t even understand that eyewitness testimony even if they hadn’t recanted is the lowest form of evidence there is? It is given way too much credibility.

  59. L.S

    I live in South Africa, ever since we abolished the death penalty, crime and murder has risen somewhat ludicrous. We have approximately 50 murders a day here due to robbery, high jacking and general crime. We have had close to 100off police murdered since the beginning of this year. Our justice system is also seriously floored in as much as thieves go free on a mere $100 bail, and most are never brought to trial due to corruption, and simply not catching the criminal.
    In your case I do find it hard to accept that all the evidence shows Mr Davis was innocent and that there is not enough evidence to prove his guilt. I simply can’t see a penal system putting him to death with scant evidence. Way to many times criminals get off due to a stupid technicality. Attorneys are always to blame for clouding a system and making it look as if evidence is not conclusive. Simple facts should prevail.
    Death penalty for murderers, hell yes, why should this type of person live on tax payers money. There are no morals in murder? If you kill, expect the same in return quite simply.

  60. Michael Davis

    I wasnt aware that “beyond a reasonable doubt” was such a shoddy standard, HvP. Thank you for showing me the light. I now know that its “beyond a shred of manufactured doubt, twenty years later, framed against public opinion and slanted news stories when the prosecution cant ethically make any public comment on the matter.” If I’m ever tried for a crime, I’ll make sure to tell the judge that you said that that was the new legal standard for a conviction to stick.

    Basically what Im saying is that Georgia may have convicted him, but the federal court system has upheld it, all the way up to the USSC. Kinda bloody arrogant to say that your legal opinion, based on nothing more than press releases and news stories, should outweigh that. Speak out all you want, it wont make you any more important.

    I’d be willing to bet that Discover meant for Phil to let his political guns roar with respect to issues related to NASA, space funding, etc (along with which I’ve cheered enthusiastically), not to run his mouth about topics unrelated to science, that he is no expert on. It reflects poorly on Discover. You dont hire a lawyer to write opinion pieces on medicine, not if you want to remain a respected medical journal, neither do you hire an astronomer to write on social issues unrelated to science in general, much less his particular sub-field.

  61. Wzrd1

    Andyo, I used to watch bullfighting LIVE as a kid. My mother (German and Dutch) enjoyed it.
    I found it interesting how often the BULL won, even if it died at the end. I considered it a lesson in life.
    But, it was culture, INEVITABLE DEATH IS FAILURE, right?
    If so, I’m walking and talking evidence to the obverse of your opinion.
    I’ve BEEN in REAL LIFE situations where I should rightfully be dead. I didn’t stop, my team didn’t stop. We didn’t bother to reflect on it until LONG after. And laughed over it.

    As for Michael Davis, I fully concur. An idiot of the 33rd degree.
    But then, Michael Davis seeks to go to ignore the renouncement of slavery and seek death for all dissimilar.
    Screw that constitution thing.
    Regardless, I’m going to bed to meet with my wife.
    He’s THAT low on the REALITY list. He’s merely a dispatch at leisure item at best.

  62. Mark Hansen

    Open response to all the “I thought this was an astronomy blog” twits:
    Where are your posts on astronomy related posts? 5 of the preceeding 6 posts were astronomy related yet none of you could muster the effort to post there?

  63. andyo

    Wzrd1, don’t see your point. My point was simple. Bullfighting is a barbaric spectacle, period. I didn’t say anything about “failure” or winning, or life lessons.

  64. tacitus

    The top ten nations in number on executions in 2010:

    1. People’s Republic of China
    2. Iran
    3. North Korea
    4. Yemen
    5. United States
    6. Saudi Arabia
    7. Libya
    8. Syria
    9. Bangladesh
    10. Somalia

    When you’re sharing the spotlight with such bastions of freedom and liberty as North Korea Syria, and Saudi Arabia, most rational people might consider that something was wrong with this picture.

    Funny how all but three western democratic states now manages to exact justice and secure offenders without resorting to killing its own citizens. It’s also funny how the very same conservatives who so deeply mistrust government power are perfectly content to leave the ultimate power of life and death in that same government’s hands.

  65. Michael Davis

    @ Mark: because nearly every response to Phil’s posts about astronomy can be summed up as “ooh, shiny” “cool” or “totally agree.” No need to debate anything there, no need to express an opinion that dozens of other people have already said. Nice name-calling, by the way. Really shores up your position there.

    @Wzrd: You’re losing coherence by the minute it seems. Are you skipping some meds? Also, nice ad hominem. You must have knocked em dead at the NCO club, but you’re outclassed logically here.

    @anyo: I understand that eyewitness testimony is lower in reliability than physical evidence. But for some reason you repeat the same blatant lie that claims that there was no physical evidence. Davis was convicted of shoopting two people and assaulting another that night. there was evidence to link him to all three crimes. That evidence plus witness testimony convicted him *beyond a reasonable doubt.* that conviction has been upheld both on procedural and evidentiary grounds by appeals courts. This is not the first time that the USSC has considered this case and found his appeal lacking merit.

    So you are right and the entire US legal system (which has actually seen the evidence, not the massaged for the press releases anecdotes) is wrong, but somehow, I’m the idiot? Again, nice use of the ad hominem, If you cant make a point without calling someone an idiot, you meed to take a hard look in the mirror and look for telltale signs in yourself.

  66. tacitus

    I’d be willing to bet that Discover meant for Phil to let his political guns roar with respect to issues related to NASA, space funding, etc (along with which I’ve cheered enthusiastically), not to run his mouth about topics unrelated to science, that he is no expert on. It reflects poorly on Discover. You dont hire a lawyer to write opinion pieces on medicine, not if you want to remain a respected medical journal, neither do you hire an astronomer to write on social issues unrelated to science in general, much less his particular sub-field.

    Now you’re just trolling. Phil’s “run his mouth” (seriously?) on political and personal issues dozens of times since becoming a Discover Magazine blog and yet has somehow managed to remain the key member of their network of blogs.

    Funny that…

    Of course, your getting the vapors over Phil’s occasional non-astronomy-related posts no doubt helps to drive more traffic to the site, which is precisely what Phil is paid to do, so why don’t we leave it up to DM to decide what’s good for them, shall we?

  67. L.S

    It’s not hard to feel pity for the MacPhail family, they have had to live with the reality of a family member murdered, he being some ones child, lover, father? No I defiantly feel sorry for both families in this instance, it’s not the Davis family fault that Troy did what he did.

  68. L.S

    On the idea of execution, yes it’s not really easy in a short process to explain my view properly here, but in simple terms tell you what, how about we send you all our criminals so you can look after them, feed them, cloth them, medical care for them. I’m now talking about those who we know are 100% guilty are murderers, will slit your neck for $10 in your terms. In my opinion there is no moral issue putting this type of human to death? If life is so cheap to them then obviously they must feel the same about theirs unless they view themselves as a higher being?
    Sorry, there is a place for the death penalty in my opinion.

  69. There is no reason at all to think this man not guilty of his crime. The fact that witnesses later recanted proves nothing, nor does the fact that the defense attorney claims there were errors. All defense attorneys do that in every serious case. A shadow of a doubt intrusives after conviction is no reason to overturn a conviction. Witnesses might recant for any number of reasons, there is no reason to think they are honest now but liars before.

    There is, however, on important reason that this particular cop killer should not be executed. At least there is if reporting has been accurate (always something to be considered skeptically).

    If a prosecution expert actually testified that he was more likely to reoffend because of his race, and if that affected the jury at sentencing, his sentence should have been changed to life without parole.

  70. andyo

    This is ad hominem: You’re wrong cause you’re an idiot.
    This is not ad hominem: You’re an idiot cause you say idiotic things.

    Yes, it’s idiotic to demand strictly science from a blogger as has been pointed out to you and the other guy. Especially if you know Phil’s history online.

    It’s also idiotic to think the legal system is infallible. What is your source for those assertions of yours? Everywhere I looked, it said there’s no gun found, and no physical evidence tying him to that crime. Unless it’s a massive CONSPIRACY…

  71. Michael Swanson

    @ Michael Davis:

    Phil Plait had his own blog for many years. It was all his own and he used it to blog mostly about astronomy, but also whatever else caught his fancy: cats, movies, conventions, politics, etc. Knowing this, Discover Magazine asked him to come here and do the same thing. I followed him from there to here, and his blogging style hasn’t changed.

    That addressed, why is it so difficult for you to grasp the simple concept that if there is ANY doubt at all the state should not take the life of one of its citizens. Any abuse of capital punishment at all equals murder. Where were your complaints below the picture of Phil posing with a Doctor Who actor? In a “Caturday” post? Nope. You wait until you’re annoyed by a liberal, then you swing into righteous action!

    “The really sad thing is that none of you commentors, or Phil for that matter, care about Troy Davis as a person, despite your preaching. You only care because you oppose the death penalty on principle.” What a hateful, vulgar accusation. I don’t have the words to express how sick you make me. What do you care about justice? Was it served today? Our infallible court system killed another black man based on later-recanted witness testimony? I never met Mr. Davis, and had never heard of him until recently, but I care very deeply that a man who may have been innocent — even if it was unlikely — had to sit in cell for days and weeks and years on end, just waiting for the day that the “justice” system would kill him, and am ill at the thought of what he must have felt as his death loomed.

    You know, if the courtroom was fact-driven, I would have some good faith in the justice system. But it is instead adversarial, with each side simply trying to outwit the other, and is also often driven by juror opinion and bias, money and racism. Troy Davis’s trial was guaranteed to be perfectly unbiased, fact-based and infallible? Gosh, of course it was! Kill him.

    And weren’t you leaving? Because you have proven beyond any reasonable doubt that you are hateful blowhard, sir, and will not be missed here.

  72. andyo

    VinceRN,

    Witnesses might recant for any number of reasons, there is no reason to think they are honest now but liars before.

    And what does this say about the credibility of such witnesses, then? Murder a man for it? AMERICA F*CK YEAH!!!

  73. Random Excess

    If you support State Sanctioned Murder you should also feel morally obligated to financially support the Innocence Project [dot] org. I has a sad when I read Internet Tough Guys ™ cheer at the killing but will not even make a simple online donation to help free those wrongly convicted.

    Justice was not served here tonight, bloodlust was quenched. And, frankly, it leaves me unsatisfied.

  74. Andreas H

    I never understood the American penal system. A country that prides itself about freedom and democracy shouldn’t rely on ethics of revenge and punishment. It’s down right shocking if you realize that the American penal system finds itself cozy amides nations like China, Iran, North Korea and Syria.

    I always asked myself why America can’t overcome their blindness about a broken system. It can’t be the desire to fight criminality, because if you look around the world the countries with the lowest crime rates often have the “softest” penal systems. This of course doesn’t mean a soft penal system is going to cause a drop in crime rate but it is sure as hell proving that killing people for crimes they committed is not doing that either. In fact it is pretty much a proven fact that the best course of action to cause a significant drop in crime rates is to fight social inequality.

    So if the death penalty and the sometimes demeaning, inhumane conditions in American prisons do not exists to deter criminals, why do they exist?
    Is it a religion thing? eye for an eye? Has it to do with some revenge philosophy? Is it an educational problem and some people actually think these conditions help to drop crime-rates?

    I honestly don’t know the reason. And I think what baffles me most is that democratic president after democratic president just lets his term go by without doing anything about the issue. This is not something that should be decided by the states, why isn’t any president taking on the responsibility to finally do the right thing and ban this despicable practice on the highest level?

  75. bad Jim

    The widespread outrage gives me hope that this will start to turn around.

  76. I know most here are against the death penalty and I disagree. Certainly you are welcome to call monster for that if it makes you happy.

    However, I have to point out how rediculous it is that so many claim that all killing is “barbaric and unacceptable” as one early poster stated. If a parent has the power to save their child’s life by killing the person who is killing that child, it is that parents positive duty to do so. Rather than barbaric, that act would be heroic. What would be barbaric and unacceptable is to stand by and watch a child murdered when it was in you power to stop it.

    I chose an extreme case deliberately, but there are many situations in which the taking of human life is no where near barbaric, and rather than being unacceptable it is required.

    I do not claim that this execution was right, clearly it was not for the reason I stated above.

    Also, I’d like to point out the irony of people who mostly claim there is no morality, no evil or good, suddenly getting all moral and righteous about the death of one out of 7 billion of us. You all get more upset about one death that you do about genocide.

  77. How come when people list other countries that have capital punishment they leave out Japan? St Kitts and Nevis? Spin I guess.

  78. andyo

    VinceRN, there’s killing and there’s murder. Then there’s executions by the state. The other person may have said “killing”, but you’d be disingenuous to think most people who mention it in this context don’t mean instead premeditated murder or executions.

  79. Random Excess

    @VinceRN “How come when people list other countries that have capital punishment they leave out Japan? St Kitts and Nevis? Spin I guess.”

    Top Ten Lists Do Not Work That Way! – Morbo

  80. Red

    So Phil has a contract with Discover that says he can only blog on strict scientific topics?

  81. Orlando

    Killing people is wrong. Giving a government power to lawfully kill people makes all of us assassins.

  82. @andyo, only talking about those that say all killing is wrong, thought I made that clear. See the early post with ‘all’ in caps. Conveniently Orlando #66 chose this moment to demonstrate who I was talking about too. Thanks Orlando.

    @Random Excess, not talking about top ten lists, just wondering in general why when people compare America to other countries with the death penalty Japan is not usually mentioned. Generally people stick to dictatorships when doing that, as if America were the only country with an elected government to have capital punishment.

  83. Michael Davis

    @MS: Not reading any more posts is not the same as not replying to this one. Pay closer attention. Debating circles around people with a limited grasp of logic doesn’t make one a blowhard. Disagreeing with you does not make someone a blowhard. You sound like Rush Limbaugh. If you disagree with him, he assumes that you must automatically be not only wrong, but stupid. And how do you dare conclude that I am “hateful?” I am perfectly rational and composed here. Oh, wait, i disagreed with you, didnt I, Rush? You have to ascribe some kind of negative to my motives because of that.

    @andyo: No matter how finely you try to parse it, you started with the grade school name-calling. Keep it up, I’ll bet it serves you well in the real world of “doody-heads” and “jerk-faces.”

    Tell ya what, I’m just going to unilaterally declare logical victory. All I see here Is “OMGYOUREANIDIOT” and unfounded assertions that capital punishment is wrong inherently. In short, not a single one of you has proven your points, and most of you devole into invective and ad hominem when someone has the temerity to disagree with you.

    See ya around Phil. Let me know when you want to talk science again and leave your social issues to yourself. It was a good run, I was right there in your corner on the recent funding debates. But really, you’re dreadfully naive with respect to criminal law. Read more about the case itself, not the press releases and celebrity tweets.

  84. bad Jim

    I’ll say once again that when Justice Blackmun declared “I will tinker no more with the machinery of death” he was objecting as much to the wealthy malefactors who escaped execution as to the usual sort of poor people ground up in the indifferent mill of justice.

    The problem with the death penalty isn’t injustice, it’s the lack of fairness. Got bucks? Not gonna fry. Got none? Good luck with that.

  85. andyo

    Michael Davis,

    Moron, name-calling ≠ad hominem. I might have agreed with you if you said I was calling you names. Ad hominem, nope. Learn your big words before you start using them to accuse other people.

    And yes, this post was purely name-calling. You’re beyond arguing with.

  86. Anthony

    Better a thousand guilty men go free than one innocent be killed in the name of “justice”.

    I’ve never understood how conservatives, so very obsessed with the ‘sanctity of life’, have no problem strapping someone into a chair and pumping them with drugs until their heart stops.

  87. puppygod

    Michael Davis, you said you are leaving in post # 17. So why didn’t you leave? Stop being such pitiful drama queen and go. You won’t be missed. Honest.

  88. Nigel Depledge

    JMS (10) said:

    So finally, this blog has been revealed to be not about astronomy or any science but about the writer’s personal politics and feelings. His blog his rules and all that.

    As for this case, it seems like the press shows that there was reasonable doubt but the various courts and the Board of pardons, which had all the evidence available and looked at it for 22 years, disagreed. Could it the equivalent of “settled science” where cosmic rays and cloud formation are not to be ever entered into evidence?

    Anyway there are better science blogs out there anyway. I am outta here; leaving this pity party that Plait never tires of.

    Bloody sod you, then.

    But if ever you do come back, read this first:
    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2007/07/15/politics-science-me-and-thee/

  89. andyo

    VinceRN,

    Conveniently Orlando #66 chose this moment to demonstrate who I was talking about too. Thanks Orlando.

    I don’t think so, he might have demonstrated what I said. It’s his opinion though, I might be wrong.

    Can you link or tell the number of the other post you referenced?

    In any case, I myself can say that all murder and executions are wrong. Could you invent an 24-esque scenario in which I have to murder someone to save others? Possibly, but really, that’s just being disingenuous.

  90. Nigel Depledge

    JMS (10) said:

    I am outta here

    And then (16) :

    By the way: . . .

    So, that didn’t last, did it?

  91. Nigel Depledge

    I think in most cases, the death penalty is OTT. Maybe (just maybe) it is appropriate for an unrepentant serial killer.

    Consider, however, that the UK has not had the death penalty (in real terms, never mind out-of-date statute books) for over 30 years, and look how we’re not overrun with murderers. The death penalty is no deterrent. I guess the only thing that can be said for it is that it prevents recidivism.

    At heart, the death penalty was always about revenge, never about justice.

  92. Ynys Mon

    You cannot have the death penalty if you do not have absolute proof that someone is guilty. If there is any doubt, then you cannot apply the death penalty at all. This shows just how bad justice is if those in the judicial sector are convinced and are determined to make someone die.

    They should have an independent court and investigation if those accused will have the death penalty. A Georgian police has been killed, it is not good to have the Georgian judicial people be in charge of the trial or investigation.

    I actually support the death penalty for deliberate murder and if the person is unrepentant. Also, there must be 100% solid evidence that the person committed it. If there is any doubt, then no death penalty.

  93. Nigel Depledge

    Michael Davis (17) said:

    At one point in time a jury of Mr. Davis’s peers was convinced, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he was guilty. Over the decades, memories fade, witnesses can be convinced to change their story, alibis can be manufactured. However, unless direct physical evidence exists that unquestionably exonerates the convict, the verdict stands. Like it or not, parole boards, and courts up to the USSC looked at this and said, “sorry, he was convicted, and all you have is witness that may have been tampered with over the years.”

    And does this not tell you something, that this guy spent 20-some years in prison (IIUC) while all this rigmarole and hoop-jumping was performed, and then was executed? Surely such a system is broken in the extreme. If you are going to use the death sentence at all, use it mercifully, and set up your system to expedite the appeal process.

    The really sad thing is that none of you commentors, or Phil for that matter, care about Troy Davis as a person, despite your preaching.

    Why does this matter?

    Obviously, a person can be philosophically opposed to the death sentence, and sympathetic to the situation this guy eventually found himself in, without actually knowing the person in question.

    You only care because you oppose the death penalty on principle.

    And you fail to explain or demonstrate why this is a bad thing.

    Its the latest “Free Mumia” cause celebre coming around again, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

    Ooh, nice piece of rhetoric. Shame it doesn’t actually contain anything resembling a point.

  94. Robin

    Sad and so wrong. It’s sad on many levels. Long ago, a man was murdered, and now there are serious questions about whether the man convicted of that crime was guilty. It’s sad that someone else may have committed the crime and will not be brought to justice. It’s sad that a man died last night who may very well have been innocent. It’s sad that when 7 of 9 witnesses recanted, we didn’t have the spine to revisit the case to be absolutely sure that the conviction was correct. It’s sad that when 7 of 9 witnesses recant and when there was no physical evidence, that so many were unwilling to pause and consider that reasonable doubt did exist. It’s sad that we’re willing to murder, in the name of justice, with so very little proof in hand.

    As time passes and more cases are reviewed and decisions reversed because flaws were made in the process or because better technology allowed the truth to be finally seen, it becomes more likely that an error could have been made, possibly several or many times, and an innocent man and innocent men may have been put to death.

    There is no certainty that the man put to death last night in Georgia was guilty. There is no physical evidence, and witness testimony is now seen to be possibly suspect. Pride and willful ignorance put that man to death last night.

  95. Nigel Depledge

    HvP (20) said:

    And this is the legal system we have made for ourselves. Courts are not about facts, or truth, or justice. They only concern themselves with perception, and money, and revenge.

    In the words of the Metallica song:

    Halls of justice painted green / Money talking

    . . .

    The ultimate in vanity / Exploiting their supremacy

    . . .

    Seeking no truth / Winning is all

    Ironically, though, Metallica were one of the first bands to use the DMCA to maximise their profits (in no way did Napster et al. threaten their livelihood).

  96. @andyo – see post #2: “taking lives is barbaric and unacceptable in ALL circumstances. Period.” No way they meant what you are saying.

    Nothing “disingenuous” about what I posted. There really are circumstances when killing is necessary and right, and this person and others claimed there are not. Certainly it is possible that in saying “killing” some really meant “murder”, but I choose to take them at what they say rather than guess that they meant something other than what they said.

    We agree that all murder is wrong, we agree that sometimes killing is necessary, and we disagree about capital punishment. Two out of three ain’t bad.

    @Anthony – would you sacrafice the possibly hundreds of future innocent victims of those thousand murders you just freed to save one innocent life? Not sure I like your math. How about we do our level best to not execute the innocent, but still hold onto those thousand killers?

  97. Anchor

    Michael Davis has a problem: Michael Davis doesn’t agree with Phil over a particular social issue.

    Therefore Michael Davis insists that Phil should refrain from posting on social issues in which he may express an opinion Michael Davis might not like.

    Michael Davis wants Phil to “let [him] know when he wants to talk science again” and wants him to leave his social issues to himself.

    Michael Davis says Phil is “dreadfully naive with respect to criminal law”.

    Michael Davis knows Phil hasn’t read “about the case itself” and has instead been paying inordinate attention to “press releases and celebrity tweets.”

    Michael Davis is capable of “debating circles around people with a limited grasp of logic.”
    Michael Davis is “perfectly rational and composed here.”
    Michael Davis is “just going to unilaterally declare logical victory.”

    Michael Davis wants us all to know he’s entitled to his opinion (he’s right and if you disagree with him, you’re not and resemble Rush Limbaugh).

    Michael Davis wants us all to know that “not a single one of you has proven your points, and most of you devole [sic] into invective and ad hominem when someone has the temerity to disagree with you”.

    According to Michael Davis, he can fork over all these propositions and more without ever once sounding like a blowhard.

    Michael Davis has a problem, you see. Michael Davis is always right and you’re not.

  98. @Nigel – properly used the death penalty is about neither revenge or justice. It is about making sure that that one person never commits that horrible crime again. Give him life in prison without parole and he might yet commit many horrible crimes in prison. Then thirty years down the road some ideal young political lawyer will gethis sentence changed because he’s supposedly rehabilitated and release him into society to prey on the innocent again.

    Not talking about this case specifically, but about capital punishment in general.

  99. Nigel Depledge

    Michael Davis (22) said:

    @Wzrd1: If I read it correctly, it says “Discover Magazine” on the masthead there. When Phil contracted to be the writer of “Discover Magazine’s Bad Astronomy Blog” then yeah, there came a duty to stick to the subject they pay him to write on, not treat it like his personal political soapbox.

    Ironically, one of the best answers to your whinge that I have seen in recent months was in the immediately preceding comment.

    Ian (21) said:

    This is a blog, not The Journal of Astronomy. Whether I agree with the content of the more personal posts or not (which varies), I never understand the uproar over posting anything that doesn’t contain Hubble photos or an astronomy news flash. Why don’t we have the same uproar when Phil posts about Dr. Who, or a convention? Are those any more astronomy than this is?

    Yes. This.

    So, Michael Davis, do you object every time Phil posts about Dragon*Con? Or about Dr Who, Trek or Star Wars? I must say, if you object you’ve been very much quieter about it previously than you have about this time.

    What it actually looks like is that you are using your objection as a smokescreen – your objection is not truly about this not being an astronomy topic per se, but about being an opinion with which you disagree.

    Regular readers of this blog are familiar with the “it’s not astonomy” whinge. And it invariably comes from people who disagree with Phil’s opinion about a topic that the media have made contentious (for whatever reason). And it never ever rears its head when Phil posts about other non-astronomy topics.

  100. Nigel Depledge

    Vince RN (82) said:

    @Nigel – properly used the death penalty is about neither revenge or justice. It is about making sure that that one person never commits that horrible crime again. Give him life in prison without parole and he might yet commit many horrible crimes in prison. Then thirty years down the road some ideal young political lawyer will gethis sentence changed because he’s supposedly rehabilitated and release him into society to prey on the innocent again.

    As I said, the death penalty prevents recidivism. But this is the only point in its favour.

    However, there are other ways – some might say more humane ways – to prevent recidivism. Does leaving someone on Death Row for 20-some years prevent them committing any crimes while in prison?

    Finally, acceptance of the argument you use (it prevents them from doing the same thing again in the future) means you would be punishing someone for something they haven’t done yet, which is plain wrong in any system. Punish someone for what they have done. And when that punishment is over, rehabilitate them. It is unfair in the extreme to assume that they will re-offend (inter alia, treating them on the basis of this assumption encourages the kind of behaviour you seek to prevent).

  101. Ah. Rehabilitate. Trouble is there is generally no such thing. If someone proves themselves a danger to society they should be quickly and permanently removed from society in the most economical way possible. I guess we’ll just have to disagree on that. I have seen many dozens, perhaps over a hundred, murder victims, even several children. I have taken many people in to a room to see their newly murdered loved one, and have seen and taken care of quite a few murderers as well in my professional life. Really I have no interest in arguing what to do with murderers and my opinions are not likely to be changed by abstract philosophical or religous opinions on the matter.

  102. Anchor

    Oh, yes. Of course. How obvious. Capital punishment is a deterrent. Besides taking out the perpetrator (given they’ve got the right one), it tends to make people think twice before murdering anyone. Psychopathic killers will definitely reconsider their actions and hesitate in light of the ultimate consequences of what they do the next time they decide to do it. Evidently psychopaths must be capable of rational thinking as well as empathy, just like everyone else who doesn’t murder…

    oops.

    Ok then. So what ELSE is capital punishment for again?

    Ah yes. That feel-good sensation called (dramatic drum-roll): ‘revenge’.

    Then it doesn’t really much matter if we get the wrong guy every now and then, does it? As long as everyone gets the IMPRESSION that justice has been served, that’s all that actually counts. And we can all continue to delude ourselves into thinking that we are actually addressing the problem of crime.

    Oh, and the victims? Yes, by all means, let’s do think of them. Let’s continue to pretend to do everything in our power on their behalf…but only AFTER they’re dead, of course, so’s we’ll have something to work with. The sensation of justice is always sweeter with victims to avenge.

  103. One final word before sleep, to all those that are always complaining about non-astronomy stuff on this blog: Discovery did not hire Dr. Phil to blog on astronomy and NASA and post cool pictures. Almost anyone with a little education in field could do that, and many around the web do. They clearly hired him because he has the ability to post something at ten o’clock at night and get a hundred comments before the sun comes up. Yes, we all love the astronomy and wouldn’t come here if it were just a political blog, but Dr. Phil is damned good at his job and knows the proper mix to keep us all coming back.

  104. fletch

    @Anchor (81) Ha! Perfect. Google “not quite wrong arguing on the internet”, first result. I think Michael Davis has hit #4 already.

  105. tacitus

    Not talking about top ten lists, just wondering in general why when people compare America to other countries with the death penalty Japan is not usually mentioned. Generally people stick to dictatorships when doing that, as if America were the only country with an elected government to have capital punishment.

    Why mention Japan? Why not mention the dozens of other democracies that don’t execute their own citizens? Merely mentioning Japan certainly does not give a true picture as to how far off kilter the USA is concerning the death penalty in today’s world.

    Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore are the only democratic countries to have executed someone in 2010, and Singapore is a highly authoritarian, one-party state, that is really only democratic in name. Japan executed all of 2 people last year.

    It’s not spin to point out that all but two of the modern democratic nations the USA would normally be happy to compare itself with do not feel the need to use the death penalty any more. It’s also not spin to point out that the vast majority of judicial executions carried out in the world are conducted by dictatorships and oppressive regimes. That the US is in the latter’s company and not the former is certainly not to America’s credit.

    Ah. Rehabilitate. Trouble is there is generally no such thing. If someone proves themselves a danger to society they should be quickly and permanently removed from society in the most economical way possible. I guess we’ll just have to disagree on that. I have seen many dozens, perhaps over a hundred, murder victims, even several children. I have taken many people in to a room to see their newly murdered loved one, and have seen and taken care of quite a few murderers as well in my professional life.

    No such thing? Never happens? I’ll call BS on that. Even if the majority of hardened killers are hopeless cases, to claim that there is never a chance of reform is clearly nonsense.

    Rehabbing criminals is certainly a major problem in the USA, where the recidivism rates are over 60%, but that’s because the US justice system focuses on the punitive and is very reluctant to spend money helping those who end up in jail.

    Norway, on the other hand, puts a lot of emphasis on reforming prisoners, and their recidivism rate is around 20%, which translates directly into far fewer future victims of crime. Tragically, conservatives recently mocked Norway’s system as being too soft, too lenient on their criminals, even though it is actually does a far better job than the US system in protecting its citizens, and thus the US will continue to make the same mistakes, and more innocent victims will be created as a result.

    As for the death penalty, there are simply too many problems with the way it is applied (e.g. poor/black are sentenced to die more often that rich/white, too many innocent people executed, putting the fate of those sentenced to die in the hands of a governor who might be running for re-election or the presidency, etc.) to justify it as a means of “removing prisoners from society”. In any case, life without parole means they have been effectively removed anyway, and given the expense of death row cases, is often the cheaper option for the tax payer.

  106. Anchor

    VinceRN and others: Whoa. Wherever did you people get the idea that Discover hired Phil? IT IS A BLOG. It’s Phil’s Bad Astronomy blog. It doesn’t belong to Discover and its not for them to determine what Phil wants to post.

    I am frankly startled at how many people here seem to have been labouring under this misunderstanding all this time. Can it possibly be there is anyone left who doesn’t understand what a blog is and what Phil’s role is in his?

    Evidently, yes. And they can be found right here, under our noses, in one of the most popular blogs devoted to the popularization of science.

    Phil, c’mon, let ‘em know exactly how much you get paid by Discover to furnish this service.

  107. Michal

    China, USA, Iran – what these countries have got in common?

  108. MarcusBailius

    Disclosure: I am British, and live in Britain. The last executions here took place in 1964. Hanging was suspended (sorry) for five years in 1965 and abandoned permanently in 1969. Further legislation in 1998 removed permanently the possibility of its being reintroduced, and the last gallows in the UK was dismantled after that.
    There are many things wrong with many justice systems: Discussions on that can take up much time. But the availability of the death penalty has never seemed to be a particularly useful deterrent: What typifies many criminals, is the belief that they will simply not be caught! Advances in forensic science together with improvements in Police procedures are reducing the probability of not getting caught, very substantially (although mistakes can still happen – people are people, after all).
    Phil: It’s your blog, say what you like!

  109. I read that no witnesses recanted, but rather, they submitted unsworn notes that after the passage of so much time they could no longer remember the details of the event. That is absolutely NOT a retraction. Even if they recanted 20 years after the fact, how much validity is there in that? They knew he was going down, they knew he had appeals. It looks like desperate lies of people who finally realize that their buddy is going to ride the lightning (or get the injection in this case).

    I read that shells from his gun were found at the scene. Testing indicated he had been shooting recently. Witnesses put him at the scene. That adds up to me. Yes, it’s circumstantial because they didn’t have DNA… it is possible that someone who looks like him took his gun, shot the guy, and gave Davis his gun back and then Davis happened to head out to the range for some target practice. But that’s a pretty far-fetched story and should be easy to corroborate.

    The guy had multiple appeals. The guy was given a special “prove your innocence” extra appeal that most people don’t get, and was unable to scare up a modicum of real doubt.

    Granted, I can only see what’s made public, but he sure looks guilty to me on the information available.

    Among the information available is a wikipedia page on the subject which states this:
    “Moore ruled that executing an innocent person would violate the Eighth Amendment. “However, Mr. Davis is not innocent.”[101] In his decision, Moore wrote: “while Mr. Davis’s new evidence casts some additional, minimal doubt on his conviction, it is largely smoke and mirrors.”[101] Of the seven recantations, Moore found that only one was wholly credible and two who were partly credible.[101][108]”

    I am not big on capital punishment, but I’m pretty convinced they didn’t execute an innocent man.

  110. deathby2

    Whine, whine, and more whining. If this issue disgusts so many people, then why is it still done. Get off your collective asses and do something about it. Democracy has a chance to work if you only try.

  111. Nigel Depledge

    Wayne on the Plains (26) said:

    If it is more likely that a guilty person would break out and kill again than an innocent person be wrongfully executed, then in the interest of saving more innocent lives the death penalty is warranted. I don’t know if I’m doing justice to his argument, but that’s the way I remember it. I think that it’s an idea that thinking people should consider, rather than the arguments based on emotion from either side.

    This argument rests on two flawed assumptions.

    First, it assumes that execution is the only available intervention to prevent re-offending.

    Second, it assumes that it’s OK to execute even one innocent person, in the interest of protecting “society”. How could this ever be OK?

  112. Nigel Depledge

    Charlie (29) said:

    Another thought on life and death: If capital punishment of guilty parties is barbaric, how do we justify abortion which ends a life before it has a chance?

    The situations are not parallel.

    For example, not executing an offender will never result in forcing a woman to live her every waking moment with a reminder of rape. Countries that permit abortion have a time limit, and the best understanding available is that the foetus is not self-aware before that limit (at least approximately – I gather that different countries have different limits). Whereas a person on Death Row is almost certain to be self-aware.

    I’m not trying to open a debate about abortion here, simply pointing out that your analogy fails.

  113. Nigel Depledge

    Vince RN (85) said:

    Ah. Rehabilitate. Trouble is there is generally no such thing.

    Any chance you could try and make a case to support the claim you make here?

    If someone proves themselves a danger to society they should be quickly and permanently removed from society in the most economical way possible.

    Wow. That’s a bit dramatic. What makes you think that such a society deserves protection? 1984 much?

    I guess we’ll just have to disagree on that. I have seen many dozens, perhaps over a hundred, murder victims, even several children. I have taken many people in to a room to see their newly murdered loved one, and have seen and taken care of quite a few murderers as well in my professional life.

    Interesting experience, but I’m not sure how relevant it is to whether or not the death penalty is appropriate.

    Really I have no interest in arguing what to do with murderers and my opinions are not likely to be changed by abstract philosophical or religous opinions on the matter.

    Then why post on this thread at all?

    Murderers are (or were, depending on your viewpoint) people too. Until you make at least some effort to understand what has driven them to such extreme action, what makes you fit to judge them?

  114. critter42

    @89 – I don’t think you have a complete understanding either, despite your claims:

    ” It doesn’t belong to Discover and its not for them to determine what Phil wants to post.”

    If you have not read the contract between Phil and Discover Magazine you cannot make that statement. Discover didn’t offer to host his blog out of pure altruism – it’s one of the most-read science blogs on the net – don’t think for a minute the ad revenue from such a site didn’t enter into the equation. While Phil may have complete editorial control, and statements he has made indicate this is true, all any of us are doing is assuming what DM and PP’s relationship is, even you.

    For instance – if they share ad revenue is that the same as “getting paid” in your book? If it’s work for hire instead, does that make a difference? Who owns the copyright on the content? According to the footer, that’s Kalmbach Publishing, but there may be exceptions in the contract. Does PP get any royalties on republishing? There are numerous other details we don’t know about – they are all questions we cannot answer without the contract.

    ” Can it possibly be there is anyone left who doesn’t understand what a blog is and what Phil’s role is in his?”
    Obviously you have not thought it all the way through yourself. I certainly understand what a blog is, but I also understand what a contract is and I also understand there are only two facts I can state with certainty: 1) Phil Plaitt posts to the Bad Astronomy Blog and 2) The Bad Astronomy Blog is hosted on the DiscoveryMagazine.com website.

  115. Chris

    Phil, your picture doesn’t seem to be loading properly. All I’m seeing is a black box.

  116. What’s the story here – the state killed a man despite undeniably huge amounts of reasonable doubt and the implications of that for our shared humanity, or the controversy over whether or not it’s ok for Phil to express any opinions on his blog?

    Bizarre comment thread.

  117. Peter B

    HvP @ #20 said: “The last time I was called to jury duty the prosecutor asked if any of the potential jurors had difficulty with the lawful conviction of the defendant based SOLELY on the testimony of the only available witness. I spoke up. I was very clear that witness testimony has time and again been shown to be greatly unreliable and that it is considered to be the absolute worst form of evidence possible. As I expected I was dismissed from the jury pool.”

    My sympathies on your dilemma. Perhaps you should have asked the prosecutor to tell you the colour of the judge’s shirt (or something similarly obscure but theoretically in clear view for a while), without looking around. That way he (?) and your fellow pool people might have had an object lesson.

  118. Bill3

    I’m tired of the media telling me what their conclusion is and how I should feel, so I went digging. There is a wealth of well-documented and annotated evidence on Wikipedia about the case.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troy_Davis_case

    Read up and consider for yourself. (Discussion below)

    I find considerably less doubt in the actual evidence than the defense’s media campaign. When it came down to it, this wasn’t the only shooting he was involved in that day, he contradicted his own mother’s lie on the stand about where he was, and if he was across the street and already fleeing, as he claimed, when the shooting happened, no one would have seen him to identify him in the first place. His story is full of holes.

    Rule out the 2nd witness who never recanted, supposedly the real killer according to the defense, who failed to actually produce him as a witness in Federal appeals hearings to rebut the allegations that he was the real confessed killer (smoke and mirrors as the judge put it). Either way, his testimony is potentially suspect.

    But the solid ID by Harriet Murray, friend of the man being beaten at the restaurant, who was at the scene and commented on the “smirky-like smile” Davis had when he pulled the trigger, is pretty persuasive. She never changed her story.

    The “7 of 9″ who recanted include a friend of Davis’s whom he was with at the time of both shootings – why didn’t he tell the truth the first time – or did he? Does he have motivation to lie now to save his friend now that he’s not on the stand? The others seem to be just bystanders who aren’t as sure now of their recollections as they were then.

    Regardless of anyone’s opinion on the death penalty, I think they got the right man. He had many chances in court – and on those occasions his own defense lawyers let him down by only casting doubt and aspersions on others without backing any of it up.

  119. Half the people on the Illinois Death Row were exonerated based on new DNA evidence. Amazing that a single execution would go forward after that.

    In Texas, it looks very much like at least one of the people Gov. Perry happily sent to die was innocent — in fact, it looks probable that no crime was even committed (that the fatal fire involved was accidental, not arson).

  120. Steve R

    Several on this chain of comments have abhorred the death penalty in general when citing the case of Troy Davis. What I find ironic is Texas had an execution last night also…..Lawrence Brewer. Brewer was the ring leader in the famous James Byrd dragging case in the 1998 case in Jasper Texas. This is the case where three white guys dragged Byrd behind their pick-up truck and killed him solely because he was black. Oddly there doesn’t seem to be the same outrage about executing Brewer. There is now question about his guilt and when asked last week by a reporter Brewer cited that if he got out he would do the same crime again. The problem here is that you can argue that the Davis case was a miscarriage of justice but if you want to argue that state sponsored executions are deontologically wrong then you are forced to wring your hands just as hard over Brewer as you are Davis.

  121. Chris

    It would be nice if people actually read and knew facts about this case. He admitted guilt. There were 34 witnesses. Yes, 34 witnesses. Read the testimony of the 3 Air Force members who witnessed this shooting. These 3 never recanted. They stand by what they saw. Read what they had to say.

  122. Gary

    As Bob Dylan sang for Ruben Carter in Hurricane: “How can the life of such a man
    Be in the palm of some fool’s hand?
    To see him obviously framed
    Couldn’t help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land
    Where justice is a game.”

  123. Peter B

    VinceRN @ #79 said: “…would you sacrafice the possibly hundreds of future innocent victims of those thousand murders you just freed to save one innocent life? Not sure I like your math.”

    Who said those murderers had to be freed? Why not imprison them for life?

    “How about we do our level best to not execute the innocent, but still hold onto those thousand killers?”

    If the USA wants to do its level best to not execute the innocent, its prosecutors have to do a lot better than they’ve been doing lately.

    Personally I’m not sure about the Davis case. As far as I know he may have been responsible.

    But when you read stories that people are threatened in police interviews with the death penalty unless they confess to crimes, it’s not surprising that innocent people keep getting executed.

    Let’s take an example of a case in which four men confessed to the crimes of rape and murder, and were sentenced to jail time. Seems an open and shut case.

    Except:

    – Their confessions did not accurately describe the crime scene or the crimes.

    – The confessions of the guilty men also implicated three other men. Charges against these men were dropped in part because these three men were in other cities at the time of the crimes.

    – There was no physical evidence connecting any of the seven men to the crime scene, and there was no DNA match.

    – An eighth man confessed to doing the crime alone. His DNA alone was found on the crime scene, and he alone accurately described the crime and the crime scene.

    – The prosecution theory was that the first seven men conspired to commit the crimes, and recruited the eighth man to join them. In presenting this theory, they ignored the fact that the three men not charged were not in the same city as the crime was committed and that the eighth man had confessed to committing the crimes alone.

    This is the story of the Norfolk Four.

    This is the sort of legal failure you need to do your “level best” to avoid.

  124. Peter B

    Evolving Squid @ #91 said: “I read that shells from his gun were found at the scene.”

    How could that be, seeing as Davis’s handgun was never found?

  125. davem

    Kathhy said: “We’ve decided again and again as a nation that the death penalty does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment, but those four hours sure seemed to. They were grueling for me just as an observer; I cannot imagine what they were like for Troy Davis–or his family.”

    Never mind the 4 hours. He’d already done 22 years on death row. In most civilised countries, he’d be out of jail now, having paid his debt to society. Then the US goes and kills him as well. This is the ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ to which Amnesty refers.

    The only deterrent that ever works is the certainty of getting caught. The only reason for the death penalty is revenge. Two wrongs do not make a right. Incarceration is also a wrong, but it’s the minimum wrong that can be done to protect society, and to (hopefully) reform the prisoner.

  126. C. Johnson

    I am one of the rare conservatives that is opposed to the death penalty. We just cannot claim to be a civilized society and continue institutional murder. If nothing else, the potential for killing the wrong person is reason enough to remove the death penalty from our system of justice. At the same time, deliberately taking the life of another person is immoral and barbaric. I felt sick when I realized this man had been killed. I also cannot understand the reaction of the murdered police officer. How could they have found peace in the death of another person?

  127. Peter B

    Michael Davis @ #31 said: “I notice that none of the real die-hard (I’f you’ll pardon the pun) opposers of the death penalty were frothing at the mouth regarding today’s execution of Lawrence Russell Brewer.”

    Well, I’m disappointed there wasn’t more publicity about it.

    I think his execution was as wrong as Davis’s, despite guilt being much more apparent.

    However, for those who support the death penalty, why was one of Brewer’s co-accused spared the death penalty?

  128. I won’t comment on the death penalty since I am not really able to articulate a coherent argument free of my own bias. However, to the “this is an astronomy blog” whingers…

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2007/07/15/politics-science-me-and-thee/

    Really, why are people in a tizzy about that? Dr. Plait explains it quite clearly.

  129. alfaniner

    96. Chris Says:
    September 22nd, 2011 at 6:13 am

    Phil, your picture doesn’t seem to be loading properly. All I’m seeing is a black box.

    OK — I’ll explain it… It’s a reference to “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia”, a song from the 1970s by Vicki Lawrence. One of the lyrics is which “That’s the night they hung an innocent man.”

  130. Elmar_M

    I have a very different perspective on this:
    1. I am against the death penalty for the simple reason that it is irreversible. If you ever find out that someone was innocent, there is no way of bringing him back, or paying him back. You can release a prisoner, but you can not release a dead person.
    This is particularly an issue since mistakes are made. There are humans involved with the conviction process and humans make mistakes and can be manipulated very easily.
    Most religious people dont care about that, because they seem to think that “if he was innocent then the guy will go to heaven and all is good”… Well I guess it is one way to close your eyes to the problem…

    2. The idea of reforming someone by putting him into prison is idiotic. It does not work.

    Either you have people that do not need to be reformed, like the guy that lost his job, snapped and went to rob a bank, because he had to save his family from getting thrown out of the house by the very bank that he is robbing. That guy already knows that what he is doing is wrong and he only does it because at that moment he lost it. You dont need to reform this guy.

    Or you have criminals that have no sense of right or wrong, people that dont care about other peoples properties and lives. These people can definitely not be reformed by prison. They are like that by nature. It is a genetic problem. When dealing with these people, prison does not have to be seen as punishment, but as a way to keep them away from society. In the time, when earth was very sparsly populated by humans, they would be expelled from the tribe, so they could not harm the tribe anymore. That would also effectively prevent them from having children and passing on their faulty genes. In a sense we our selves altered our genes that way. Ethics is part of our genetic makeup.

    Personally, I am for making criminals work for the damage that they have done. A prison sentence should be defined by the amount of time needed to pay back the damage that they did to society. Of course this sort of punishment is frowned upon these days.

  131. I don’t have any moral problem with the death penalty per se. However, it should be an extreme measure that is rarely taken. It should only occur when the crime is horrendous and the evidence is air-tight. If there’s the slightest bit of doubt, then the criminal should get life in prison with no chance of parole. Of course, even if the crime is terrible and the evidence seems air-tight, I’d keep the lengthy appeals process to give every opportunity to the defendant to prove some sliver of doubt.

    I can’t speak to this specific case (since I don’t have all of the facts), but I’ve heard of far too many “X was on death row until re-tested evidence/new evidence was presented proving his innocence” stories. Life without parole may cost more money, but I’d rather spend the money keeping a guilty man behind bars than risk “saving money” by executing an innocent man.

  132. Undeniable

    Phil,

    Are you questioning the evidence or denying it?

  133. Lawrence

    I, too, am surprised that the IL situation didn’t result in a major re-evaluation of the death penalty in this country. Can you wrap your head around the fact that 13 of 25 convicted murderers on Death Row in IL were actually innocent? That’s over a 50% margin of error – in a situation where, if DNA wasn’t available, each of those men would have been executed.

    If you extrapolate those numbers across the country, that may mean we’ve executed not just a handful of innocent people, but actually quite a number of them. There are plenty of individuals who should rot behind bars for the rest of their lives, but to murder innocent people because we don’t have the time or patience to make sure we have the right person, is a crime against humanity itself.

  134. Calli Arcale

    There should have been more outrage when Texas executed a man for the arson-related homicide of his three children recently — because there is very strong evidence (not just witnesses saying they could no longer swear to their testimony but actual *facts*) that not only was he innocent, but it wasn’t even arson. A tragic accident took the lives of his three children, the state’s original arson investigator used bad science to rule it an arson, dubious circumstantial evidence was used to pin him as the arsonist (though even if it had been arson, the only evidence it was him was that he was present at the time and was not an impossibly perfect husband and father), real arson experts later testified that the original investigator’s report was wrong and that the cause of the fire was almost certianly accidental . . . and knowing all that, the state of Texas executed him anyway. Gov Perry was the one who refused to order a stay and allow an appeal where the real expert arson testimony would’ve revealed the truth. An innocent man almost certainly died, framed by an incompetent arson investigator and a conviction-happy prosecutor who refused to entertain the notion that he’d been misled or that the original investigation was botched. To protect the reputations of the incompetent, a man died.

    This man? I don’t know whether he was innocent or not. But I cannot support the death penalty for the precise reason that our justice system is horribly unfair. A death penalty cannot, in conscience, be permitted unless we have a justice system which is fair. I’m not just talking about executing the innocent, either. That is clearly a problem, but it goes further than that. Even if all those convicted really are guilty, the death penalty cannot be used unless it is applied consistently and fairly, without prejudice. This obviously does not happen; the severity of your sentence will often relate strongly to the quality of your legal representation. Poor people represented by public defenders will tend to get a much worse deal than rich people represented by a crack legal team. The result is predictable — far more poor people are executed than middle-class people, and it’s pretty much unheard of for rich people to be executed, even for the same crimes.

    Elmar_M: the nurture/nature argument is not so clear, and it’s not really prudent to assume that our ancestors were protected from “defective” psychopath genes by expelling them from the tribe. Plenty of psychopaths are embraced by society, largely because their lack of remorse makes it much harder to detect them than it is to detect the guilt of a moral person — you can’t detect the guilt of a psychopath because generally they don’t feel any guilt. In fact, some studies have shown that there is an unusual prevalence of psychopathic behavior among leaders. This is not because leaders are inherently psychopaths; it’s because psychopaths can better compete due to the unfair advantage of being willing to stomp on other people in their climb to the top. History is replete with psychopaths who were not only not expelled but achieved high statute in society and produced a lot of offspring. Also, never assume that there is only one survival/reproductive strategy in play within a particular species. There are usually several, often contradictory.

    As far as making criminals work to repay their debt to society, this is not actually frowned upon. Corporal punishment tends to be frowned upon in our society (though it’s popular in some societies, such as Singapore, which I’ll discuss shortly), but working to pay off your debt to society is not. Prisoners perform menial labor in many prisons; the old stereotype of them making license plates is not without basis. Prisoners in minimum security are also commonly used to collect litter by roadsides, though they have to be less of a flight risk to be allowed out. There are also work-release programs where prisoners work actual jobs, but return to the prison or halfway house at night, with their earnings monitored; this tends to be more as a means of transitioning them back to normal life, however. And then there is the sentence of “community service”. Sometimes, a convicted person may be sentenced to community service. This means quite literally working for the damage they have done. It’s usually something menial, and may be tailored to fit the crime or to give the convicted a better perspective of those he/she wronged. It’s not the same as sending them to the salt mines, but honestly, I’m glad — the days when chain gangs were used to manually smash boulders were all too often a death sentence for non-capital offenses.

    Singapore has brutal punishments for some crimes, even ones which we tend to consider more mischief then a serious problem. The reason they’re effective there is because they are meted out swiftly and consistently — and because Singapore is small enough, geographically, that it’s hard to hide from the law. Negative reinforcement is only an effective deterrent if it is swift, consistent, and fair. Otherwise, it backfires — just look at countries with sharia law. Nigeria has sentenced two men to public amputation of their hands for cattle rustling. The people know the government is willing to carry that sentence out. Yet people keep stealing cattle. Why? Because they are desperate, yes, but mostly because they don’t think they’ll get caught. And odds are in their favor; Nigeria lacks the manpower to catch all cattle rustlers. America too — look how many murders go unsolved for decades, if they are ever solved at all. As long as criminals think there’s a decent chance of getting away with it, the severity of the punishment will not be a deterrent. So we have a punishment which we have demonstrated we cannot dispense fairly and which is ineffective as a deterrent. What’s the point?

  135. TerryEmberson

    My heart goes out to the families of both victims in this case.

    Regardless of whether or not troy Davis was guilty, he is a victim of the state. Similarly Lawrence Brewer is a victim of the state, despite his horrible crimes. The question becomes one of justifiable homicide; when is it justifiable for a killing to take place.

    In the case of a home invasion, it is justifiable to defend life, liberty, and property.

    In the case of war, it is justifiable to protect country, nation, and peace.

    If you aren’t defending life, liberty and property (executing a serial killer), or country, nation, and peace (fighting a justified and legal war), there had better be come cogent, overwhelming societal return from the killing because the cost of murder in terms of societal violence is high.

    Brewer was unrepentant and looking for more according to his own writings. Davis was likely never to kill again, even if he was freed. Brewer was involved in a slew of jailhouse beatings and brawls. I don’t know if Davis had a jailhouse record, but he was described as a “model prisoner”. The two cases could not be more different and certainly highlight why Brewer is possibly justifiable (by higher authority than me, however) and Davis is not. My libertarian friends are up in arms over both, but I am only upset over the death of Davis.

  136. Renee Marie Jones

    In typical, conservative double-speak, the SCOTUS has ruled that it is impossible that an innocent man is ever executed because the conviction defines him as guilty whether or not he actually committed the crime.

    The right will continue to maintain that an innocent man has never been executed. According to them, the government is always wrong, except when it kills … then it is infallible.

  137. TerryEmberson

    Renee, I’d like to know your source on that, who wrote the opinion and the like. My understanding of standing case law is much more vague than that.

  138. Nigel Depledge

    Michael Davis (38) said:

    @BJN: No, its intellectual weakness that leads you to conclude that I am guilty of intellectual cowardice. I made a rational decision here. Phil is an astronomer, an entertaining one. However he has displayed that he is unable to keep his personal political opinions apart from his duties as a blogger for Discover Magazine.

    Yeah! Maybe they should stop his pay whenever he strays away from astronomy!

    Oh, wait . . .

    In case you really are as thick as your comments make you appear to be – Discover Magazine hosts Phil’s blog. But it is and always has been Phil’s blog, even before he and DM came to their agreement about hosting it.

    Plus, also, the other points that invalidate your whinging.

    I find it highly unprofessional. If the editor of Field and Stream or Car and Driver chose to rant about this issue, they would, rightly, be reprimanded if not outright fired.

    Yeah, but they are employees. So how is it similar to Phil’s blog?

    This in the Wild West internet, however, so Phil will probably get away with it. That doesnt mean I have to choose to support him.

    It does, however, mean that you should shut the hell up with your whining about what he chooses to write about.

    There is an old aphorism that holds that the more educated a person is on one specific narrow topic, the higher they tend to hold their opinions on any subject, even those in which they have no expertise. Phil, you’re an astronomer, not an attorney, much less a criminal lawyer experienced in death penalty law. You do your employer a disservice when you hold forth on topics you know little about, in their name.

    What employer?

    And, above all else, Phil is a human being. You don’t need to be a lawyer to have empathy. In fact, some say that the two are mutually exclusive (haha, . . . OK, I’ll get me coat).

    You don’t need to be a lawyer to have a valid opinion about whether or not the death penalty is justifiable.

    Congrats, readers, you think that the court of public opinion is more important than the ENTIRE US LEGAL SYSYTEM. Yeah, glad you weren’t there for the Scopes trial.

    The entire US legal system exists to serve the taxpayer, not the other way around. In a democracy (and even in a constitutional republic like the USA), public opinion dictates what the law should be. AFAICT, all European states have either abolished or ceased using the death penalty, and have not been inundated with murders. Rationally or emotionally, the death penalty is only justifiable if you allow revenge to play a role in your legal system.

    Also, I cannot help but wonder how much you know about the Scopes trial. Scopes was, after all, found guilty.

  139. Chris

    I can’t be the only person who after seeing the headline was thinking Phil was talking about light pollution.

    Not a fan of the death penalty. There is never anyway you can be 100% sure of anyone’s guilt. I am always amazed that many of the highly religious are pro-death penalty. They get all upset about abortion, but put murderer to death and they celebrate. They again are picking when the “Thou shalt not kill” commandment applies to them.

  140. Nigel Depledge

    Steve R (120) said:

    Several on this chain of comments have abhorred the death penalty in general when citing the case of Troy Davis. What I find ironic is Texas had an execution last night also…..Lawrence Brewer. Brewer was the ring leader in the famous James Byrd dragging case in the 1998 case in Jasper Texas. This is the case where three white guys dragged Byrd behind their pick-up truck and killed him solely because he was black. Oddly there doesn’t seem to be the same outrage about executing Brewer. There is now question about his guilt and when asked last week by a reporter Brewer cited that if he got out he would do the same crime again. The problem here is that you can argue that the Davis case was a miscarriage of justice but if you want to argue that state sponsored executions are deontologically wrong then you are forced to wring your hands just as hard over Brewer as you are Davis.

    Well, and so what?

    Until reading the comments, I had not heard of the Brewer execution. As you may surmise, I am not a USAian, so I’m not up-to-the-minute on the doings within the USA. Phil’s article is about Davis and about Georgia. It is upon this that I have commented (and responding to other commenter’s comments).

    Different opinions have been expressed about the death penalty. I daresay that those unequivocally opposed to the death penalty would have been just as happy to see Brewer getting life imprisonment. And if Davis did the deed of which he was convicted, then he too should have served a long prison term. Oh, wait, he already did that. And then they executed him.

    What was your point?

  141. Wzrd1

    125. @davem, #125 and @Elmar_M , #130, I’ll say that I AM for the death penalty. For the most serious and significant of cases.
    That said, for our penal system, rehabilitation should always take precedence over punishment. A punishment based system has LONG been proved to fail.
    Consider one western nation that has an extremely low recidivism rate, Norway. It was a subject that came up after the shooting and bombing there. Extremely short sentences by our standards, yet a recidivism rate that is far lower than ours (20% vs our 52% rate).
    Interestingly enough, Norway also has a murder rate that is an order of magnitude lower than our murder rate. Norway DOES permit firearms, so that is not the issue.
    So, when the numbers are THAT different, one must question what CAUSES the significant difference?
    Culturally, we’re quite close. So, it obviously isn’t a difference in culture.
    So, perhaps we should examine what the difference truly is. One thing I learned long ago, if I don’t know something, I’ll admit to it, rather than continue on in ignorance.
    They’re doing SOMETHING “right” in Norway, perhaps we should show the wisdom we wish to claim we have and learn from what is successful.

  142. JMartin

    That’s a touching story, thanks for sharing this with people who doesnt live in USA. It’s a real shame what happened there. A pray should be risen for that innocent person’s soul.

  143. James

    I love how the people who get mad about what is written on this blog say “I’m outta here”…and then don’t leave. For the last time: It’s Phil’s blog, he can write what he wants. If you don’t like it, that is simply too bad. Leave and write on your own blog. The only people Phil needs to “worry” about is the people at Discover, if they have a problem with it, which they don’t seem to.

    Deep breath…ok now having said that, the death penalty needs to be done away with. Its too final, especially if evidence is circumstantial.

    And anyways, isn’t life in prison worse than death? It would be for me. But that is just MY opinion.

  144. uudale

    Chris says:

    “I am always amazed that many of the highly religious are pro-death penalty. They get all upset about abortion, but put murderer to death and they celebrate. They again are picking when the “Thou shalt not kill” commandment applies to them.”

    Do you feel the same way about those who are pro-abortion but against the death penalty?

  145. Robin

    @Chris (#115):

    I believe the image is supposed to be entirely black, reflective of “all the lights” having gone out in Georgia.

  146. Robert

    Death penalty is wrong. Period. We, the state, ought not be killing people by court order.

    The chance of error exists and that chance can never be eliminated, therefore we should not do it.

    That’s the Liberal me.

    The Conservative me worries about money. Life is cheaper than death. A LOT. So STOP WASTING MY MONEY!!!!

    Also, I have an acquaintance who was a cop and knew the slain one. Suppressed evidence due to a bad search, was a clothing with back splattered blood. So I don’t doubt guilt a bit.

    But still, life is cheaper and reversible.

  147. GrogInOhio

    “I hope you’d agree that even one innocent person executed constitutes a major problem. ”

    If you recall, during a GOP debate, the cheering for Texas Governor Rick Perry’s execution of a likely innocent man (and subsequent blockage of any investigation into the matter), you might doubt the above statement. At least for a certain portion of the American electorate.

  148. H

    He was convicted by a jury of his peers, so legally, he wasn’t innocent. End. Of. Story.

  149. I have not read all the replies to this post yet but I’ve read several by right wingers.

    When somebody makes the comment that a person was legally convicted by a jury of his peers and that makes it ok to execute somebody they are basically saying they don’t care if the person was innocent. They don’t care if an innocent person was put to death. He was legally convicted so it’s OK.

    I am not a liberal and in fact agree with conservative philosophy on a lot of issues. But I have nothing but contempt for right wingers because they are greedy, selfish, have no regard for anyone else in their blood-thirsty vigor.

    I’m not a liberal but I side with liberals due to mutual contempt for the right wing in this country.

    Strangely, I favor the death penalty. But I only favor it in cases where the person clearly chose to perform a heinous act and that he did it is irrefutable. I’m not here to argue about that. I have a lot of liberal friends and we’ve already had the arguments. They haven’t changed my mind even though I admit they make some good points.

    Where we overlap is that I would always choose to not enact the death penalty in any case where the person may be innocent. For example, no credible eyewitnesses.

    But now I even have to rethink that due to this case because many of the witnesses recanted. So for me to agree to enacting the death penalty would require even stronger evidence such as the person committing the crime in front of dozens of witnesses or there is film that clearly recorded the deed.

    But right wingers don’t care about any of that. They decide for themselves what the truth is based on nothing more than what they want to believe. They’ll argue about it but never change their minds despite mountains of evidence showing their claim to be untrue.

    They simply don’t have the ego strength to ever admit they are wrong about anything.

  150. 47. Michael Davis Says:
    September 21st, 2011 at 11:38 pm

    “@BJN: No, its intellectual weakness that leads you to conclude that I am guilty of intellectual cowardice. I made a rational decision here. Phil is an astronomer, an entertaining one. However he has displayed that he is unable to keep his personal political opinions apart from his duties as a blogger for Discover Magazine. I find it highly unprofessional. If the editor of Field and Stream or Car and Driver chose to rant about this issue, they would, rightly, be reprimanded if not outright fired. This in the Wild West internet, however, so Phil will probably get away with it. That doesnt mean I have to choose to support him.”

    You just proved BJN’s point. You don’t actually have an argument to support this execution so now you’re pretending that you care about Dr. Plait’s work ethic and that he is fulfilling the duties expected of him by Discover.

    Frankly, Dr. Plait’s relationship with an employer is none of your business. That’s strictly between them.

    Your outrage here is on par with you guys being all up in arms over incandescent light bulbs.

    There is nothing too trivial for right wingers to be outraged about just so they can bash left wingers.

    A man was put to death. No matter what your stand on the death penalty nobody should be in favor of a person being executed if it’s possible that he was innocent. Getting upset about Dr. Plait being “off topic” is stunning in light of the topic.

  151. KC

    I don’t think Phil has ever pledged or promised *not* to state his opinion on this blog. If you don’t like it – stop reading. No one is forcing you.

  152. AndyC

    Whether the death penalty is wrong or not, it really isn’t my concern in discussing Mr. Davis’ execution. What does bother me is the mob reaction to his executions.

    I’m curious, how many people posting here are law professionals who worked or are close to the case? I didn’t do too much research, but were all the information that the courts have publicly available?

    The pubic was moved, fueled by the media, to his steadfast insistence of innocence. But, somehow, the courts weren’t convinced. Maybe, just maybe, they do know how to do their jobs? People still believe in horoscopes and real experts need to actually pipe in to debunk them, and people still don’t believe. A trite example, but its the same kind of thing.

    I don’t know Mr. Davis. I don’t know any more info than what is in the news. But it’s because of the lack of information that I do not want to say an injustice was done. For all we know, justice was done.

  153. Jason

    Phil,

    Why do you and others choose to be outraged at this execution, yet not the execution of Lawrence Russell Brewer? It happened last night as well, yet I don’t see many articles or blog posts protesting it. Those of us that can look at things honestly know the answer. The execution of a white man that committed a racially motivated murder against a black man must put the left wingers in a tizzy. If it were truly a principle centered decision to oppose the death penalty, the circumstances and details of the crime would not matter, only the act of executing someone would be important. This isn’t the case, though, is it?

  154. H

    I simply have faith in the system. He was *convicted* of a terrible crime. The punishment fits that crime. Get over it and yourself. And if you’re that worried about it, take solace that his/your deity of choice will sort him out.

  155. Dean Jones

    I’m glad I live in a country where it’s only prosecuting attorneys that resort to deception, distraction, and innuendo to make their points and win their cases. Thank goodness defense attorneys merely stick to hard facts and evidence in the courtroom. And thank goodness no guilty person has ever been wrongly acquited, only to go out and commit other, even more heinous crimes.
    =====sarcasm ended======
    There’s a reason “double jeopardy” only applies one way, to protect the accused from unfair prosecution.

    Oh, and I didn’t write this comment; it was someone else, I swear.

  156. MoMan

    Getting in on this pretty late, and pretty much every opinion has been expressed, but I did want to say that I found Michael Davis’s remarks the most hateful and arrogant of the lot. I hope he mellows and tries to get along a lot more with age. I started law school in 1972 and so I soon had an inside look at our court system, which I found pretty appalling. You simply can’t work with our system and feel very confident about a lot of the decisions, seeing how juries can be swayed by simplistic and emotional arguments, and how prosecutors can be as mean and vindictive (unable to ever admit a mistake being their worst trait) as defenese attorneys can be lazy or manipulative. In other words, the system is too damned messy for us to be very sure of anything.Yes, I have seen criminals I wanted to hang myself, but I have also seen people’s lives destroyed who could have been contributors in time. I long ago gave up on our jury system and wished we would give the French system a try (such as turning to three judges who decide a case and who are often less likely to be swayed by silly arguments). America has lost any claim to being a moral leader in this world, I am sad to say, and I see nothing wrong with our scientists having an opinion on these topics. Perhaps it would be good if when the old atom bomb was invented we had had these open discussions then, and scientits had not been viewed as just purveyors of facts and automatons serving the government.

  157. CraterJoe

    This is quite an emotionally charged topic and interesting to see scientists and skeptics devolve into usage non-sequitors and other fits of irrationality.

    In any event, I think to get your emotions in a tizzy that you’d stop reading the science posts by Phil is silly. There are several sites where I disagree with the philosophical and political opinions of science bloggers but I value their expertise and insight on their respective fields. No matter what my own opinion is on this topic, I enjoy reading Phil’s posts on Astronomy and I’ll continue to as long as he keeps writing.

  158. Thoamthy

    “nobody should be in favor of a person being executed if it’s possible that he was innocent.”

    No. No one should be in favour of the death penalty. ‘Shoulds’, however, don’t travel very far. A state that sanctions the murder of a citizen makes the entire population complicit in murder. I can’t imagine how a person must stretch and twist logic in order to reconcile murder for murder as justice and not count themselves a murderer and ‘justice’ mere vengeance.

    A person who would not themselves murder and who does not consider themselves a murderer and who also thinks that murder is wrong has a serious cognitive dissonance to overcome in order to justify state sanctioned murder as anything other than vengeful murder in which they are complicit.

    I’m so terribly uninterested in the twisted logic and semantic games of the defenders of state sanctioned murder exactly because their arguments are nonsense. There is no logical defence for state sanctioned murder. There is no moral defence for it either.

    There is no absolute moral code and no absolute ruler (like a god) that needs to be appeased for the taking of one life. The murder of another simply can’t be justice when there exists no ideal moral law. To give a state control over the life and death of its citizens is a strange act for a supposedly free people (Americans, I look at you) and a strange act considering the nature of justice systems (none of which are perfect, attain to perfection nor, coincidentally, subscribe to an absolute moral).

    Simply, if murder is not to be tolerated by a society and murder cannot be absolved nor justice attained in it, then it is the duty of a society to not collectively murder its citizens in retribution for the very thing that that society does not tolerate. To do the opposite is contradiction and it belies a low value on human life.

  159. Anchor

    “For all we know, justice was done.”

    For all we know, justice was trashed.

    Is not this also possible? Even barely?

    Which is the whole point that some find so difficult to grasp: when it comes to something as serious as execution, one needs more than possible. One needs more than probable. One needs more than circumstantial or heresay testimony from witnesses (even if they’swear on a stack of holy books to tell the truth). One needss incontrovertible physical evidence at the very least …and then if the execution is still carried out its still nothing more than vengance on the pretense that its done on behalf of the victims.

    This is then commonly called “justice”.

    Is it?

  160. Steeev

    Wow, Phil sure knows how to get lots of comments on his blog entries! After slogging through them all up to this point, I have three comments:

    Chris (139) — you are not alone in your first impression regarding light pollution. Perhaps Dr. Phil could mollify his “not astronomy” critics by pointing out that the black graphic represents what Georgia would look like from the ISS at night if there wasn’t any light pollution.

    BJN (42) regarding Wzrd1’s occasional USE of all CAPS to emphasize his POINTS — what do you suggest? CAPITAL PUNISHMENT? (ha ha — I slay me)

    My personal theory is that Michael Davis is merely an anagram of David Mabus (in DM’s world, anything is possible).

  161. AndyC

    @Anchor (157)

    That was exactly the point. We do not know. “For all we know” is a phrase to denote insufficient information and that the statements we made may be untrue.

    Yes, he could have been innocent. Yes, he could have been guilty. But there is a reason I don’t have too much opinion on things I do not know about. I go to this blog because I am fascinated about all things astronomy related but I know zip about it. Phil has my greatest respect with regards to these things. I trust him to know what he is talking about so it helps me learn as well.

    To openly claim injustice when insufficient information is presented is simply denial that the courts do not know how to do their job. It’s the same way we watch football or hockey and declare that a certain player “doesn’t know what he’s doing”. We only have one side of the topic – the defence and Mr’. Davis’ supporters.

    Yes, prosecution has been overzealous or wrong before – take the case of the former IMF head as a recent example, and people do make mistakes. But until all facts are available from all sides, it is just foolish to jump in along with the mob.

  162. QuietDesperation

    Meh… I have no strong opinion on the death penalty. I’d trade it for some extensive revisions to the penal system. It’s too expensive anyway, and not used enough to really be a deterrent.

    There is never anyway you can be 100% sure of anyone’s guilt.

    Yes, the real world does not work like CSI shows on TV. This attitude is so bad that when you go for jury duty, the judge will specifically reference the CSI shows and how that is NOT reality.

    You can, however, get arbitrarily close to 100%, and at some point you need to go with the math and common sense, otherwise you can never convict anyone ever. I don’t think you want to live in that world.

    The real problem is that no one understand what circumstantial evidence means anymore. People ae equating “circumstantial” with “poor” and that’s the furthest thing from the truth. Some legal experts will say that a good set of circumstantial evidence can carry more weight than direct evidence. Witnesses are considered direct evidence, BTW.

    You walk in on a murder scene, and Joe is shot dead while Bob is standing there holding the gun. That is actually considered circumstantial, or indirect evidence. Maybe Bob found the scene and stupidly picked up the gun. OK. Other evidence places the timing of the gunshot such that Bob had to have been there when the killing happened. They also find powder residue on Bob’s hand.

    Each piece of circumstantial evidence sets a rough probability for the defendant’s guilt. There may be an alternative explanation for *each* piece. but the probabilities multiply, and the alternative explanation begin to cancel out and all you are left with is Bob’s guilt.

    It’s like those logic puzzles you see in something like the GRE where you are given a few bits of data and you have to figure out the seating arrangement around a dinner table or something.

  163. Chris

    I’m British and news stories like this make me seriously worry about America as a whole, as a kid I loved the USA, as an adult I’m not so sure … For a crime like the Giffords shooting then maybe I can understand a death penalty; its all on film; there is no debate – but for a crime which has no absolute evidence then you just cannot do this…

    No disrespect to Phil or anyone else, but my point is that this is extremely ‘bad publicity’ for your country as a whole….

  164. QuietDesperation

    “MoMan: I long ago gave up on our jury system”

    The main problems as I see it are [1] jurors getting into speculation and [2] no concept of statistics.

    They think, well, evidence 1 can be explained away by A, and evidence 2 explained away by B, and 3 explained away by C, and so on. But they don’t notice that A, B and C are either contradictory or hugely improbable. And I don’t mean theories presented by the defense. In a lot of post trial interviews (the Casey Anthony and Robert Blake trials come to mind) the jurors trot out ideas they had which were never presented anywhere in the courtroom.

  165. Jeff

    yes, shame on us all.

    I for one have been a long time physics prof. and taught many students, pre-meds, engineers, physicists, etc., so I contributed some to our technology. But technology does not necessarily solve the basic human cave man instincts. We must always be aware of this tension or we really will go backward.

  166. Digital Atheist

    There is never anyway you can be 100% sure of anyone’s guilt.

    Sadly, this is in error. In fact it is erroneous as the belief that everyone who is sentenced to death deserved it.

    I can tell you about a couple of cases where there was no doubt at all about who did it. In one, the victim was kidnapped from his place of employment, taken out on a back road and shot several times… murdered coldly in a ditch. In the commision of the crime, the two murderers also killed another employee on the premises. Both murderers were ex-employees, and their car was spotted leaving the site of kidnapping/first murder. After being arrested, both admitted envolvement in the crime, although they each said the other was the one who did the deed. Forensic evidence showed that had fired shots at some point in the commission of the crimes. And to top it all off, both never expressed any remorse about the crime nor protested their innocence. One decided after a couple of appeals to not drag things out anymore and asked to go get things over with. The other tried to plead “I’m a Christian now” as a way out of punishment, yet never any mention of remorse about his crime.

    In another case, the murderer killed some of his own family members for drug money. When caught he also admitted guilt and was sentenced to life in prison. While in prison, another inmate informed guards that this person had contraband (in the form of a shiv of course). After this, our lovely life-sentenced murderer caught up to the other inmate before breakfast one morning, strangled him while bashing his head against various objects then left his corpse laying on the ground while going to the mess hall and eating breakfast. After breakfast he then went back to his cell, retrieved the body, dragged it back to the mess hall and dropped it in the floor proudly announcing that he did it and that anybody else that every snitched on him would get the same. Sadly, his life sentence at that point was changed to death penalty which has now been served.

    Never assume that there is no way 100% guilt can be proven, it can. However, when it comes to the death penalty then it better BE proven 100%. The death penalty is way over used, and there is too often the possibility of someone either being innocent, or the circumstances not being exactly as presented. New forms of evidence are being created regularly, and new tests help prove the innocence or guilt of inmates in jail. Sadly, we will never have anyway of knowing how many people received the death penalty who would now maybe be proven innocent, nor is there anyway to ever know how many should have received a lesser sentence. In most cases, Governments, the Judiciary, and the Prosecution are NEVER going to admit that they goofed up.

  167. Mark Hansen

    Michael Davis:
    “…It was a good run, I was right there in your corner on the recent funding debates…
    But still couldn’t find the time to post anything, be it support, an opinion, or anything. Only got time for “Stick to what you know” posts, I guess.

  168. Keith Bowden

    We do have a few seeming contradictions in our legal system:

    You can’t retry a criminal case if the defendant wins (no matter what evidence comes out later)… but the defendant can appeal ad infinitum if he loses.

    You can’t retry a criminal case if the defendant wins… but he can be held responsible in a later civil trial.

    The first is clearly appropriate; while I can conceive of arguments to allow double-jeopardy, I can also see many arguments to refute them (primarily putting the onus on the prosecution to make sure they have their evidence and are making appropriate charges the first time around). The latter confuses me to no end. If someone is found innocent and there are no criminal penalties, how can you reasonably allow that he’s also guilty and therefore owes financial restitution?

    Regardless, while I still rank our courts to be among the best system devised, our penal/justice system does need some changes for moral and financial reasons. I have no problem with the concept of a death penalty, but I would like to make sure that the right people are executed. Of course, making someone live out the rest of their days confined to one building is a more severe punishment. No time off because you’re dying, that’s kind of the point of a life sentence!

    I think I had a point when I started my comment (with only 163 prior entries), but I’ve started rambling, so I think I’ll stop. It’s a complex issue, and I appreciate everyone here who can discuss it rationally, whichever side or middle you’re on.

  169. katwagner

    Boy, howdy. Lots going on here.

    JMS and Michael Davis: Sociology – the study of all of us on this one planet. It’s a science.

    I watched the news last night on multiple channels and I heard myself holler at the tv set, wait! Innocent til proven guilty! After being found guilty, with no evidence, no weapon, the guy has to prove innocence? That’s bass ackwards in this country.

    It’s a good thing the Innocence Project got all those guys off death row in Illinois, prompting the governor to end the death penalty there.

    And here’s what creeps me out about Texas Gov. Perry. Re the accidental fire that killed the guy’s kids, but Gov. Perry had him put to death anyway. And the PANEL LOOKING INTO THE CAUSE OF THIS FIRE? – well, Gov. Perry disbanded the panel and said they can never come back together to explain their findings. That whackado Gov. Perry wants to be our president. Gag me. I mean seriously.

  170. Chris A.

    Quick! Someone call the SWAT team and send them over to JMS’s place–he/she is being held at gunpoint and forced to read an astronomy blog that’s not 100% astronomy, for the love of FMS! Oh, the humanity!

  171. Digital Atheist

    @169:
    Would you by chance be refering to the case of Cameron Todd Willingham?

  172. Daniel

    The Prosecuters didn’t talk about the case up until a few days ago, so we have been hearing only one side of this the whole time.

    That said, I don’t know about Troy Davis, but I am absolutely convinced that Texas has already executed someone that should never have been convicted, much less put to death.

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/09/07/090907fa_fact_grann

    Roughly, Cameron Todd Willingham was tried, convicted, and executed for setting a fire that killed his children. All the evidence that said the fire had to be arson has been pretty throughly debunked to the point where no reasonable jury would ever convict if it was presented in court.

    Its a long read, but worthwhile. While there are a few people out there that I’d gladly pay for the privilege of pulling the switch on, I also define 1 as too many innocent people to execute, so the death penalty really needs to go.

  173. Ron1

    It’s a little late in the thread but, consider the plight of Reginald Clemens (case pending in Missouri). You’ll find a good backgrounder (“Can Troy Davis Save Reginald Clemons?”) at crooksandliars . com.

    Once again the USA leads as a beacon of equality and justice – NOT!

    .

  174. QuietDesperation

    Shame on us all

    Could you folks kindly keep your shame to yourselves? I’ve never even been to Georgia.

    Sociology – the study of all of us on this one planet. It’s a science.

    Mad science, maybe.

    Once again the USA leads as a beacon of righteous equality and justice – NOT!

    (eyeroll)

    I really wish China would just take the world socioeconomic lead already. Then everyone can pick on them for the next 200 years. Go China!

    I’m British and news stories like this make me seriously worry about America as a whole, as a kid I loved the USA, as an adult I’m not so sure

    Yeah, well, we can watch Pat Condell videos over here. Get your own house in order, Red Coat.

  175. JMW

    Just to be completely geeky about this:

    “…What a pity Bilbo didn’t stab that vile creature [Gollum] when he had a chance!”

    “Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity.”

    “I am sorry,” said Frodo. “But I am frightened; and I do not feel any pity for Gollum.”

    “You have not seen him,” Gandalf broke in.

    “No, and I don’t want to,” said Frodo. “I can’t understand you. Do you mean to say that you, and the Elves, have let him live on after all those horrible deeds? Now at any rate he is as bad as an Orc, and just an enemy. He deserves death.”

    “Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.”

    Frodo: I am sorry

  176. David K

    It is interesting that Phil is making the same mistake on a point of law that he excoriates politicians about in regard to scientific issues. The article cited has as many deliberate falsehoods about the Troy Davis case as a typical anti-global warming rant is about climate science, but he uncritically accepts what it says as being true and then uses what it says to make his anti-death penalty argument.

    Whatever you may think about the death penalty in general, there is no reasonable doubt about Troy Davis’s guilt — just a bunch of manufactured doubt fabricated by his defense team. Higher courts have already properly dismissed these arguments as being without merit. If you wish to argue that the death penalty should be abolished because of the possibility of putting an innocent man to death, you should cite a case where there actually is reason to doubt the defendant’s guilt. This is not such a case.

  177. John

    Can I toss out a possible short term solution?

    If he gets a second term in office, President Obama will be able to be more ardently opposed to the death penalty.

    Ron Paul is the ONLY Republican candidate who is anti death penalty.

    If you’re a Democrat (and your state allows it) vote for Ron Paul in the Republican primary, then switch back and vote for Obama in the general election. (And if you’re a Republican, well…. )

    That way which ever party takes office, we’ll have someone in the White House who is morally opposed to the death penalty.

  178. NAW

    @ David K
    Thanks, a nice calm voice is nice in all of the noise above.

  179. jimthompson

    The particular merits of this particular case are irrelevant to the issue that given the vagaries of the U.S. justice system, the fact that some people have already been and others will continue to be executed for crimes they didn’t commit is irrefutable. The truly sad thing is that a significant fraction of U.S. citizens are perfectly ok with that fact.

  180. Grimoire

    The particular merits of this particular case are irrelevant to the issue

    However it was this case put forward on this blog that tried to “shame” an entire state, which seems odd and vaguely bigoted, as if everyone in Georgia is standing around chanting for the execution. Would the same thing have been said if it were, say, not such a southern state. And I note his silence of the *other* execution. Curious.

    The whole blog post is VERY poorly researched. It took me one minute to find that the defense *did* have its day in court with all the listed objections without the conviction being overturned.

    I think David K is correct here. Phil has definitely gone into politician territory here. The overall issue may have merit, but he presents a slanted view of a particular case trying to invoke emotional rather than a logical response. Maybe that wasn’t even his actual intent, but that’s what was sent out in the world.

  181. Grimoire

    The use of that song title is also offensive. The cops and court in the song are completely corrupt. Is Phil saying that the police and prosecution are like those int he song?

    And the general reporting on this is horribly one sided.

    So who did the best cover of the song? I have to go with Reba McEntire.

  182. Victor Hatherley

    What I’m angry about is that it took 22 years for the monster davis to get what he deserved.

  183. Ron1

    @173. QuietDesperation

    After reading your comments for years, I know that you are capable of intelligent discussion. I also know that you are really touchy about any criticism of your beloved USA but, under the circumstances, don’t you think criticism is warranted? Don’t you think that the actions of a state reflect on the nation as a whole? If not, why not?

    Now, I realize the USA is a very complex society with a multitude of sub-cultures and associated belief systems, as well as an equally complex legislative and justice system. However, the fact remains that Troy Davis’ execution took place within the USA. Nothwithstanding the reality that a minority of States(+DC) do not permit capital punishment, the fact remains that the US is a nation that permits capital punishment. As a result, all US citizens are culpable in this (possible) miscarriage of justice.

    Given the ongoing criticism that US administrations and media pour onto other nations whom they vilify for perceived justice and human rights abuses, don’t you think its fair for the rest of the world to reciprocate, especially when the criticism is justified, because it’s true.

    Also, as for why the USA ‘gets picked on’, keep in mind that (unlike China and most other great nations of the world who use quiet diplomacy), the USA continually ‘stands on a soapbox’, ‘thumping its chest’ and bragging that it is ‘the greatest country in the world’, the ‘leader of the free world’, and then your country does something like this.

    Like it or not, the US brand is badly damaged and that is a problem for all of you.

    Cheers

  184. Ron1

    @176. David K Says:

    ” If you wish to argue that the death penalty should be abolished because of the possibility of putting an innocent man to death, you should cite a case where there actually is reason to doubt the defendant’s guilt.”

    ……………………………..

    Ok, here are nine cases from the Canadian Justice System. If the Death Penalty were still in place, these men would have been executed. Given the US population is ten times that of Canada, the odds are pretty good that ninety innocent people were executed, a conservative estimate.

    James Driskell
    Donald Marshall Jr
    David Milgaard
    Guy Paul Morin
    William Mullins-Johnson
    Romeo Phillion ***
    Steven Truscott
    Kyle Unger
    Erin Walsh

    *** The Court of Appeal struck down Phillion’s conviction in March 2009 and ordered a new trial, although it stopped short of a full acquittal.

    Cheers

  185. Infinite123Lifer

    I just read ALL 182 posts. My God. (in the spirit of Wzrd1’s technique I WILL, carefully, choose some words to cap here.

    I can only say that I am glad there is passion in the world. I argue that passion can be inherently “good” for a peoples.

    I would also like to state that the world is so relative…strike that…ANY ONE person’s views of their respective perceived world’s are SOOOO relatively limited PERIOD

    For it is a fact (as far as I know) that nobody has EVER LIVED MY LIFE in the exact same quantities and metrics as I have lived it. And the same goes for all of YOU, my planet dwelling brethren.

    I believe I have an open mind. This may or may not be true. This cannot probably be proven or dis-proven.

    I do not claim to understand if there is “good and evil”, “right and wrong”. What is “right” to me is “wrong” to another and vice versa. I do claim to have a morally, ethically, empathy-driven core of beliefs personally.

    I do not kill, in general. I do not fish for this reason, I do not hunt, I do not squish bugs or slice slugs in my garden or swat bee’s, and I generally am pretty good at trap and release when it comes to wicked little critters in my house. I do eat meat and that meat has been killed, so it could be argued (by one method) that I do kill. Similarly as was argued that by the USA killing “WE” are all killers. My Life and choices and thoughts and inputs are far removed from that which “EVERYONE” else decides.

    That said, I have put a dog (to me my dog was my best friend brother protector and as close to my “other part of self” to me that I had ever experience beyond children and my mate) down with a bullet ( I have never been the same and I killed/murdered? him because he ATTACKED another dog viscously, i still wrestle with knowing if this was the correct decision, it was in his nature to fight/challenge a leader…the problem was me….I failed to protect the dog who got attacked by my dog, so in the end “I put my dog to rest because I FAILED to protect him from himself), I will squish spiders which I believe to be poisonous. I WILL NOT kill bees of any species. However, my mother is allergic, and when one got into my sisters house, instead of taking the chance of her getting stung…”i said I am sorry to do this but I love my mother” and regretfully killed the bee. I am just saying that you cannot predict the future or EVEN YOUR future actions based on what you “believe” to be morally right or wrong.

    I prefer not to kill. I will STR8 UP kill anyone who breaks into my house to harm me and mine. Is that so absurd? I think not.

    I claim to be compromising my core values under “what I deem as” extreme circumstances. And I think these are things which ALL people are forced to do from time to time. Have you ever met a Tolstoyian? Truly, that idea cannot be possessed 100%, one must own clothes and eat.

    I do not like to point the finger. I suffer or excel due to hyper-empathy. Do i feel sorry for the killer or the ones he killed? Usually the killed and their families, though the killer most probably has a family. Do i feel sorry and sad that the situation is even happening? (always yes, I do not like violence or emotional pain for me or others). Am I glad some men/monsters do not live across the street from me? Yes. Do i like persecution? NO. What is justice? I do not claim to know.

    Debating is very important to progress. This blog is just a blog. Peoples opinions are worth being stated, no matter how ignorant they appear to another. For if you TRULY seek to “BETTER” the world (in which ever way YOU see best) you must take in as much information as possible to be able for yourself to make an informed decision. IN FACT, that is exactly what I see here…PEOPLE from different walks of Life have taken in much information and made their respective claims. Are they worth debating? SURE. Is everything worth looking at from a different angle? SURE.

    Am I being a wuss by not stating opinion on the matter (namely the death of Troy Davis)? Who cares. I have stated my opinion on what it all means to me, and I thank each and every one of you for stating what YOU BELIEVE to be the most pertinent (or at least stated) information. Name-calling? I understand how it can be attractive.

    QuiteDesperation said:

    “There is never anyway you can be 100% sure of anyone’s guilt.”

    That statement i believe is actually 100% true. You can be 99.99999999999999% (or as close as you think you need to be to the truth) but guilt I think is something you can never know…shieeeeeoooooooooot, i might not even be “ALIVE” as I understand it. Nothing is 100% is it? What ULTIMATELY lies beyond the realm of my understanding…………………? (99.9999999999999999% of everything probably)

    Pierre Simon De Laplace in his essay on “A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities” comments on the subject of 20 heads coming up in a successive run of coin flipping and wrote:

    “We look upon a thing as the effect of chance when we see nothing regular in it, nothing that manifest’s design, and when furthermore, we are ignorant of the causes that brought it about. Thus, chance has no reality in itself. It is nothing but a term for expressing our ignorance of the way in which the various aspects of a phenomenon are interconnected and related to the rest of nature.”

    Chance has no reality in itself…I love it

    What are the chances that Troy Davis committed the crime? What are the chances he did not? What are the chances that capital punishment is wrong? What are the chances that he could have been “saved” if Phil had posted something BEFORE and not AFTER his death? What are the chances that by killing him others are saved? What are the chances that anyones opinion matters anymore than anyone else’s?

    Chance has no reality it itself.

  186. Infinite123Lifer

    It was not by chance that that police man died. It was not by chance that Troy Davis was condemned to death for it. It is not by chance that billions of people on this “LITTLE BLUE DOT” cannot agree.

    The bigger issue here is…

    “What does your Life mean to YOU?”

    For reading 182 posts in a row this is how I feel. That is all.

  187. Infinite123Lifer

    “What does your Life mean to YOU?”

    ( i believe that is the underlying cause of the effects of the posts above, or do i have it backwards…is it the underlying effects due to the causes of the posts…or even more backwards yet, possibly, What do YOU mean to Life?)

  188. Timbo

    VinceRN #69

    “If a prosecution expert actually testified that he was more likely to reoffend because of his race, and if that affected the jury at sentencing, his sentence should have been changed to life without parole.”

    That happened to another guy named Duane Buck, not Troy Davis. Duane Buck was sentenced to the death penalty in Texas for committing a double murder, which he openly admits he committed. There’s absolutely no dispute in his guilt over the crime, but a psychologist testified Buck is more likely to reoffend because he is black. So, now his execution has been halted.

  189. John Meason

    Shame on you, stay the heck out of politics on your web

  190. Peter B

    H @ #148 said: “He was convicted by a jury of his peers, so legally, he wasn’t innocent. End. Of. Story.”

    Do you say that for all innocent people who have been executed?

    I don’t know whether Davis was guilty or not, but there’s clear evidence plenty of innocent people have been executed, and enough clear evidence that people who were about to be executed in Illinois were innocent.

  191. Peter B

    Jason @ #153 said: “Why do you and others choose to be outraged at this execution, yet not the execution of Lawrence Russell Brewer?”

    Look around the comments, and you’ll see that I’ve expressed my opposition to his execution too. I’ve commented on it on other blogs too.

    Brewer’s crimes were far worse than Davis’s, and there’s a lot less doubt about his guilt. But that doesn’t alter my opposition to his execution.

    But yes, I think you’re right – his execution has attracted a lot less comment than it ought to if people are genuinely opposed to capital punishment.

  192. Philip Kotula

    One of the many problems with recanted testimony by witnesses is that if it is allowed then every witness who testifies is subject to harassment, threats, violence by the convicted friends, family and fellow gang members etc to make the witness recant.. It should rarely be used and pretty much only when there is new physical evidence

  193. Peter B

    H @ #154 said: “I simply have faith in the system.”

    As a skeptic, I want evidence that the system works properly. The evidence suggests that the system doesn’t work properly, as this article suggests: http://newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/clout_st/2011/03/quinn-signs-death-penalty-ban-commutes-15-death-row-sentences-to-life.html: “The Tribune examination found at least 46 inmates sent to death row in cases where prosecutors used jailhouse informants to convict or condemn the defendants. The investigation also found at least 33 death row inmates had been represented at trial by an attorney who had been disbarred or suspended; at least 35 African-American inmates on death row who had been convicted or condemned by an all-white jury; and about half of the nearly 300 capital cases had been reversed for a new trial or sentencing hearing.”

    “He was *convicted* of a terrible crime.”

    And he may have been guilty. Yet there is no doubt that many innocent people have been executed (Willingham in Texas, for one), and many more would have been, at least in Illinois, if capital punishment hadn’t been banned. Do you not consider the possibility that innocent people get convicted?

    “The punishment fits that crime.”

    But is it the only punishment that fits that crime?

    Look at it this way: At what level of involvement in a murder can one get away with not being executed? How do you determine whether someone’s involvement is above or below that level of involvement? What is the possibility that someone could negotiate their way out of a death penalty by snitching on co-accused? (Look at the fates of Brewer’s co-accused.)

    Look at it another way: What is the possibility that innocent people might be convinced to confess to crimes they didn’t commit, on the threat of the death penalty if they plead not guilty and are found guilty? (Look at the fate of the Norfolk Four.)

    “Get over it and yourself. And if you’re that worried about it, take solace that his/your deity of choice will sort him out.”

    I’m not an atheist, so I can’t take any solace. What about you? Are you a Christian? Can you reconcile support for the death penalty with “Love your neighbour as yourself” or “Let he who is without blame cast the first stone”?

  194. Peter B

    Dean Jones @ #155 said: “I’m glad I live in a country where it’s only prosecuting attorneys that resort to deception, distraction, and innuendo to make their points and win their cases. Thank goodness defense attorneys merely stick to hard facts and evidence in the courtroom. And thank goodness no guilty person has ever been wrongly acquited, only to go out and commit other, even more heinous crimes. =====sarcasm ended====== There’s a reason “double jeopardy” only applies one way, to protect the accused from unfair prosecution.”

    I note that nowhere in your comment do you say anything about innocent people who are convicted.

    Yes, double jeopardy protects people from the State having multiple goes at convicting someone. But it doesn’t protect you if you’re wrongly convicted in the first place.

  195. Peter B

    Keith Bowden @ #168 said: “You can’t retry a criminal case if the defendant wins… but he can be held responsible in a later civil trial. The first is clearly appropriate…The latter confuses me to no end. If someone is found innocent and there are no criminal penalties, how can you reasonably allow that he’s also guilty and therefore owes financial restitution?”

    Because there are different levels of proof required. In a criminal trial, the jury has to find the accused guilty *beyond all reasonable doubt*. In a civil trial, the jury has to find the accused guilty *on the balance of probabilities*.

    I think it’s reasonable to conceive a crime investigation in which you could be certain on the lesser level of proof but not on the higher one.

  196. Ed Hatem

    I guess the disappointing thing to me here is the fact that every time climate change nay-sayers preach, Phil will point out the correct science. He will give reasoned and well thought out arguments. We don’t get that here. Take the case of Troy Davis vs the Texas case of Cameron Todd Willingham. You can go through the evidence of each trial and with a clear head see the differences. Willingham, more then likely, was an innocent man who was put to death. The evidence points clearly in the direction of the fire not being his fault. Or, at the very least, gives reasonable doubt that it wasn’t. The science is there, its pretty clear, and if Perry wasn’t trying to cover his rear while he runs for President it would point to serious mistakes having been made. The system absolutely failed Willingham.

    Davis, on the other hand, is an argument based almost entirely on emotion. You can point to recanting of testimony and I can point to you the amount of time its taken for that to occur. I can point you to scientific evidence that shows how memories fade and guilt sets in. What you can’t show me is evidence to contradict the prosecutor’s case. At every challenge they were able to calmly and without a shadow of a doubt prove the man’s guilt. This isn’t some crusading prosecutor with an axe to grind. Whether the death penalty exists or not doesn’t matter to him. He only wants to fulfill the rule of law that the state of Georgia has. As he said recently, I don’t mind if you are against the death penalty and you don’t want this to go through for that reason. That is certainly your right. But don’t fling accusations of the kind Phil and many of you here are flinging without knowing all the details. This is an honorable man who was given a job, did it to the best of his ability, and refused to speak about the case until it was done. He took one of the worst public beatings I’ve ever seen a political figure take and he did it because he believed in the rule of law.

    If you want to rail against the death penalty, fine. But don’t preach following the scientific method one one political subject and ignore it while you knock over a political hornet’s nest on another. Show me the science of your argument. Show me where the prosecutor, the judge, the jury, every appeals court, as well as both State and National Supreme Courts were wrong. Until then you’re no better then the idiots screaming global warming doesn’t exist.

  197. Infinite123Lifer

    I know there is nothing funny here, you should be able to gauge that from my blogs but since I am in a great amount of inescapable physical pain and have been for three weeks and actually give a damn…well, having said that… sometimes laughter is the best medicine…i shall not refrain.

    I laid claim to the 187 post.
    Do I win something?

    Consequently that post is now not only the object of the best joke in a long while but it also might be the most important post out here.

    I wont even get started on “police brutality” or “SYSTEM fatality” or “bad peoples finalities” or “persecution of the innocent-alities” or “court case abnormalities” or “unconstitutionality’s” or “my principality’s” or “some other potentiality” or “practicalities” or “legalities” or “preternaturality” or “moralities” or “feudality” or “circumstantiality” or “reality” or “mortality” or “irrationality” or “liberality” or “propheticality” or “peoples who disagree and their CONSUBSTANTIALITY”

    R.I.P. To every living cell ever.

    Bet we travel faster than the speed of light to wherever it is when we go…

  198. Mike K

    Yeah, this is a blog. But it’s the “Bad Astronomy” blog. When a musician starts spouting off opinions that are contrary to my own, I stop listening. But it’s even worse when someone who is supposed to be a scientist apparently doesn’t bother to educate himself on all sides of the story. I believe Georgia did the right thing and executed a cop-killer. If I wanted to appeal to emotion rather than reason – as Phil and most everyone else have done so far – I’d start asking why “you people” hate the police so much that you always seem to want cop-killers to be spared their just punishment. That thin blue line of dedicated officers who put their lives at risk every day to protect us, and you want someone who murders a cop to go unpunished. But that’s a bunch of crap – just like the crap you’re spewing about this man – who was beating a homeless man when Mark MacPhail tried to help – not being the murderer of Officer MacPhail. I notice you all spout this thug’s name, but how many even remembered the name of Mark MacPhail, the police officer who was murdered, leaving behind a wife and two small children?

    But it doesn’t really matter. In spewing his nonsense, Phil has completely undermined his credibility as a man of reason in my view. As such, he has converted me from an occasional reader to someone who will never pay attention to him again, because, as best I can tell, he lacks the ability to reason objectively.

    That is why one who is supposed to be an objective scientist – or an actor or musician – should keep his yap shut when it comes to controversial topics. Your views will anger about half the people, and a non-trivial percentage of those will decide you’re no longer worth our time. In the end, you will have spewed forth your opinion and will not have changed a single person’s mind. You’ll have accomplished no good and will have driven away good people whose opinions just happen to differ from yours. We don’t feel the slightest shame, because we are every bit as convinced that we are right as you are. Maybe you’ll feel a little better, but you haven’t done one iota of good. Some here will be happy we’re gone, which is typical of small-minded people who cannot see that this is a place we came to read about and discuss astronomy. Your world just got smaller today, because you have succeeded in driving away good, intelligent people who disagree with you on this non-astronomy topic. You have sanctimoniously appointed yourself as the overseer of morality, looked down your nose at anyone who dares to disagree with you, judged us as beneath you, then waggled your finger in our faces and said, “Shame.” Have YOU no shame? Obviously not. I get this sort of idiocy every day from the vacuous people in the media – I will not tolerate it from an astronomer and a bunch of his sycophants.

  199. TerryEmberson

    @Mike K:

    Just a quick point… in deciding to post this and rail against this man of reason whose reasoning you fault, you are doing two things. First, you are validating his choice in posting on this subject, even as you disagree with his reasoning. Second, you are evidencing that you are just as guilty of not getting all the facts as you are accusing him of being.

    Bad Astronomy started as a blog to point out when people made errors in space science in the media, way back in the day. It has long since spread to include all sorts of reasoning and skeptical issues, especially in the arena of politics, while having occasional nice pictures and astronomy news to share. In other words, this has never been an “astronomy” blog and has long been much more than a science blog.

    I pretty much think everyone rejects your determination that Phil should “keep his yap shut” just because you disagree with the subject matter. If you and your silent… plurality I guess, want to leave, you are welcome to it.

  200. TerryEmberson

    @Ed Hatem:

    If you want to rail against the death penalty, fine. But don’t preach following the scientific method one one political subject and ignore it while you knock over a political hornet’s nest on another. Show me the science of your argument. Show me where the prosecutor, the judge, the jury, every appeals court, as well as both State and National Supreme Courts were wrong. Until then you’re no better then the idiots screaming global warming doesn’t exist.

    We’d love to… can you show us the science-based evidence so we can tear it down. Right, there was no science here. Therefore you can take Phil’s comments as a political opinion. It is his opinion that there existed enough doubt in the case that the convicted killer should not be given the death penalty solely because the victim was also a police officer. I say also, because he was not at that time carrying out the duties of a police officer. This was not an egregious homicide, why the death penalty? It seems that the special status of the victim had more to do with the death penalty in this case than did the facts of the case.

  201. QuietDesperation

    Like it or not, the US brand is badly damaged and that is a problem for all of you.

    I don’t disagree. You misread me.

    I just like pointing out hypocrisy when I see it. It fills the empty gaps in my life.

    Yeah, maybe we’re the Titanic, but quips from the Exxon Valdez really don’t help.

  202. QuietDesperation

    QuiteDesperation said:
    “There is never anyway you can be 100% sure of anyone’s guilt.”

    Uh, no, I didn’t. That was me quoting someone else. And it’s “Quiet” Desperation as in Henry David Thoreau. You lose three internets.

  203. QuietDesperation

    I’d start asking why “you people” hate the police so much that you always seem to want cop-killers to be spared their just punishment.

    They have the opposite issue in Fullerton, California. Six cops beat a 135 pound, mentally ill, unarmed, already sitting on the curb and cooperating homeless man to death, and you get these people calling in to the talk shows as if no cop ever did anything wrong ever, and how dare people want to watch the watchers.

    And you know how some people act like they won’t believe anything unless it’s video taped? The cops *are* on video, from multiple angles, clearly beating the man to death long after he was down and unconscious, and still these people run to the defense of these animals.

    A local radio host described it as the belief we are infused with when children that the cops are here to help you and never suffer from the flaws of other humans, and a lot of people carry that child-like nonsense into their adult lives.

    The DA just this week charged one cop with second degree murder and another with manslaughter. The silence from the “cops are angels” crowd is deafening.

  204. Infinite123Lifer

    I swear to my God wherever it is or is not that if I saw a dead horse outside my house, I would go out and start beating it immediately right this second. If I saw Troy Davis I would pistol whip his punk ass for the homeless guy, whether he was dead or not.

    however TerryEmberson said:

    “Bad Astronomy started as a blog to point out when people made errors in space science in the media, way back in the day. It has long since spread to include all sorts of reasoning and skeptical issues, especially in the arena of politics, while having occasional nice pictures and astronomy news to share. In other words, this has never been an “astronomy” blog and has long been much more than a science blog.”

    That sounds pretty damn reasonable…I would’nt beat Phil. Just the horse and Troy Davis.

    Judge and yee shall be judged or summin like that for all you people thinking Phil is “whatever you think he is”. He was a little soft hearted and naive on the……shame……bit. That should be all the more reason to kinda like the guy.

    At least he aint out there robbing your house and pistol whipping folks, at least he has a heart. And in my book that counts for a whole whole whole lot.

  205. QuietDesperation

    And he has a pretty cool blog.

    Agreed. We love you, Phil, even if you do need an intervention on the whole “embiggen” variant thing. :-)

  206. Joseph G

    @#10 JMS: So finally, this blog has been revealed to be not about astronomy or any science but about the writer’s personal politics and feelings.

    If you’d read this blog before you’d see we’ve been over this a hundred times.

    As for this case, it seems like the press shows that there was reasonable doubt but the various courts and the Board of pardons, which had all the evidence available and looked at it for 22 years, disagreed. Could it the equivalent of “settled science” where cosmic rays and cloud formation are not to be ever entered into evidence?

    Wow, this falls into “not even wrong” territory. Completely different issues, with different ethical ramifications and different methods of investigation. Not apples and oranges, apples and pianos.

    Anyway there are better science blogs out there anyway. I am outta here; leaving this pity party that Plait never tires of.

    Don’t let the doorknob hit ya where Spaghetti Monster split ya :)

  207. Joseph G

    It sounds like a lot of the sturm und drang in here is caused by the fact that people are trying to have three debates at once (three being the lowest number – I may have missed a few), namely whether:

    -The death penalty is moral or not, and even if so, moral in practice
    -Troy Davis was guilty or not
    -The justice system at large is systemically flawed or not

    Each of these debates could take all day, but mix them together and you get a lot more noise then the sum of its parts.

    Just sayin’…

  208. Ron1

    @201. QuietDesperation Said: “Yeah, maybe we’re the Titanic, but quips from the Exxon Valdez really don’t help”.

    …………………….

    Canada = Exxon Valdez. Ouch, but true. (Are you listening Mr Harper?)

    Unfortunately, our new Conservative majority government is rapidly moving Canada away from the progressive path we’ve followed for the last forty years. While I am embarassed by my government’s new right-wing positions on global warming, family planning and international relations, I am proud that they are continuing to hold the line on banning capital punishment, for now.

    Cheers

  209. Timbo

    I wonder if any of you are aware that Troy Davis confessed to killing the copper. I’m also wondering why none of the anti-death penalty folk on here aren’t moanin about that White Supremicist that was executed in Texas the other day?

    It seems that a person who admits to killing a cop shouldn’t recieve the death penalty, but it’s perfectly ok for a White Supremicist to admit to killing a black guy and recieving the death penalty.

  210. Infinite123Lifer

    Umm “Quiet” Desperation is it? Are you referring to me again? If you are that is all you can say about my post that I am so proud of for once. Ok so looking at it now I see that you used italics (so that means someone else quoted it and you were commenting).

    #1. At least I quoted you as saying something you agree with! Smiley or no smiley face, I cant tell. smiley I think :)

    #2. Your name appears on this screen as QuietDesperation “as in not” as in Henry David Thoreau, so now I know to the 99.999999 percentile what i think you mean.

    #3. You actually read my post?

    #4. I swear on those 3 internets I lost that the following are true: I erased “and he has a pretty cool blog” and rewrote the end with the whole whole whole lot because I thought it was more meaningful. So you read my mind or something or by chance, oh wait, by coincidence…uh…WE both wrote the same thing! Somehow you knew I left that off. Good lookin’ out.

    #5. I also just looked at the Kelly Thomas beating (sickened by it) and henceforth it became the first word in my -atility spew which is (some circumstantial proof at best for you that thats twice you have read my mind) why that paragraph started off saying “I wont even get started on “police brutality””, which I posted at 9:58pm and did not even mentioned it in that post. Once again, um, you read my mind. Good lookin out again.

    #6. I cant make my words italic and I am jeolous!

    For anybody who has not seen the Fullerton, California, Kelly Thomas police free for all on youtube or countless others…If you prefer to think we live in a world where SOME cops are not just freakin out of their minds like totally way off base left field grandstands ass beating bullying machines who should never have been in a position of power, don’t watch it. But if you want to see what does happen everyday in America somewhere (i hope not) its there.

    I have personally been kneed in the back from a 100 yards taken down knee’d kicked punched tackled and arrested for “resisting arrest”. I was at a Steve Miller concert with 6 girls. They were really drunk I was holding them up in the concert so they would not get trampled (it is a fond memory i have being so cool at one time in college a long time ago). I got grabbed by a bouncer and kicked out. I explained to him “wt.. are you doing? those are my friends?” He thinks for a second and goes “oh man, I just thought you were grabbin’em I am supposed to watch for that, I see, I am sorry but I cant let you in”. So I leave after understanding that I cant re-enter. 100 yards later I get bamblasted by this cop in my back and knocked to the ground and beat and he starts yelling “STOP RESISTING” and by this point I figure out its a cop who is slamming my head on the pavement. While i have this astonished look on my face and am pleading for his reasoning. He knocks me out. I wake up in Cheney jail. Get transported to Spokane for the weekend on Resisting Arrest charges okay…like incredible. I have to get bailed out so I can finish my homework for Monday, and I get charged and nobody would do anything about it. I let it go and got a charge cuz I could not prove anything. I did not even take it to court I felt so scared of those dudes. I really felt like they would kill for a thrill. This is an old memory. Jeez.

    That is not the first time I tasted persecution at its finest. It happens everyday. Whether Troy Davis was guilty or not is one thing. Whether he deserved to die for his “entire Life” is another. Whether it be by chance or not that I got beat…I made good use of that experience. There are a ton of “poor bastards” just rotting in jail or dead, and there is a ton of “free criminals” just galavanting around.

    I wish the bad cops could just meet the bad guys 100% of the time. I am guessing that being a police officer is a tough tough job, as well as juror and judge and governor etc… But there is no doubt that you can watch the “whole system” back one bad cop 24-7 somewhere. And that back up extends all the way up the chain in certain places.
    These injustices have a wide wide range.

    My question though really is “why does this guy get death penalty for murdering a cop” when there is so much back and forth…20 years is a long time to take to decide…but then you got cases like, well, why does Nancy Garrido get 36 years in prison?
    Can you imagine being Jaycee Dugard or someone like her and knowing those “things” were still alive?
    There are thousands upon thousands of punishment that don’t fit the crime cases, if not millions.

    Is it so alarming? That this dude Troy got whacked and that Phil responded so.

    Leave Phil alone. Its a cool blog, whether you don’t think he should push here or not. If it was not for him, you would not even be pursuing your issue and I started reading because it was Bad Astronomy, he never claimed it was GOOD!!! a hahahah. ( i really crack myself up lately, that has to have been used already somewhen)

    katwagner said:

    “Sociology – the study of all of us on this one planet. It’s a science.”

    That was killer. Pun intended.

  211. ASFalcon13

    David K in post 176 is close to my thoughts on the subject. Perhaps the justice system in this case has failed, just as the media has suggested. But, on the other hand, isn’t it also possible that the courts actually had it right, and the journalists have no idea what they’re talking about?

    It wouldn’t be the first time this has happened…the media frequently messes up things that could be considered “complex” topics. Dr. Plait himself frequently points out obvious mistakes in attempts at science journalism by non-specialized media sources, and, as a pilot, I can attest to the frequent errors in aviation reporting (for example, this crapfest – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eu9KLV6xUpc – is a particular “favorite” of mine). A court case, as well as all the associated appeals and all the opinions and positions generated, seems to strike me as one of these similarly complex situations. Furthermore, I’ve seen plenty of instances where a few media opinions can lead to a sudden wave of media frenzy and public outcry. A single AP article can easily get mass-distributed over hundreds of news outlets…this can be mistaken for a groundswell of many agreeing opinions instead of a single opinion, so then more opinions jump on board to join the seemingly large cause.

    So, sorry, but I’m not about to jump on the “Troy Davis was innocent!” bandwagon, just because a bunch of newspapers and folks with signs and t-shirts claim that he is. I just find myself too distrustful of the media’s views on complex topics and the inevitable mobs of poorly-informed public opinion that tend to follow in their wake. Why I should be more skeptical of the many of experts involved in the case instead of the non-expert opinions of journalists reporting on this case hasn’t been made clear to me just yet.

    ==========

    Ron1 in post 183 states:

    “the fact remains that Troy Davis’ execution took place within the USA…As a result, all US citizens are culpable in this (possible) miscarriage of justice.”

    It’s apparent to me that you don’t quite have an understanding of how the U.S. justice system works. In some circumstances, the states act as 50 autonomous mini-nations (hence the use of the term “states”, which refers to independent nations in many contexts outside the U.S.). This murder didn’t qualify as a federal offense, so the case fell within the jurisdiction of the state of Georgia. The other 49 states didn’t have a say in the matter at all, and federal appeals courts are only authorized to rule on whether state trials were conducted correctly, not weigh the evidence and determine guilt or innocence themselves.

    To put it in perspective (and at the risk of invoking Godwin’s Law), claiming that all U.S. citizens should feel culpable here is like saying the citizens of every country in Europe, including France and Britain, should feel culpable for the Holocaust, because Germany (a European country) allowed Hitler to come to power. The absurdity here should be obvious.

    But hey, I’m not going to stop there, let’s go even farther beyond that. For what it’s worth, I’d argue that most of the citizens of Georgia shouldn’t feel culpable, either. At the end of the day, the only people who had any bearing on the outcome and subsequent sentencing were the 12 members of the jury, the witnesses, the lawyers and judges, and the defendant himself, which, as it turns out, is an extremely small percentage of the population of the state of Georgia. Once the case was in motion, apart from filing an amicus brief, there was nothing that any citizen outside of the case could do about it, even if they wanted to. And, you know, plenty wished they could…should all those folks with the signs and t-shirts feel culpable even though they didn’t want the execution to happen?

  212. Infinite123Lifer

    Sorry if I am just talking to all you cool people who usually role around here. I was thinking the haters might of actually done what they said they would do. Leave. I really don’t see the point. What if Phil likes green and not red, would that make people leave to? Or is it just important stuff? Or what’s important?

    Joseph G wrote:

    “people are trying to have three debates at once (three being the lowest number – I may have missed a few), namely whether:
    -The death penalty is moral or not, and even if so, moral in practice
    -Troy Davis was guilty or not
    -The justice system at large is systemically flawed or not”

    You read my mind to. I kept thinking…”what am i replying to?” and it was always one of those. I might of strayed a lil’, but it was those 3 every time. There I stray.

    But theres one more.

    -apparently Phil Plait, his post and his judgement are being attacked and defended on many levels as well.

  213. Ed Hatem

    @TerryEmberson…. You completely missed the point. The point was, Phil didn’t present anything. He simply said shame on you and pointed his finger blindly. That action is something that Phil routinely calls people out on. I hate to go here, but honestly Phil saying “Shame on you Georgia” really isn’t too far away from Bachmann coming out with that insane accusation about the HPV vaccine and mental retardation. They are both passing along hearsay without ever investigating the facts any further.

    This is first, and foremost, a SCIENCE blog. I’m not saying Phil can’t have political posts. He’s done them in the past and linked the science to back up his viewpoint. The question as to whether or not Troy Davis was guilty of murder is based almost exclusively in the realm of science. What I am saying is its the height of hypocrisy for Phil to rail against Bachamann and pull the same stunt here. It weakens his overall position by allowing emotion interfere with reason which, again, is something Phil constantly beats the drum on. And rightly so.

    So yes, if you run a science blog and post a political topic that is firmly based in science and you decide to skip the science, you are going to be called on it. Is this going to stop me from coming here? Don’t be ridiculous. Its one post that I was disappointed in versus hundreds of posts that were perfectly fine and even a couple dozen posts that I shared with friends because they educated me in an area I was misinformed in or simply hadn’t heard about.

  214. Ann

    Of all the comments here, and that includes the original post, the only one worth sh-t was comment 40. I’ve been looking all over for some detail on this case. Thanks.

  215. Nigel Depledge

    Ann (213) said:

    Of all the comments here, and that includes the original post, the only one worth sh-t was comment 40. I’ve been looking all over for some detail on this case. Thanks.

    And what of the broader issue?

  216. Infinite123Lifer

    Ann…we all know comment 187 is the best. Your killin’ me here.

    Ann wrote:

    “I’ve been looking all over for some detail on this case. Thanks.”

    Since it seems the science of Sociology and Politics are only posted to this B.A. (that stands for Bad Ass BTW) site every whence in a while when seemingly appropriate to Phil, my understanding is that besides the occasional “link that shows you everything” from one of the geniuses out there thrown around so that you can “read it for yourself” (i know its hard sometimes) but I think thats the best your going to get from a Bad Ass blog like Bad Astronomy on the topic of “When the lights went out in Georgia” that your going to get.

    Yeah the original post sucked. But so did the situation he chose to address, and the situation sucks a billion times worse than this post. If I was from the UK I could say something like “piss off” and that would seem normal, but I would never say that because I live in America.

  217. Infinite123Lifer

    Phil said in the original post:

    “We don’t know if Troy Davis was actually guilty of killing a police officer or not. But that’s the point. Seven out of nine witnesses recanted, another person apparently confessed, there is no physical evidence linking Davis to the murder, and the defense claimed there were serious procedural issues with the case. Any or all of these are enough to cast doubt on the conviction. The fact that he was executed, despite all this doubt, makes it clear this system is terribly, terribly broken.
    If any good comes out of this, I hope at the very least it’s that a solid discussion of the irrevocable nature of the death penalty emerges. Even if you feel capital punishment is justified — and I would disagree with that, strongly — I hope you’d agree that even one innocent person executed constitutes a major problem. The case of Troy Davis shows in a brutal and soul-shaking way just how the legal system in Georgia at least, and the nation as a whole, is seriously screwed up.”

    Yes, Phil I dont know if Troy Davis was guilty or not.

    Yes, thats a good point.

    Yes, any or all of those can cast doubt on a conviction

    Yes, despite all those & a MILLION other cases keeping law is INCREDIBLY difficult, the system is not perfect, therefore it is terribly terribly broken, Yes Phil.

    Yes, Phil, I hope some good comes of this as well.

    Yes, Phil, a solid discussion of the ultimate nature of the death
    penalty is always a good topic.

    Yes, Phil, I do believe capital punishment is justified.

    Yes, Phil, executing an innocent person is a total problem.

    Yes, Phil this case does show how brutal and screwed up the legal system can be in Georgia and everywhere else.

    IT’S 2 simple paragraphs. almost a BTW deal.
    What is all the huff and puff about.
    That post was perfectly negotiable.
    It did not have the “entire case history” in it! Thank the heavens.
    I had to attempt to read that when somebody offered it up here. Like usual.

    I would just like to quote the 9 scrolls from the Celestine Prophecy here: but I wont. Instead,

    Ed Hatem said:(196)

    “Davis, on the other hand, is an argument based almost entirely on emotion.”

    Really?

    Ed Hatem also said:

    “So yes, if you run a science blog and post a political topic that is firmly based in science and you decide to skip the science, you are going to be called on it.” (212)

    I am actually thanking him for it. Its not the cool its sad and the info is out there Hater, I mean Hate ‘em, I mean Hatem.

    Ed Hatem also said:

    “Its one post that I was disappointed in versus hundreds of posts that were perfectly fine and even a couple dozen posts that I shared with friends because they educated me in an area I was misinformed in or simply hadn’t heard about.” (212)

    I think your getting off easy. In Georgia they might probably fry you for that kinda of thing.

  218. Infinite123Lifer

    Pierre Simon De Laplace in his “A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities” said in Chapter 2 paragraph’s 1 and 2:

    “All events, even those which on account of their insignificance do not seem to follow the great laws of nature, are a result of it just as necessarily as the revolutions of the sun. In ignorance of the ties which unite such events to the entire system of the universe, they have been made to depend upon final causes or upon hazard, according as they occur and are repeated with regularity, or appear without regard to order; but these imaginary causes have gradually receded with the widening bounds of knowledge and disappear entirely before sound philosophy, which sees in them only the expression of our ignorance of the true causes.

    Present events are connected with preceding ones by a tie based upon the evident principle that a thing cannot occur without a cause which produces it. This axiom, known by the name of “the principle of sufficient reason”, extends even to actions which are considered indifferent; the freest will is unable without a determinative motive to give them birth; if we assume two positions with exactly similar circumstances and find that the will is active in the one and inactive in the other, we say that its choice is an effect without a cause. It is then, says Leibnitz, the blind chance of the Epicureans. The contrary opinion is an illusion of the mind, which, losing sight of the evasive reasons of the choice of the will in indifferent things, believes that choice is determined of itself and without motives.”

    This deeply explains ALL of the arguments which exist here. And opinions.

  219. Ann

    To Nigel,

    I am opposed to the death penalty ( the broader issue) because the rules of evidence and methods of evidence gathering, even in cases where you can be sure of good faith on the part of all governmental actors, are not yet reliable enough to ensure that innocent people will not be executed. DNA testing and the Innocence Project demonstrated that fact pretty clearly in Illinois. With a 50 % error rate, maybe they should just dispense with a trial and flip a coin.

    But, it is not true that there is no physical evidence in this case which indicates pretty strongly the guilt of the defendant. A lot of people witnessed this crime. It occurred in a Burger King parking lot. Most of the people testifying to what they saw did not know the people involved , Mr. Coles, Mr. Collins and Mr. Davis. The defense contends that Mr. Coles was really responsible for the shooting. But here’s the thing. All the witnesses, identified the shooter as wearing dark pants or shorts and a white t-shirt. Including the man who was pistol whipped by him in the Burger King parking lot because he would not give the man’s friend some beer he was carrying. There was broad agreement about this aspect of the case among the witnesses and none of them recanted this. Testimony established that Troy Davis, who had been out partying that night so had been seen by a lot of people, was dressed that way and that Mr. Coles was not. The man who was pistol whipped also said it was not done by Mr. Coles. He testified that it was done by one of the people with him. None of this was ever recanted. And all the witnesses agree and none ever recanted that the man who did the pistol whipping also did the shooting. And a witness, after 22 years saying , ‘ I can’t really remember anymore’ does not really constitute a recantation. There was clothing retrieved from Ms. Davis’s home, but it was barred from trial as she had not consented to the search. Oh and one more thing. I am assuming that Mr. Coles, like Mr. Davis is black. Why, pray tell, would the police intimidate witnesses to get one man convicted over the other? What exactly is their motive to do that? Before you go flapping your uninformed gums about what a travesty of justice this was, perhaps you should read the judges decision. The defense was selling a story. Which, as the prosecution noted, you can easily do in the press. Not necessarily the truth. And this was a pretty heinous crime. The shooter shot the guy in the face. He fell to the ground. Then the shooter stopped and shoot him a couple of more times, clearly to make sure he was dead. I don’t blame the victim’s family or the prosecution for feeling the way they do. In this particular case, I think the process did it’s job. And this brings up another ‘broader issue’ which is how crappy the media is at their jobs. Think back. Remember when it was reported that there was a good chance that some approaching asteroid was going to crash into the earth. (snark alert) I’m sure you ‘skeptics’ do because you spent a lot of time saying how the reporting was so totally misleading.

  220. Nigel Depledge

    Ann (219) said:

    I am opposed to the death penalty ( the broader issue) because the rules of evidence and methods of evidence gathering, even in cases where you can be sure of good faith on the part of all governmental actors, are not yet reliable enough to ensure that innocent people will not be executed. DNA testing and the Innocence Project demonstrated that fact pretty clearly in Illinois. With a 50 % error rate, maybe they should just dispense with a trial and flip a coin.

    So, is this the only reason that the death penalty might be unjustifiable, or did you read some of the other comments above, those which – according to your previous comment – are “not worth sh-t”?

    What is your opinion of the argument that killing a killer does not send the message that killing is wrong?

    [snip]

    OK, even assuming that Davis was indeed guilty, why is the death penalty merited?

    Why, pray tell, would the police intimidate witnesses to get one man convicted over the other?

    Easy. They couldn’t find the other person (and while this may not be true in this case, it has been shown to have occurred in at least one case in the past, although I don’t recall enough detail to be able to cite an example).

    What exactly is their motive to do that?

    Police are always under pressure to secure a conviction.

    Before you go flapping your uninformed gums about what a travesty of justice this was, perhaps you should read the judges decision.

    Irrelevant, really. In the bigger picture, why is the death penalty merited?

    The defense was selling a story. Which, as the prosecution noted, you can easily do in the press. Not necessarily the truth. And this was a pretty heinous crime. The shooter shot the guy in the face. He fell to the ground. Then the shooter stopped and shoot him a couple of more times, clearly to make sure he was dead.

    I don’t know the detail (and I could be wrong abotu this), but it sounds like a crime comitted in the heat of the moment, not in cold blood.

    I don’t blame the victim’s family or the prosecution for feeling the way they do.

    Unfortunately, this should not change the core issue. Was justice served by killing this guy after he had spent 20-some years in prison? In most parts of Europe, a “life sentence” usually translates to about 20 – 25 years in prison. By European standards, Davis had served his time (more or less).

    In this particular case, I think the process did it’s job. . . .

    That’s your prerogative, but you have yet to justify your previous comment, that #40 was the only comment that was “worth sh-t”. And you have yet to make any argument that justice was served. Assuming Davis was guilty (and I mean this in the moral, real sense of the word, not the stupid he-was-convicted-therefore-he-is-guilty sense), why is the death penalty merited?

  221. Infinite123Lifer

    I am voting for Nigel Depledge for president. Given the choices, I think that is a more than fair decision. Whether you like it or not Nigel, I am voting for you.

    Ann, nice stab at it. I suppose I would have to rethink the pistol whipping of Troy Davis for the homeless man (which i would seriously have done in real Life anyway) but still, these are not saints we are talking about here.

    And if the killer is still out there……………we should have kept Troy Davis alive until we found out for sure; in fact that is just one of the sole reasons to keep a man alive in this situation if your even still thinking about actually sentencing a man to death; they even know this when interrogating suspects using torture. Don’t kill them before you have the truth. I don’t necessarily agree with it…at all, but I think thats the way these situations progress every now and again, sadly and truly.

    I know nobody cares about the philosophical things I namely toss out there but what about the science of predicate calculus. Philosophy can be reasoned out mathematically I think. It is just as important to the scientific method (in the ultimate scheme of things) as testing and observation.

    If you apply logic and certain fields of the sort of mathematics to this case I would be curious as to what the resultant would be.

  222. Joseph G

    Putting aside the issue of whether you’re for or against the death penalty (I’m against it, personally, though it’s not something I often lie awake at night thinking about), I’m very unsure of the wisdom of forming judgments of verdicts like this case based on press coverage.

    On one hand, Phil has illustrated quite well over the years the extent to which the media can get even the most basic facts just plain wrong. When dealing with a subject that’s the least bit complicated, the press seems to try and strip away most of the details to the point that you’re left with a very obvious “good” or “bad” take on an issue. For that reason, it can be argued that it’s hypocritical to scrutinize sensational coverage of, say, global warming science, while uncritically accepting the popular take on the (in)validity of this verdict. None of us were on the jury, and we don’t have the time and resources that they had to come to a decision.

    On the other hand, this is a trial, and not science. While the legal system gives lip service to being empirical and impartial, the fact is that many legal arguments are based, at least in part, on appeals to emotion and other logical fallacies. The job of a lawyer is to persuade a jury while not doing anything blatantly illegal, but there aren’t really any proscriptions on faulty reasoning or disingenuous rhetoric. If the opposing lawyer doesn’t challenge it, it flies. Add to this the fact that jurors are just average folks, who have likely not had any training in critical thinking, formal or informal logic, rhetoric, evidence collection, law enforcement or witness psychology, and you’re left with a process that leaves a disturbingly large amount of room for bad convictions to be passed.

    I’m seriously conflicted, here…

  223. Peter B

    Timbo @ #209 said: “I wonder if any of you are aware that Troy Davis confessed to killing the copper.”

    To the police? Was the confession recorded?

    “I’m also wondering why none of the anti-death penalty folk on here aren’t moanin about that White Supremicist that was executed in Texas the other day? It seems that a person who admits to killing a cop shouldn’t recieve the death penalty, but it’s perfectly ok for a White Supremicist to admit to killing a black guy and recieving the death penalty.”

    Please note my comments at #127 and #191.

    I’m opposed to the death penalty, and if I had my way Brewer wouldn’t have been executed either.

  224. Peter B

    Chris @ #121 said: “Read the testimony of the 3 Air Force members who witnessed this shooting. These 3 never recanted. They stand by what they saw. Read what they had to say.”

    Can you provide a link to their testimony, please?

    According to Amnesty International’s article about Davis: “In a statement given to police shortly after the shooting, Stephen Sanders said that he had seen a “black male wearing a white hat and white shirt, black shorts” shoot the officer and then run off with another person who Sanders thought was wearing a “black outfit”. He said that he “wouldn’t recognize them again except for their clothes”. However, for the first time, two years later, at the trial, Stephen Sanders identified Troy Davis as the gunman. At the time of writing, Troy Davis’ lawyers had not been able to contact Steven Sanders. Two of his Air Force colleagues, Daniel Kinsman and Robert Grizzard, who were with Sanders at the time of the crime, have signed affidavits standing by their statements given to the police that they could not identify the gunman. Robert Grizzard has said that, contrary to what he mistakenly testified at the trial, he could not then and still could not recall what the gunman was wearing. For his part, Daniel Kinsman has testified that he remains convinced that the gunman was firing the gun with his left hand. Troy Davis is right-handed.” From https://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AMR51/023/2007/en/909e39f7-d3b6-11dd-a329-2f46302a8cc6/amr510232007en.html

  225. Ann

    Oh god! The ‘not worth sh-t’ comment referred to my general sense of the comments since I did not sit and read every one of them and also referred to the fact that none of the people commenting ( or next to none) actually took the time or trouble to acquaint themselves with the facts of the case. And in terms of determining guilt or innocence, facts are what it is all about. If you don’t even know the facts of the case and you are commenting on the case, you are per se talking out of you a–. The ‘flapping your gums’ was not directed at you personally. I realized after I logged off and went to bed that it might be interpreted that way but it was directed at the comments in general, and not to you personally. So I apologize for that as I did not mean to direct the post at you in particular, though I realize it appeared so. And I do have tons of other problems with the death penalty. Fairness of application for one : ;between races, between socio-economic groups. And there is something patently ridiculous about comparing murders. The Supreme Court put down some guidelines but it all boils down to what one of the Justices (can’t remember which right now) said to describe the legal definition of obscenity. I can’t define it but I know it when I see it. Which basically means, it depends how the jury feels about it. But these are practical concerns. As to the basic ethics of ‘an eye for an eye’? Well, if you were the father of the last person Theodore Bundy killed, a 12 year of girl in Florida whom he kidnapped from her school, took out into the woods and killed, how would you feel about him continuing to live?

  226. Peter B

    Ann @ #225 said: “As to the basic ethics of ‘an eye for an eye’? Well, if you were the father of the last person Theodore Bundy killed, a 12 year of girl in Florida whom he kidnapped from her school, took out into the woods and killed, how would you feel about him continuing to live?”

    If you support the idea of “an eye for an eye” how do you punish someone who kills by accident? What about an accessory to murder?

  227. Peter B

    Ann @ #219 asked: “Why, pray tell, would the police intimidate witnesses to get one man convicted over the other? What exactly is their motive to do that?”

    To solve a crime quickly. I’m not saying that happened here, but I’m assuming you were asking a hypothetical question.

    I’d recommend you read about the case of the Norfolk Four. In that case, five men confessed to a crime, although the evidence suggests only one of them committed the crime. The police theory used in court is that eight men committed the crime, although they only charged five men with the crime; the other three men never confessed, there was no evidence to link them to the crime, and there was evidence they were not even in the same city the crime took place in.

    The thing is, there also wasn’t any physical evidence to link the Norfolk Four to the crime scene either, there was evidence at least one of them was on a ship in port at the time of the crime, and their confessions didn’t match the crime or the crime scene.

    The fifth man who confessed described the crime scene accurately, and there was physical evidence to link him alone to the crime scene.

    So why were the Norfolk Four still charged? Because the police would have had to explain how the four men had come to confess despite the lack of evidence. The men themselves claim they were threatened with the death penalty if they didn’t confess.

  228. Infinite123Lifer

    Larian LeQuella Says: (128)

    “I won’t comment on the death penalty since I am not really able to articulate a coherent argument free of my own bias.”

    How is this to be . . . settled? . . . agreed upon? Is there even a Right or Wrong exacting answer which satisfies us all? Some are partially or fully for or against and some cannot decide and some decide not to decide. The latter is not a “way out” . . . I think it could be a logical conclusion rather.

    I think Larian LeQuella’s view should probably be shared by surely a fair amount of the population, if not all of society. I am outraged by cruelty and violence, when I come into contact with it I can no longer really think objectively. I subjectively want to know what happened so that I can devise an explanation for myself . . . this is bias.

    Out of all the turmoil which goes into trying to justify; . . . totally existing, on one side or the other of the “Am I for or against the death penalty?” debate I have to call a time out right there. That is the problem with checking a box somewhere, some-when about something to be taking place in the future. Even if voting for something and supporting the idea is “All” I can do to have my voice heard in the matter and this escapist technique of not choosing does not suffice for “having a stance” but does suffice for an answer to the question;in refusing to vote one way or the other . . . perhaps that is the correct thing to do. (one cannot make a rational assumption based upon what one does not know is going to happen)

    When I check a box saying I am “for” the death penalty I cannot contend that I have faith in the prospect of me being properly informed of ALL the rational input down the road . . .in the future to be able to make this type of a decision . . . in the future. I can no more predict what is going to happen in the future to sway my mind on this particular issue nor do I smartly so have faith that “things” as “they” “are” “now” are not going to change hence leading to another change of my heart and my opinions about my “parental guidance” over society so to speak.
    also

    Ann said:

    “And I do have tons of other problems with the death penalty. Fairness of application for one: ;between races, between socio-economic groups. And there is something patently ridiculous about comparing murders.”

    And I agree, having problems with fairness of its application down the road is a great concern of marking a “for the death penalty” box. Also, perhaps one deadly crime will show “symptoms” or similarities of the same type of brutality, motive or circumstance’s which can be found in another deadly crime. These crimes have many parallel’s with others of the same breadth and nature; however, because every person who dies is not the same as another who dies I believe . . . “And there is something patently ridiculous about comparing murders.” – – cannot be argued against.

    Having said that I basically “don’t know how I will feel about it” . . . the Ultimate change in Heart I believe exists in a realm void of violence. So in this aspect I am 100% against killing anything let alone a human. In the same regard I do not live in the world which I yearn to be in. The only way to get to where “I think” our laws should be is to perhaps literally . . . try to Set that very Example. In which case I could not vote to merit death as a penalty. In such a case than I should exercise compassion and forgiving and hope for the same from the convicted in which case I cannot shoot “the monster”. I cannot warrant the death sentence from or out of compassion and ethical reasoning.

    When I check a box saying I am “against” the death penalty I cannot either contend that I will be able to “consciously accept” the deeds of some heinous perpetrator with sound mind knowing that he will continue to walk the Earth, nor can I admit to myself that in “ALL” circumstances will I be able to find a punishment suited for all effected parties.

    Liz: (24)

    “The facts are, whether we want to acknowledge it or not, there are some extremely dangerous criminals out there who cannot or do not want to be rehabilitated (Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy – for example). That’s just the world we live in right now.”

    I agree. The world we do live in does contain such monstrosities, monster’s whom I will contend to have shot. If I were to argue someones death I would obviously have to have their guilt proven to me . . .
    such as:

    Digital Atheist wrote:(166)

    “Never assume that there is no way 100% guilt can be proven, it can. However, when it comes to the death penalty then it better BE proven 100%. The death penalty is way over used, and there is too often the possibility of someone either being innocent, or the circumstances not being exactly as presented.”

    I contend that 100% guilt cannot ever be proven. But I agree it must be proven to the full extent of my understanding. Just being a butt here…but you cannot ever have 100% guilt proven. Even if you are an eye witness. Even if you were there and watched it happen. You can never “know” “ALL” the events which led up to the crime, therefore witnessing some one die with your own eyes does not necessarily witnessing “a murder” (they could be killing for “various” unknown reasons) furthermore 99.9999% of the time the jury has not Witnessed the murder itself and therefore is left up to evidence. Even with confessions. It does not matter. 100% guilt does not exist (not that it really matters, I think we mean the same thing)

    “Quiet” Desperation wrote:

    “You can, however, get arbitrarily close to 100%, and at some point you need to go with the math and common sense, otherwise you can never convict anyone ever. I don’t think you want to live in that world.”

    And I believe that is more truthful and in order on the topic of percentages.

    Digital Atheist wrote:(166)

    “In most cases, Governments, the Judiciary, and the Prosecution are NEVER going to admit that they goofed up.”

    This has got to be a statement of truthful proportions. I have such a problem with this, though no examples have been cited it is an obviousness of the nature of the system, also just being involved in a court room experience can easily “turn” on a participant (urging silence to be the only way out of a jam possibly) . . . if they are not careful in how they conduct themselves. It is conceivably not difficult to imagine many a lawyer winding up in jail. Being “One of The Good Guys” though means BEING ONE OF THE GOOD GUYS! To not say “ok, I messed up” and take responsibility for one owns actions is . . . well You know what it is. Its wrong. It is wrong when a 5 year old does it, let alone grown ups in an arena such as law.

    Joseph G (222)

    “On the other hand, this is a trial, and not science. While the legal system gives lip service to being empirical and impartial, the fact is that many legal arguments are based, at least in part, on appeals to emotion and other logical fallacies. The job of a lawyer is to persuade a jury while not doing anything blatantly illegal, but there aren’t really any proscriptions on faulty reasoning or disingenuous rhetoric. If the opposing lawyer doesn’t challenge it, it flies. Add to this the fact that jurors are just average folks, who have likely not had any training in critical thinking, formal or informal logic, rhetoric, evidence collection, law enforcement or witness psychology, and you’re left with a process that leaves a disturbingly large amount of room for bad convictions to be passed.

    I’m seriously conflicted, here…”

    Joseph G says a lot there. I cannot more ably state the reasons for apprehension in being strictly For or Against the death penalty.

    Nigel Depledge said”

    “And you have yet to make any argument that justice was served. Assuming Davis was guilty (and I mean this in the moral, real sense of the word, not the stupid he-was-convicted-therefore-he-is-guilty sense), why is the death penalty merited?”

    Assuming Davis was guilty (like really honestly guilty), that he shot a cop and showed no remorse or admitted his crime . . . the death penalty cannot be merited or not merited. It always comes down to the emotions and rationales stirring differently among different people because it will never be a 1 man/ woman decision. And some people have such a rationality that they are quick to acknowledge when there is no easy answer.

    If I want to merit the death penalty all I have to say is an eye for an eye…but this question was asked under the presumptions of guilt. For the death penalty in general I could argue that while the death penalty should not be merited in this case and all cases it should also be of merit in this case and all cases. Basically I am saying that it is not right to kill, however it is not right to take the decision to kill away either. Leaving a contradicting statement which leads me back to the greatest two points, of which they conflict:

    1. Compassion is the strongest opponent and the righteous man’s blood.
    2. What do I do with the monster.

  229. Infinite123Lifer

    I suppose my stance is like many of the others:

    I am not “for” the death penalty.

    I am not for “not having” the choice to kill someone.

    I cannot merit the death penalty. Nor am I confident enough in the human race to consciously give up the right to invoke a sentence of death.

    I hope this view can change in time.

    As for Troy Davis . . . I don’t have a clue. I wouldn’t have a clue if I read every report their is to read. It is still all . . . a very old case, a confusion of sorts between sources and as Joseph G pointed out “The job of a lawyer is to persuade a jury”……….!!! Its not to Bring the Truth into the Light. It is to influence a jury to rule in favor of or for their respective client/s. So all reports ever written as well as those of the police (especially those police reports in this case) are going to have bias favor’s.

  230. Joseph G

    This is the problem with using blog comment threads as discussion boards for controversial topics – by the time things start to cool off and people start to move toward a consensus (or at the very least, hear each other out) the post is off the front page and most of the community moves on :(

  231. Infinite123Lifer

    I definitely need the practice. It never hurts to reflect on ones own actions and try to bring some semblance of reasoning to the end of it either. I think I was a lil’ tired the other night. Especially in the light of such a chaotic and difficult topic.

    it is an odd thing . . . I was just basically saying the whole time “I Dont Know”. I could contend based on this understanding that the following all institute the same amount of reasonableness:

    1. Being for the death penalty.
    2. Being against the death penalty.
    3. Not choosing the death penalty either way.

    Which in itself is pretty obvious . . . the data suggests a Whole Lot of people don’t exactly agree. Perhaps you could say there is no correct answer at that point based on the entirety of human opinion.

    The problem needs to be broken down and asked in a series of terms; related to the original question but indicative of the step by step “mind-set ruling” process which goes into deciding whether to be for or against it. The process of decision making needs to be broken down, even for me to understand just what I am agreeing or not agreeing to because it is really not clear. There are just too many variables, to many unknowns.

    It is odd that we have punishments for certain crimes: all crimes are different. I do not care what anybody says. Each case is different. The law looks and goes…”ah, 5 burglary cases, 5 D.U.I cases, 5 Trespassing’s, 5 Domestic Disputes and 5 Homicides.” The prosecution, the defense and the judge look at that as 5 different types of crimes . . . when in actuality (in true actuality) there are 25 totally different types of potential crimes going on here. The problem is that obviously if you complicate things beyond a certain level than the system could never form a decision and carry out punishment without guidelines. Still, all people and therefore crimes are different. And though it is silly to say that one child stealing a candy bar innocently and another child stealing a candy bar innocently are not the same crime (cuz they pretty well are) . . . it is just as ludicrous to say that “All Homicides are the same, or All burglaries are the same . . .etc”. Each crime within its definition of being a crime is as close to the others it shares the common name and type with so as, if and only if and when also it is just as far “not close” to the others it shares the common name and type with.

    The only constant I believe is that I have to believe compassion can win out . . . or I have no reason to hope for a better world or even keep walking for that matter. In that sense, I could never kill. But I am human, even if I am a Saint, I am human. I do not withhold that lie from myself. You throw enough dirt in my face (a bad enough case) and I will bury someone under that dirt. And I will do it thinking God has my back. Evidently my God is only compassionate when I require it.

    A funny thing. . . to know what to do and when to do it. That is why so much emphasis is should be given to the “Power of the Present Moment”. Life only exists in that place and that place only. I can only try to plan for a future but I have to live in the present. Living is where I make choices and decisions. If a person were to be considered to “Live in the Present Moment”, you could not logically ask them to “produce an opinion based on future events.”

    One must live in the present moment. And such as each present moment is different and separate but entwined from the last . . . living there, in the present moment one can only choose what to do at that time and not at any other time.

    (now I understand why I have avoided that debate my entire Life…there is no answer for me)

  232. Messier Tidy Upper

    We don’t know if Troy Davis was actually guilty of killing a police officer or not.

    A jury – or judge – found him guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

    That means he was duly correctly convicted – & sentenced. Guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

    That means intelligent good people with legal and criminal justice expertise looked at the case on its merits and decided that, yes, the evidnece was overwhelmingly strong enough to conclude that Troy Davis was a murderer. Not just any murderer either but a cop killer.

    To accuse juries and judges of getting it wrong without blazing good evidence is, I feel, insulting to them – and, offensive to the victims of the crime.

    If the executed duly convicted criminal was innocent that means a real cop-killer is out there somewhere. If that were true wouldn’t it have been found out? Would the police let a real cop-killer go if they – who had the experience and expertise that is most relevant here – thought someone *other* than the convicted felon in question – Mr Davis in this case – was responsible?

    But that’s the point. Seven out of nine witnesses recanted, another person apparently confessed, there is no physical evidence linking Davis to the murder, and the defense claimed there were serious procedural issues with the case. Any or all of these are enough to cast doubt on the conviction. The fact that he was executed, despite all this doubt, makes it clear this system is terribly, terribly broken.

    The late convicted murderer had an appeal , a retrial or whatever right? Right?

    And would have had more appeals and retrials if new enough, powerful enough evidence had emerged.

    If any good comes out of this, I hope at the very least it’s that a solid discussion of the irrevocable nature of the death penalty emerges. Even if you feel capital punishment is justified — and I would disagree with that, strongly —

    I think that there are people who deserve the death penalty.

    Osama bin Laden, Adolf Hitler, Jack the Ripper. The serial killers and cruelest of murderers and the worst rapists and pedophiles.

    Some people the world really is much better off without.

    I hope you’d agree that even one innocent person executed constitutes a major problem.

    If it happens. Did it happen?

    The case of Troy Davis shows in a brutal and soul-shaking way just how the legal system in Georgia at least, and the nation as a whole, is seriously screwed up. Shame on Georgia? Shame on all of us.

    Really? Really?

    What would you tell the victims of the murder that Mr Davis was convicted of having committed?

    What about the victims of the crime more generally?

    Don’t they deserve justice too?

    Why would they feel ashamed for seeing justice done?

    Should the excuted cop killer Mr Davis maybe have felt more or less shame than others for being guilty – by the verdict of a duly constituted court of law – of murdering a policeman?

  233. Messier Tidy Upper

    .. he [Troy Davis the executed murderer] was duly correctly convicted – & sentenced. Guilty beyond reasonable doubt.
    That means intelligent good people with legal and criminal justice expertise looked at the case on its merits and decided that, yes, the evidnece was overwhelmingly strong enough OVERWHELMINGLY CONVINCING BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT to conclude that Troy Davis was a murderer. Not just any murderer either but a cop killer.

    If the jury or a judges a provides a verdict of guilty beyond reasonable doubt then I think we should respect that.

    They’ve sat through the case and heard all the arguments where we haven’t.

    Some argue the execution of a convicted murderer shows the system has failed.

    I view it as the opposite situation – showing that the justice system is working.

    I won’t say we should take pride or joy in executions but I will say we should respect the juries and judges who decided beyond reasonable doubt and be satisified that justice prevailed.

    That’s my perspective. Everyone is entitled to their views.

    I wonder what the views of the widow and and children and relatives of the policeman that Mr Davis was convicted of murdering are?

  234. Ann

    Peter

    No I was not asking the question hypothetically. I was asking the question with regard to this particular case with these particular set of facts. This blog of ‘skeptics’ used this case as a poster child for their attitude toward the death penalty in general. The problem with that is that I can tell from the original post and from the comments that most of the people commenting know a lot about the death penalty and its flaws but pretty much nothing about this particular case that they are trying to make the focus of their cause. Mr. Davis was placed in the Burger King parking lot by the testimony of his friends , Mr. Coles being one of them. Yes, eye witness testimony can be highly unreliable unless, of course, you are identifying someone you know reasonably well and you just spent a large chunk of the evening with. Then, indicia of reliability goes waaaaay up. That is the situation in this case. Mr. Davis’s attorney tried to contend that Mr. Coles did the shooting and thereby create doubt. However, the man who was the initial victim of the assault testified that Mr. Coles, was not the one with the gun. Other witnesses who were not personally acquainted with Mr. Davis testified as to what the shooter was wearing. And what they described is what he was wearing that night. And,for someone to say something like, ‘Well, its happened before’ is like someone saying it is raining TONIGHT because, well it’s rained before. Yes, from time to time it will rain. That does not mean that it is doing so tonight. And when you
    post something like ‘7 or 9 witnesses recanted’, the question arises , recanted WHAt exactly?
    All of their testimony, part of their testimony? And if part of their testimony, was it a part that would change the basic facts of the case as established at trial. You don’t know, do you? And the problem with not knowing and using this case as a vehicle for anti death penalty views is that you run the risk of discrediting your views with the very people whose minds you are trying to change. You picked the wrong case. And you did it because other people told you to and you didn’t bother to look into it yourself. How is that any different than saying , “Well, the bible says…..,.”?

  235. Peter B

    Ann @ #234 said: “No I was not asking the question hypothetically. I was asking the question with regard to this particular case with these particular set of facts.”

    Okay.

    “This blog of ‘skeptics’ used this case as a poster child for their attitude toward the death penalty in general.”

    Okay. Well, I was one of those commenting on the death penalty in general. I haven’t looked closely at the case and I’m happy to leave the interpretation of evidence to others.

    “…And when you post something like ’7 or 9 witnesses recanted’, the question arises , recanted WHAt exactly? All of their testimony, part of their testimony? And if part of their testimony, was it a part that would change the basic facts of the case as established at trial. You don’t know, do you? And the problem with not knowing and using this case as a vehicle for anti death penalty views is that you run the risk of discrediting your views with the very people whose minds you are trying to change. You picked the wrong case. And you did it because other people told you to and you didn’t bother to look into it yourself.”

    Okay, please stop referring to me as someone who has said all this. I’ve done enough research on the case to know that I don’t know enough about the case to make reliable comments. I have instead settled for commenting on the death penalty in general, and the danger of assuming police are always right. Hence my repeated references to the Norfolk Four, and my curiosity at post #226 about your comment at post #225 about an eye for an eye.

    “How is that any different than saying , “Well, the bible says…..,.”?”

    I don’t know. I don’t understand the point you’re making.

  236. Infinite123Lifer

    I think that if you are strictly against the death penalty than ANY case where someone is put to death is available “territory” for disputing the death penalty and rightfully so.

    In this case particularly; if you are strictly against the death penalty, I don’t see the problem with bringing it up. They took an exceptionally long time in “actually invoking Troy Davis’s death” (which can be the case for these types of cases but I am guessing this was a pretty exceptional amount of time to wait). On top of that he never gave a confession that could evidently be used in court and some witness’s “recant” whatever the hell it is their re-canting. I am just saying that this case brings to light some of the aspects which a person who is totally against the death penalty could find important.

    Messier Tidy Upper said:

    “That means intelligent good people with legal and criminal justice expertise looked at the case on its merits and decided that, yes, the evidnece was overwhelmingly strong enough to conclude that Troy Davis was a murderer. Not just any murderer either but a cop killer.

    To accuse juries and judges of getting it wrong without blazing good evidence is, I feel, insulting to them – and, offensive to the victims of the crime.”

    To assume juries and judges got it right without blazing good evidence is, I feel insulting to our intelligence — and, offensive to the advocates of justice. What constitutes Blazing Good Evidence either way . . .? to my satisfaction? to your satisfaction? I don’t know.

    Also, and this has always been a crux . . . how is killing a cop any different than killing some poor person?

    “Not just any murderer either but a cop killer.”

    People are people period. The President is no better than a street urchin, a judge no more mighty in Life force than the criminal he sentences, a cop no different from someones dad or friend or loved one or husband or factory or field worker etc…(cops are no more or less special than priests or senators or lawnmowers) Thousands and thousands of people commit murder . . . do time . . . and get out. It is always amazing to me the amount of time somebody can get away with after a murder case. Cops are people. Only people. That is why they are fallible. Killing a cop should be no different than killing any other person. If the argument is “to disuade criminal’s from the killing of a police officer by enforcing higher sentencing” than Why Not Make All Killing Just As Bad. I am not saying that cop killer’s should do there time and get out. I am saying all killers should do their time and “not get out”. (you shouldnt get extra time just because you killed the ones charged with stopping you) If your going to say murder is wrong than dont go and make special arrangements for what you think is “more wrong”. It should not work like that. Thats like saying that if I kill a Pekingese I get a year in jail, but if I kill a Rotweiler I get 3 years in jail and if I kill the Taco Bell Dog than thats it, I get Life or death. I mean, they are all dogs.

    All people created equal, with bullsh*t and bullsh*t and I am buried in it.

    I should be just as equally punished for killing the President as I am for killing the man who mow’s the grass at the White House.

    And in fact most of the comments I have heard in favor of the death penalty throughout are for the “exceptional monster”. This dude is hardly “a monster”. He was a criminal. Not a serial killer not a sicco, the murder was not pre-meditated . . . the killing of a cop should not warrant the death penalty where the killing of another “lesser” person does not. This is the perfect case to start . . . railin’ is it?

    If you are strictly against the death penalty than there is no case where a person has been put to death which you should not argue for . . . especially this one . . .there is no “wrong” case, whatever the bible says…

  237. Messier Tidy Upper

    @236. Infinite123Lifer :

    Messier Tidy Upper said : “That means intelligent good people with legal and criminal justice expertise looked at the case on its merits and decided that, yes, the evidence was overwhelmingly strong enough to conclude that Troy Davis was a murderer. Not just any murderer either but a cop killer. To accuse juries and judges of getting it wrong without blazing good evidence is, I feel, insulting to them – and, offensive to the victims of the crime.” [MTU]
    To assume juries and judges got it right without blazing good evidence is, I feel insulting to our intelligence — and, offensive to the advocates of justice. What constitutes Blazing Good Evidence either way . . .? to my satisfaction? to your satisfaction? I don’t know.

    To the satisfaction of a duly appointed court of law following the rules of evidence and court procedure to produce a verdict beyond reasonable doubt.

    To say that judges or juries are wrong in their decisions you need to make a good strong logical case backed by powerful evidence.

    Symetrically enough, juries and judges make their decisions based on good strong logical cases and powerful evidence. They are the key factors of our justice system and our social values.

    Do you NOT share these values, and do you NOT believe in our justice system that has stood the test of time? How else would you propose we have a fairer and better system?

    If you were charged with a crime would you rather face the criminal system of the USA, the Chinese or Iran?

    People are people period. The President is no better than a street urchin, a judge no more mighty in Life force than the criminal he sentences, a cop no different from someones dad or friend or loved one or husband or factory or field worker etc…(cops are no more or less special than priests or senators or lawnmowers)

    Well, a lawn mower is a mechanical apliance where I come from! ;-)

    Yes .. and no. People are people but there’s more to it than just that.

    A President is more powerful and important inmany respects than a street urchin.

    A woman living in a Muslim country face s atotally diefernet and far worse life (& her eyewitness evidence counts for a quarterof aman’s in court there!) than a Western woman in a civilised nation.

    So there’s a lot of other complications and factors to be considered.

    A cop being killed is MORE serious than a criminal killing another criminal in my view.

  238. Messier Tidy Upper

    @207. Joseph G :

    It sounds like a lot of the sturm und drang in here is caused by the fact that people are trying to have three debates at once (three being the lowest number – I may have missed a few), namely whether:
    1 – The death penalty is moral or not, and even if so, moral in practice
    2 – Troy Davis was guilty or not
    3 – The justice system at large is systemically flawed or not. [Numbers added for later clarity. – ed.]
    Each of these debates could take all day, but mix them together and you get a lot more noise then the sum of its parts. Just sayin’…

    Yup. Fair enough.

    There’s often a whole series of sub-plot and secondary issues and questions that come up in these comments and responses and those are certainly some of the main ones here. (Plus what tired old one of whether the BA can post his own opinions on y’know his own blog – which I think is whatever he pleases!)

    For (1) I would argue a better question is :

    “Is the death penalty a good &/or jutifiable thing sometimes or not.”

    I’d say that it is.

    We need a death penalty for the same reason we need to put down rabid dogs.
    Among other things. There is a valid case for it IMHON.

    For (2) a brief examination of case and the fact that davis was convicted properly in a court of law is enough and that conviction & sentence was repeatedly upheld says Davis was indeed guilty as charged. IMHON.

    For (3) we
    have a much broader and more interesting question and one that’sanother story again because yeagh thesystem probably does have afew problems – but not ones that, I think, affect the other earlier points or require us to feel any shame over the execution of Davis.

    *****

    Thousands and thousands of people commit murder . . . do time . . . and get out. It is always amazing to me the amount of time somebody can get away with after a murder case. Cops are people. Only people. That is why they are fallible. Killing a cop should be no different than killing any other person. If the argument is “to disuade criminal’s from the killing of a police officer by enforcing higher sentencing” than Why Not Make All Killing Just As Bad. I am not saying that cop killer’s should do there time and get out. I am saying all killers should do their time and “not get out”. (you shouldnt get extra time just because you killed the ones charged with stopping you) If your going to say murder is wrong than dont go and make special arrangements for what you think is “more wrong”. It should not work like that. Thats like saying that if I kill a Pekingese I get a year in jail, but if I kill a Rotweiler I get 3 years in jail and if I kill the Taco Bell Dog than thats it, I get Life or death. I mean, they are all dogs.

    All people created equal, with bullsh*t and bullsh*t and I am buried in it.

    Quote from wikipedia page on Davis :

    In constrast, law enforcement officials such as Spencer Lawton, the former Chatham County prosecutor who put Davis on trial, remained convinced of the evidence for Davis’s guilt and that Davis’s supporters “would know differently if they looked at the record.“[115] He stated: “We have consistently won the case as it has been presented in court. We have consistently lost the case as it has been presented in the public realm, on TV and elsewhere.”[115]

    Members of MacPhail’s family were also convinced of Davis’s guilt, and thought his execution would bring a measure of peace.[116][117] His mother reported “That hole in my heart will be there until the day I die, but it may give me some peace and quiet.”[117] His son, Mark MacPhail Jr, stated “It’s not animosity or anger or rage that has kept us going; that’s not what my father would want. It’s justice. The law is what he was all about. That’s what we have to uphold”.[118]

    Emphasis added.

  239. Messier Tidy Upper

    ^ Dangnabbb ‘n’gosh-ddidly-durnnit!

    Italics fail and editing time too short fail. Sorry. :-(

    **********

    TAKE II

    @ 207. Joseph G :

    Yup. There’s often a whole series of sub-plot and secondary issues and questions that come up in these comments and responses and those are certainly some of the main ones here. (Plus what tired old one of whether the BA can post his own opinions on y’know his own blog – which I think is whatever he pleases!)

    For topic (1) I would argue a better question is :

    “Is the death penalty a good &/or jutifiable thing sometimes or not.”

    I’d say that it is. It may not be pleasant or appealing for everyone but it is, I think, sometimes necessary and the best course of action.

    We need a death penalty for the same reason we need to put down rabid dogs.
    Among other things. There is a valid case for it IMHON.

    It does permanently remove the threat posed by individual offenders.

    It does provide some peace of mind and closure for the victism – and don’t folks *dare* minimise the importance of this and the victims perspective in their sanctimonious advocacy for the perpetratours of crime.

    It does, if done properly provide that most intangible but appreciated of things – basic justice and proper punishment for themost heinous offences.

    For (2) a brief examination of case and the fact that Davis was convicted properly in a court of law is enough and that conviction & sentence was repeatedly upheld says Davis was indeed guilty as charged. IMHON.

    For (3) we have a much broader and more interesting question and one that’s another story again because yeah the system probably does have a few problems – but not ones that, I think, affect the other earlier points or require us to feel any shame over the execution of Davis.

    The late convicted murderer Troy Davis committed the murder of Mark MacPhail. He was arrested for it, convicted by a jury in a fair trial, appealed the case – lost his appeal, lost further repeated appeals and had his plea for clemency rightfully rejected by the experts at law known as the Supreme Court Justices. The sentence was then carried out appropriately as the law and criminal justice systems demands.

    If I see any problems at all here it is only with the long delays that happened – IOW, the execution should have taken place much earlier – and possibly the method of execution, as firing squad would arguably have been a more humane and effective mechanism.

  240. @ (again) 236. Infinite123Lifer :

    Thousands and thousands of people commit murder . . . do time . . . and get out. It is always amazing to me the amount of time somebody can get away with after a murder case.

    Is that supposed to be an argument *against* the death penalty? Soudns more to me like an argument *for* one! Or tougher sentences anyhow.

    Cops are people. Only people.

    Who are well trained and often herociallyrisk their lives tosave , serve and protect others.

    Yes theycan be fallible, yes they’re human but they deserve to be protetced and shooting one is more serious than shooting say a murderer or rapist who is trying to attack you.

    Police are society’s enforcers and upholders of tehlaw among other things. That means a murder of apoliceman -who btw are doing their jobs – does need tobe taken more seriously than other murders.

    *****

    Quote from wikipedia page on Davis :

    In constrast, law enforcement officials such as Spencer Lawton, the former Chatham County prosecutor who put Davis on trial, remained convinced of the evidence for Davis’s guilt and that Davis’s supporters “would know differently if they looked at the record.“[115] He stated: “We have consistently won the case as it has been presented in court. We have consistently lost the case as it has been presented in the public realm, on TV and elsewhere.”[115]

    Members of MacPhail’s family were also convinced of Davis’s guilt, and thought his execution would bring a measure of peace.[116][117] His mother reported “That hole in my heart will be there until the day I die, but it may give me some peace and quiet.”[117] His son, Mark MacPhail Jr, stated “It’s not animosity or anger or rage that has kept us going; that’s not what my father would want. It’s justice. The law is what he was all about. That’s what we have to uphold”.[118]

    Emphasis added.

  241. Ann

    Exactly. There are things you can advocate for in the justice system that will really make a difference. National, constitutionally mandated standards for witness identification, DNA testing of forensic evidence and mandatory taping of all police interrogations. No one can argue that these changes would not make the system better. They would cost money and require a change of habits, but they would make for a more honest and just system. And that is the aim. is it not?

    One final thought. The only evidence against the men who kidnapped and killed Emmett Till was eye witness testimony, but it was very reliable as they knew the men involved.

  242. This is the state which jailed a high-school student (with good grades and a good athlete, IIRC, not that that matters) for getting a blow job, right? What else do you expect from such a cultural backwater?

  243. Ann

    For why this debate at this blog matters please check out the twitter comments of Ann Coulter about this case and notice how she uses the ,what I consider to be , unjustified uproar over this case to discredit any kind of argument against liberal causes or qualms about the death penalty in general. I am a liberal. Unabashed, self-proclaimed and proud of it. And I get this kind of crap from the conservatives I work with all the f–king time. I don’t mind that when they are wrong as they almost always are. But I do mind it when they are right. The problem with her comments is that with respect to THIS CASE, they are quite accurate. This was black on black crime that this white off duty police officer intervened to try to stop. According to the people who knew Troy Davis, he had already shot another man in the face earlier in the evening at a party, for no particular reason, by the way. The victim in this case was enforcing the law the way we would all want in this country, without respect to race, creed or religion. He and his family deserve better than to be treated in the press and blogosphere as an afterthought or as people supporting a great miscarriage of justice, which they are not. I don’t care WHO says otherwise. Peace. Out.

  244. Peter B

    MTU @ #241 said: “Is the death penalty a good &/or justifiable thing sometimes or not? I’d say that it is. It may not be pleasant or appealing for everyone but it is, I think, sometimes necessary and the best course of action.”

    I respect your opinion, but I disagree.

    To me the death penalty is severely compromised by a range of issues, such as its irreversibility, its inconsistency of application, and the temptation to use the threat of it as an interrogation technique.

    Irreversibility: For all your comments later in your post about Davis being “properly found guilty”, the fact remains that people are all the time being released from death row because it’s been proven that they can’t have committed the crimes for which they were also “properly found guilty”. The Todd Willingham case is just one of the more recent ones in which it’s almost certain an innocent man was executed.

    Inconsistency of application: In states where the death penalty is an option, it’s not exercised in all cases. The determining factor in whether someone is executed or imprisoned seems to often hang on subjective issues. For example, when does self-defence turn into murder? When two co-accused blame each other, how reliable are those accusations? At what age or level of mental incapacity do you not have the ability to understand the consequences of your action? Why was Lawrence Brewer executed, but Shawn Berry sentenced to life in prison when he drove the truck that dragged James Byrd to his death? And that’s without going into issues such as the inconsistency of application based on race and access to decent legal representation.

    The threat of the death penalty: I’ve mentioned them several times in my posts to this article, but to me the case of the Norfolk Four should be of concern to death penalty supporters. The four men in question were sentenced to lengthy jail terms for the rape and murder of a woman. Their convictions were based almost entirely on confessions they later said were extracted by intimidation, including the threat of the death penalty, during interrogations lasting up to 14 hours, during which time they had no legal representation. Rather than bang on about the case, I recommend you read this article: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/19/magazine/19Norfolk-t.html.

    “We need a death penalty for the same reason we need to put down rabid dogs. Among other things. There is a valid case for it IMHON.”

    Can you please explain your rabid dog analogy? There are other ways of dealing with rabid dogs than just destroying them.

    “It does permanently remove the threat posed by individual offenders.”

    So does imprisoning them for life without parole, and also has the advantages that: the prisoner can contribute in some way to society during the balance of their life in prison; the prisoner can be released and compensated if later proven to be innocent; life in prison is cheaper than execution; and those currently involved in executions won’t have to deal with the psychological issues of executing others.

    “It does provide some peace of mind and closure for the victims – and don’t folks *dare* minimise the importance of this and the victims perspective in their sanctimonious advocacy for the perpetratours of crime.”

    What does it do for a victim’s relatives if it’s later proven that an innocent person was executed for the victim’s murder, and that the killer is still at large? What if the victim and murderer come from the same family?

    I don’t know what the mindset is of American opponents of the death penalty, but my opposition to the death penalty is not based on a belief that murderers and rapists are victims of society. I’m quite happy for them to be locked up for the terms of their natural lives. People like Martin Bryant, Ivan Milat, and Bilal Skaf have no place being out in society. But I do not want their deaths on my conscience.

    “It does, if done properly provide that most intangible but appreciated of things – basic justice and proper punishment for themost heinous offences.”

    And how is it to be “done properly”? How are forced confessions, poorly interpreted evidence, unchecked leads and incompetent defence lawyers going to be eliminated from the legal system? Because until such problems can be eliminated, there will always be the danger that innocent people will be executed and murderers and rapists will go unpunished.

    Just one last reference to the Norfolk Four. The police theory is that eight men committed the crime, of whom five have been convicted. The police remain convinced that the other three men were involved, even though one of them has evidence placing him 500 kilometres away when the crime was committed (worksheet filled out for employer and ATM receipt), and another can show he was in contact with his girlfriend by phone and internet continuously for a period of three hours over the time the crime was committed. If you didn’t have such means of establishing an alibi, would you like to be accused of a serious crime by such police?

  245. Robert

    @17 “The question is not whether criminals deserve to die, but whether the State should be allowed to kill.”

    In a democracy, the state consists of the people. The hypocricy of allowing the state to kill is staggering.

    In my opinion, the judge, the jurors, the executioner, and anyone else related to this atrocity are guilty of murder and should be prosecuted. Whether Troy Davis was guilty or not does not matter.

  246. Nigel Depledge

    Infinite 123Lifer (221) said:

    I am voting for Nigel Depledge for president. Given the choices, I think that is a more than fair decision. Whether you like it or not Nigel, I am voting for you.

    Excellent! Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen it . . .

    ;-) (Yes, that was a filmic allusion.)

  247. Nigel Depledge

    Ann (225) said:

    Oh god! The ‘not worth sh-t’ comment referred to my general sense of the comments since I did not sit and read every one of them and also referred to the fact that none of the people commenting ( or next to none) actually took the time or trouble to acquaint themselves with the facts of the case. And in terms of determining guilt or innocence, facts are what it is all about.

    But what has this to do with whether or not the death penalty is justified?

    If you don’t even know the facts of the case and you are commenting on the case, you are per se talking out of you a–.

    Not really. It is perfectly possible to have a valid opinion about the validity or otherwise of the death penalty without needing to get stuck into the details of any individual case.

    The ‘flapping your gums’ was not directed at you personally. I realized after I logged off and went to bed that it might be interpreted that way but it was directed at the comments in general, and not to you personally.

    I didn’t take it personally, but I do think it was OTT.

    So I apologize for that as I did not mean to direct the post at you in particular, though I realize it appeared so.

    Well, if the apology is directed at me, I’ll say “none needed”.

    And I do have tons of other problems with the death penalty. Fairness of application for one : ;between races, between socio-economic groups. And there is something patently ridiculous about comparing murders.

    So your problems with the death penalty seem to be more about how and when it is applied than about its intrinsic morality or lack thereof. Is it, or not really?

    The Supreme Court put down some guidelines but it all boils down to what one of the Justices (can’t remember which right now) said to describe the legal definition of obscenity. I can’t define it but I know it when I see it. Which basically means, it depends how the jury feels about it. But these are practical concerns.

    They are, but does it not bother you that such “practical concerns” can make the difference between life and death for someone who cannot afford a good lawyer?

    As to the basic ethics of ‘an eye for an eye’? Well, if you were the father of the last person Theodore Bundy killed, a 12 year of girl in Florida whom he kidnapped from her school, took out into the woods and killed, how would you feel about him continuing to live?

    Terrible. But what has this emotion to do with defining justice and how to serve it in a civilised society? Revenge is not justice.

    I have yet to see you make a single argument that the death penalty was justified in any case, apart from “Davis was guilty”, which is actually dodging the question. I specifically asked you (in #215) about the broader issue, and you have kept coming back to Davis’s individual case.

  248. Nigel Depledge

    Infinite 123 Lifer (228) said:

    When I check a box saying I am “against” the death penalty I cannot either contend that I will be able to “consciously accept” the deeds of some heinous perpetrator with sound mind knowing that he will continue to walk the Earth, nor can I admit to myself that in “ALL” circumstances will I be able to find a punishment suited for all effected parties.

    Being against the death penalty does not mean being against life imprisonment.

  249. Nigel Depledge

    Infinite 123Lifer (228) said:

    Assuming Davis was guilty (like really honestly guilty), that he shot a cop and showed no remorse or admitted his crime . . . the death penalty cannot be merited or not merited. It always comes down to the emotions and rationales stirring differently among different people because it will never be a 1 man/ woman decision. And some people have such a rationality that they are quick to acknowledge when there is no easy answer.

    I accept that there is no easy answer, unless one simply says that the death penalty cannot be justifiable no matter how many people a person kills, nor how unrepentant that person is.

    I said earlier up the thread that I might support the death penalty for an unrepentant serial killer who has been convincingly convicted, but my own answer here is full of woolly, hard-to-define words, so I’m not sure it is adequately meaningful.

    Having said that, I think any argument in favour of the death penalty includes, however tacitly, an element of revenge about it. And, since a civilised justice system should not be about revenge, my inclination is to oppose the death penalty. This is the purely moral argument. In practical terms, the judicial systems we have make so many mistakes that I cannot see any way in which we can justify the use of the death penalty, purely on the grounds that, because of the adversarial court systems we employ and the fallability of the investigating officers, we can never be sure we’ve convicted the right person.

    If I want to merit the death penalty all I have to say is an eye for an eye…but this question was asked under the presumptions of guilt.

    Well, yes, even under the presumption of guilt this particular argument turns justice into revenge.

    For the death penalty in general I could argue that while the death penalty should not be merited in this case and all cases it should also be of merit in this case and all cases. Basically I am saying that it is not right to kill, however it is not right to take the decision to kill away either. Leaving a contradicting statement which leads me back to the greatest two points, of which they conflict:

    1. Compassion is the strongest opponent and the righteous man’s blood.
    2. What do I do with the monster.

    First, the “monster” is also a person. And people can change.

    Second, killing a perpetrator sounds like an easy answer but comes fraught with difficulty, and there are alternatives that are at least as effective as (in fact, I think they are mostly more effective than) the death penalty. Some commenter further up the thread pointed out, for example, that Norway has the lowest recidivism rate among offenders and has not used the death penalty for decades.

    Third, irrespective of how compassionate one might wish to be, there is the problem that using killing to deter killing sends a mixed message. How are we to justify the institutionalised use of killing in a society that has determined killing to be wrong? As a previous commenter points out, two “wrongs” don’t make a “right” when you are 5, so why should they when you are 50?

  250. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (232) said:

    I think that there are people who deserve the death penalty.

    Osama bin Laden, Adolf Hitler, Jack the Ripper. The serial killers and cruelest of murderers and the worst rapists and pedophiles.

    Some people the world really is much better off without.

    OK, first off, Osama bin Laden was assassinated. He did not receive a trial, nor due process, nor the opportunity to defend himself in a court of law. Now, if he masterminded the 9/11 attacks as was claimed then he would be a prime candidate for consideration for execution. Obviously, I am not sufficiently aware of the facts of the matter to determine his guilt or otherwise so I must perforce accept what I am told about him.

    Second, where do you draw the line? If the “worst” of serial killers etc. should be killed, how do we decide who is bad enough to deserve execution and who isn’t quite bad enough?

    Third, why is death better than lifelong imprisonment as a punishment? It certainly isn’t a better deterrent (the USA applies the death penalty several times each year, IIUC, and they still have one of the highest murder rates of any western-style nation).

    Fourth, you also seem to have overlooked the question of the message it sends to the rest of the world (an, indeed, to the nation’s citizens themselves). “Killing is wrong, unless the person you are killing is bad, and then it’s OK to kill.” In what way is this civilised, or even consistent?

  251. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (233) said:

    If the jury or a judges a provides a verdict of guilty beyond reasonable doubt then I think we should respect that.

    They’ve sat through the case and heard all the arguments where we haven’t.

    Some argue the execution of a convicted murderer shows the system has failed.

    I view it as the opposite situation – showing that the justice system is working.

    I won’t say we should take pride or joy in executions but I will say we should respect the juries and judges who decided beyond reasonable doubt and be satisified that justice prevailed.

    That’s my perspective. Everyone is entitled to their views.

    I wonder what the views of the widow and and children and relatives of the policeman that Mr Davis was convicted of murdering are?

    And here you are focussing on the guilt / innocence question without even considering the larger issue.

    Assuming Davis was indeed guilty, why is the death penalty merited?

    I have yet to see an attempt to answer this that does not involve fallacies such as “keep him out of society” (which is not an argument for the death penalty per se because that is only one of several ways of excluding a person from society).

  252. Nigel Depledge

    Infinite 123Lifer (236) –
    Some good points there, well said.

    (Although, if I were to be picky I might point out that the grammar could use some work.)

  253. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (238) said:

    To the satisfaction of a duly appointed court of law following the rules of evidence and court procedure to produce a verdict beyond reasonable doubt.

    And what does this mean in real terms?

    To say that judges or juries are wrong in their decisions you need to make a good strong logical case backed by powerful evidence.

    Not really. The western-style justice system is supposedly based on the premise of “innocent until proven guilty”. Therefore, all you need is one good reason to doubt the guilty verdict. It doesn’t need to be a “strong logical case” backed by “powerful” evidence. All you need – in principle at least – is to find one flaw in the prosecution’s case. Obviously, this does not work in practice, which means that “innocent until proven guilty” is not applied in practice.

    Symetrically enough, juries and judges make their decisions based on good strong logical cases and powerful evidence. They are the key factors of our justice system and our social values.

    What utter rubbish!

    If this were true, wrongful convictions would never be made.

    Juries make decisions based on the persuasiveness of the respective lawyers. Have you never seen Twelve Angry Men (the original, not the remake)? 11 jurors were prepared to send a teenager to the chair based on the prosecutor’s case, but the twelfth juror logically and systematically picks apart the case and shows it to be built on sand. Maybe the jury in Davis’s case consisted of 12 people like the 11 in the film, and had no-one like the twelfth man. Remenber that logical, critical thought is a skill that must be learned, and it is never taught in any part of western educational systems (except very occasionally, if the students happen to get an especially good teacher).

    Decisions made in courts of law are based on opinion, not fact. And the craft of the lawyer is to shape the jurors’ opinion into the outcome desired by their client.

  254. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (239) said:

    We need a death penalty for the same reason we need to put down rabid dogs.
    Among other things. There is a valid case for it IMHON.

    What, so are you saying psychopathy is communicable????

    If there is a valid case for the death penalty, what is that case?

  255. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (239) said:

    Quote from wikipedia page on Davis :

    In constrast, law enforcement officials such as Spencer Lawton, the former Chatham County prosecutor who put Davis on trial, remained convinced of the evidence for Davis’s guilt and that Davis’s supporters “would know differently if they looked at the record.“[115] He stated: “We have consistently won the case as it has been presented in court. We have consistently lost the case as it has been presented in the public realm, on TV and elsewhere.”[115]

    Yeah, quotes from the guy who sent Davis to his death are less than convincing.

    Members of MacPhail’s family were also convinced of Davis’s guilt, and thought his execution would bring a measure of peace.[116][117] His mother reported “That hole in my heart will be there until the day I die, but it may give me some peace and quiet.”[117] His son, Mark MacPhail Jr, stated “It’s not animosity or anger or rage that has kept us going; that’s not what my father would want. It’s justice. The law is what he was all about. That’s what we have to uphold”.[118]

    Yes, many USAians have been persuaded that death is a form of justice. I have yet to see a convincing argument to that effect.

  256. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (241) said:

    Is that supposed to be an argument *against* the death penalty? Soudns more to me like an argument *for* one! Or tougher sentences anyhow.

    Tougher sentencing is not a deterrent. This has been proven. Most criminals do not expect to get caught.

  257. Nigel Depledge

    @ Peter B (245) –
    Yes, agreed.

  258. Joseph G

    @251 Nigel Depledge: OK, first off, Osama bin Laden was assassinated. He did not receive a trial, nor due process, nor the opportunity to defend himself in a court of law

    Oh for crying out loud. What, like they could just serve him a subpoena and have him show up in court?? I’m all for due process, but there are practical limits when you’ve got your own personal army and the tacit support of at least some in the government of a nuclear power (Pakistan).
    Also, I think the word “assassination” is a bit more then that assclown warranted.
    To paraphrase Chris Rock (quote not regarding OBL, but it still fits):
    “Gimme a break. Martin Luther King was assassinated. Malcolm X was assassinated. JFK was assassinated. (That) [expletive deleted] got shot.

  259. Joseph G

    Please don’t let my post be the last in this thread. Srsly. I know it’s over, I’m just not sufficiently dignified to end it properly.

  260. @ ^ Joseph G : Okay. Shall we make this the last one then?

    @244. Ann :

    The problem with her [Ann Coulter’s] comments is that with respect to THIS CASE, they are quite accurate. This was black on black crime that this white off duty police officer intervened to try to stop. According to the people who knew Troy Davis, he had already shot another man in the face earlier in the evening at a party, for no particular reason, by the way. The victim in this case was enforcing the law the way we would all want in this country, without respect to race, creed or religion. He and his family deserve better than to be treated in the press and blogosphere as an afterthought or as people supporting a great miscarriage of justice, which they are not. I don’t care WHO says otherwise. Peace. Out.

    Seconded and very well said.

    Now I could go on and argue more, counter all the points those taking this cop killer’s side wish to make – but what’s the point. They’re as set in their views as I am in mine. We’re never going to agree.

    So I’ll just make this one last point :

    Only one person is ultimately to blame for Troy Davis being executed.

    That person is Troy Davis himself.

    He chose to live a brutal life committing crime. He had alternative choices and options.

    Troy Davis chose to committ murder – to shoot dead Mark MacPhail an off-duty policeman, who was married and father to a two-year old daughter and an infant son.

    Troy Davis made that choice and he got caught. He got convicted beyond reasonable doubt. His multiple appeals and pleas for clemency were rejected because he didn’t have a much of a case worthy of appeal or clemency. He wasn’t innocent, he was executed. Justice prevailed.

    Troy Davis chose to murder. He could have chosen otherwise, then he got the appropriate consequences that were coming as a result of his choice.

    Mark MacPhail was the innocent man, his family were made victims for life as well – he and they did nothing wrong, made no wrong decisions and didn’t deserve their permannet punishment.

    If this is the last post on theis whole sad saga (& I hope it is) I’ll give *them* the last words :

    [Mark McPhail’s] mother reported -“That hole in my heart will be there until the day I die, but it may give me some peace and quiet.”

    His [MarkMcPhail’s] son, Mark MacPhail Jr, stated “It’s not animosity or anger or rage that has kept us going; that’s not what my father would want. It’s justice. The law is what he was all about. That’s what we have to uphold”.

    – Source – Wikipedia page – Troy Davis case. (Click on my name to view.)

  261. Nigel Depledge

    @ Joseph G (259) –

    Well, whatever. The point is, whatever the reasons for killing bin Laden, what he got was not justice, it was revenge. Now, I reckon he would be a prime candidate for the death penalty (assuming that he did indeed mastermind the 9/11 attacks as is claimed). But I still don’t know where to draw the line. Remember that the Lockerbie bomber was tried under Scottish law and was given a life sentence, and was recently released (about 20 – 25 years after his conviction).

  262. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (261) said:

    Now I could go on and argue more, counter all the points those taking this cop killer’s side wish to make – but what’s the point. They’re as set in their views as I am in mine.

    I have not seen anyone taking Davis’s side per se. I have also not seen any convincing argument made that he deserved to be executed.

    We’re never going to agree.

    So does this mean you are closed to persuasion by a rational argument on this topic?

    So I’ll just make this one last point :

    Only one person is ultimately to blame for Troy Davis being executed.

    That person is Troy Davis himself.

    He chose to live a brutal life committing crime. He had alternative choices and options.

    What utter nonsense. If he had committed the same crime in Europe, he would now be nearing the end of a life sentence (IIUC, in most European countries a “life” sentence is usually about 20 – 25 years in prison).

    He was executed by a system that conflates revenge with justice. And, hence, by the people who support that system, i.e. the American voters.

    I have yet to see anyone make a convincing case that the death penalty was merited. Or even make a serious attempt at such. You and Ann both assume that the death penalty is just, and that Davis deserved it because he was found guilty and convicted. You have not made any cogent argument to support your assumption.

  263. Nigel Depledge

    Also @ MTU (261) –
    IIUC, the crime for which Davis was convicted and sentenced to death was a heat-of-the-moment situation, not a premeditated killing. In the UK, this makes a difference. I had thought it also made a difference in the USA, but apparently it does not.

    As several commenters have pointed out, if Davis had had the money for better representation, he probably would not have been executed.

    As several commenters have pointed out, if Davis had been white, he probably would not have been excecuted.

    IIUC, Davis only killed one person (I know this sounds callous, but the point is Davis is not a serial killer). That the victim of the crime was a police officer should make no difference, unless you wish to argue that a police officer’s life is – in some fashion which you would need to define – worth more than mine or yours.

    So, I repeat the question I have asked several times already – why was the death penalty merited?

  264. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (261) said:

    If this is the last post on theis whole sad saga (& I hope it is)

    Well, given that your central thrust rests entirely on an unfounded assumption, your hope was a vain one.

    That Davis actually committed the crime is not an argument for the death penalty, unless you choose to assume that the justice system is both just and rational.

  265. Peter B

    For those who support the use of the death penalty, you might like to consider a court case which has just been concluded in Melbourne, Australia.

    Matthew Johnson was accused of murdering Carl Williams. Johnson claimed he acted in self-defence, and the jury was given the option of finding him guilty of the lesser crime of defensive homicide. In the end they found him guilty of murder.

    The background is that Williams was a notorious criminal, involved in a drug war in Melbourne which saw tens of people murdered over the course of a decade or so. Williams was eventually arrested, and pleaded guilty to three murders. He was sentenced a few years ago to a minimum of 35 years in prison. While in prison he was killed by Johnson, who was himself in prison for armed robbery.

    Johnson’s claim was that he’d heard that Williams was arranging to kill him. The Crown case was that Johnson had heard that Williams was passing information to the police, and that Johnson hated informers.

    If I understand the case correctly, the jury’s decision on whether to find guilt on the lesser or greater charge related largely on Johnson’s intent, which only he really knew.

    Given the jury found Johnson guilty of murder, would that warrant the death penalty to you? If the jury had convicted Johnson on the lesser charge, would *that* warrant the death penalty? If not, what makes the difference between applying the death penalty in one case and not the other?

  266. @263. Nigel Depledge :

    I have not seen anyone taking Davis’s side per se. I have also not seen any convincing argument made that he deserved to be executed.

    He was guilty beyond reasonable doubt of murdering a policeman – that’s why he deserved to be executed. That’s the crime, that’s the law, that’s the punishment that’s appropriate. Period.

    “We’re never going to agree.” – MTU
    So does this mean you are closed to persuasion by a rational argument on this topic?

    No, it means I think *you* are! :-P

    As several commenters have pointed out, if Davis had had the money for better representation, he probably would not have been executed.
    As several commenters have pointed out, if Davis had been white, he probably would not have been excecuted.

    Hypotheticals – and I think false ones. Rich criminals and white criminals do get executed too. Especially if they’re as guilty as anything of appalling crimes. I think you overlook what Davis did & devalue the lives of those he killed and injured and the rest of society that needs to be protected from that scumbag.

    That Davis actually committed the crime is not an argument for the death penalty, unless you choose to assume that the justice system is both just and rational.

    Yes I *do* make that assumption. Why would you assume otherwise without having very strong evidence?

    @

  267. Peter B

    Nigel Depledge said in part: “…you choose to assume that the justice system is both just and rational.”

    Messier Tidy Upper said: “Yes I *do* make that assumption.”

    MTU

    Have you read the stories about why the state of Illinois abolished the death penalty?

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/01/11/us-executions-illinois-idUSTRE70A6G920110111

    “”We’ve had 20 innocent people on Death Row…””

    “Among those freed from Illinois’ Death Row after being found innocent were Rolando Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez, who were sentenced to death for raping and killing a 10-year-old Chicago area girl, Jeanine Nicarico. They stayed in prison for years even after another man, Brian Dugan, already in jail for raping and killing another girl and a woman, admitted to the crime.”

    “Other Illinois prisoners who were freed from Death Row said they were tortured into confessions by police.”

    The idea of being sentenced to death for a crime I didn’t commit scares the whatsit out of me.

  268. Peter B

    Here’s another couple of situations to consider…

    Over the last couple of weeks, three young children across Australia have been killed in identical accidents – run over by parents in their own driveways. Without knowing the details of any of the cases, I’m content to assume that each of these accidents was a tragic mistake – driving a car and not realising a toddler was on the loose.

    The problem is that an accident in which a parent deliberately killed their child would *look* identical. The only difference would be the thought processes in the parent’s brain. But it would take little more than a half-heard comment taken out of context and a vindictive neighbour to turn a tragic accident into a murder charge.

    = = = =

    Have you been following the case of Amanda Knox in Italy? Did she kill Meredith Kercher? I understand that opinions largely depend on which side of the Atlantic you live.

    = = = =

    A few days ago an Australian Olympic swimmer was badly injured in a hit-run accident. He’d been riding a bike to training, and, well, you can read the story here: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-09-29/aussie-olympian-in-hit-and-run/3036768/?site=sport&section=more

    And here: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-09-29/monk-upbeat-despite-hit-run-incident/3050630/?site=sport&section=more

    Note what people said:

    The victim: “I believe it was done on purpose…” and “I remember the guys in the car yelling ‘oi’ and laughing. I turned and I got whacked on the side – that was it. I thought it was a scare tactic but it went too far. They were young and dumb, trying to impress their mates.”

    His coach: “There’s no doubt that he was run down intentionally… they knew they knocked him to the ground, they actually swerved to get him. Kenrick went straight down and they didn’t stop the car or anything else, they left the scene apparently laughing and skylarking in the car, so it was definitely intentional.”

    I dare say you wouldn’t want to have been arrested for this.

    But this morning we find out that the victim made the whole story up. A witness saw the victim fall off his skateboard, and went to the police.

  269. Infinite123Lifer

    @MTU asked (238)

    Do you NOT share these values, and do you NOT believe in our justice system that has stood the test of time? How else would you propose we have a fairer and better system?

    If you were charged with a crime would you rather face the criminal system of the USA, the Chinese or Iran?—

    Yes I share the values of what we can probably agree upon as being justice.

    As for the system and its ability to “stand the test of time:
    I believe history has taught us to rise above ourselves and we falter on a strong knee (bogged possibly by dead weight, fear and greed). But that is a collective assumption and I would not rule out the possibility that humans have done absolutely miraculous thus far and that we should all know that the harder you perform the harder you push yourself. I think we are really going to have to push ourselves hard to out-accomplish our own feats. Both here in the United States with the accomplishments of our system of law and order and our accomplishments as a species. When I say accomplishments I am not talking about wiping people off the Earth or making 17 billion dollars. (both things our law does) I am talking about considering everything that has happened in the last 14 billion years or so I think “our system” has a little farther to go in its bid to “stand the test of time”, but its here and its here now and that has to be good enough for now, and that’s pretty good for now.
    yeah ok? :)

    Individually I agree that people most generally need a system of justice. Whether ours is the best or not does not matter and no I do not have a better idea :( :( :(

    Personally the police and fire department have saved my Life 3 times at the minimum and saved me from having to take on the guilt associated with not being able to help someone by responding to accidents and scary events which require police and medical attention. (Its all relative but once was when I almost drowned in my canoe crossing the lake to make it to my 7:30pm Chem class on a snowy day over a 13 mile lake and two times for sure in one way or another).
    I believe that this unbelievable level of responding comes with the price of a controlling presence simply doing the opposite of what it is sworn to do (uphold the constitution to the fullest) just so that the system can function and thus save my Life in the process of “owning” it.
    I think Canada and Norway could make interesting comparisons as to what a good system might be and I agree with most of whats said in post 141

    And to answer your last question I, under these circumstances can only be grateful at having been born in the USA and for some silly and strange reason Hope that if I would have been born in China or Iran that I would have turned out much the same as I am now or at least surely to have learned some of the same lessons.

    @MTU239

    Fair enough, sturm and drang sub-plots and secondary issues. However:
    All people created equal and bs and bs and I am drowning in it=sturm and drang? but

    MTUsaid:(238)

    “Yes .. and no. People are people but there’s more to it than just that.”—

    Do you believe all men are created equal?
    Myself, under this system of governance that we share right now I would agree that yes, all men women and children should be seen as having equal opportunity and rights.
    But your saying there is more to it than that???

    @MTU asked (241)

    Thousands and thousands of people commit murder . . . do time . . . and get out. It is always amazing to me the amount of time somebody can get away with after a murder case.

    Is that supposed to be an argument *against* the death penalty? Soudns more to me like an argument *for* one! Or tougher sentences anyhow.—

    Well, it was not an argument either way. I was simply stating how I feel. Which might not hold any weight in a debate but it makes all the freagn difference in the world on which way I vote. You say I have to provide evidence. In a matter such as this there is no “hard evidence to gather”. I submit to you:
    How do people ultimately come to the decision of being for capital punishment or not? What final thought gives them the permission in their minds to make a decision either way? It is not evidence. It is how they feel!!! about All the evidence gathered ever.

    I guess my actual stance on the death penalty if you can call it a stance would be:

    That I was trying not to make an argument one way or the other and make my argument to not make an argument but I must have failed a bit :)

    @231 I said:

    I was just basically saying the whole time “I Dont Know”. I could contend based on this understanding that the following all institute the same amount of reasonableness:

    1. Being for the death penalty.
    2. Being against the death penalty.
    3. Not choosing the death penalty either way. —

    &

    228. Infinite123Lifer Says:
    September 25th, 2011 at 12:34 am

    Larian LeQuella Says: (128)

    “I won’t comment on the death penalty since I am not really able to articulate a coherent argument free of my own bias.”

    How is this to be . . . settled? . . . agreed upon? Is there even a Right or Wrong exacting answer which satisfies us all? Some are partially or fully for or against and some cannot decide and some decide not to decide. The latter is not a “way out” . . . I think it could be a logical conclusion rather.

    &

    229. Infinite123Lifer Says:
    September 25th, 2011 at 1:00 am

    I suppose my stance is like many of the others:
    I am not “for” the death penalty.
    I am not for “not having” the choice to kill someone.
    I cannot merit the death penalty. Nor am I confident enough in the human race to consciously give up the right to invoke a sentence of death.
    I hope this view can change in time.

    & @186 I said:

    It was not by chance that that police man died. It was not by chance that Troy Davis was condemned to death for it. It is not by chance that billions of people on this “LITTLE BLUE DOT” cannot agree.—

    @QD, I sure did mess up the whole deal more than twice at 210. freahkin italics and quotes. I am working on it.

    No disrespect intended to anybody in the case. I am simply using this opportunity to consider the consequences of our actions.

  270. Infinite123Lifer

    @MTU & Nigel Depledge
    Chance has no reality.
    Therefore it is the reality that billions of people cannot agree on even 1 simple thing, let alone capital punishment let alone Troy Davis.
    Taking each and every disagreement I have heard on the matter into evidence I concur that there is no solution good sir’s. Not even to satisfy the greatest of reasonable men.

    Evidence Gathered: Chance has no reality & All People cannot agree on 1 simple thing & every disagreement I have ever bore witness to.

    Conclusion: I cannot merit or not merit capital punishment.

    Therefore if I am bound by my ultimate conclusion than I cannot make any choices or inferences beyond that said “set statement of position” or can I relate to any or all cases which are involved with these elements in any manner.

    This does not mean that I cannot act or change due course for due action in the future, whatever or whenever that might be. Maybe the future holds what we all feel today but for a case like this I refuse to feel or think either way about something that I was not there for personally. My own speculation I cannot and will not abide. I choose not to choose right now. And I argue as it stands that this is just as fair a footing as the opposing options.

  271. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (267) said:

    @263. Nigel Depledge :

    I have not seen anyone taking Davis’s side per se. I have also not seen any convincing argument made that he deserved to be executed.

    He was guilty beyond reasonable doubt of murdering a policeman – that’s why he deserved to be executed. That’s the crime, that’s the law, that’s the punishment that’s appropriate. Period.

    But this is not an argument. It is just stating the present circumstances that pertain in certain parts of the USA if you happen to be poor and black. If the punishment is appropriate, as you claim, how come it makes so much difference to be white and not black? How come it makes so much difference if you can afford a better lawyer?

    IOW : in what way is death an appropriate punishment for that crime when other people in the same nation have received lesser punishments for essentially the same crime?

    And, given that you are supposedly sending a message to society that killing people is wrong, why is killing people the appropriate medium to send that message?

    “We’re never going to agree.” – MTU
    So does this mean you are closed to persuasion by a rational argument on this topic?

    No, it means I think *you* are!

    But you have yet to make any argument that the death penalty was merited. You just keep carping on about how he was found guilty and that death is the punishment chosen by the court.

    But why was death merited? Why not life imprisonment instead? Why should the court have had a sentence of death available as an option?

    As several commenters have pointed out, if Davis had had the money for better representation, he probably would not have been executed.
    As several commenters have pointed out, if Davis had been white, he probably would not have been excecuted.

    Hypotheticals – and I think false ones. Rich criminals and white criminals do get executed too.

    But a far smaller proportion of white murderers, and a far smaller proportion of rich murderers than of poor black murderers. The statistics do actually demonstrate that this is a real effect. And, no, I cannot supply a reference because it is several years since I read about this stuff. Are you saying that the prevailing statistics have changed in the last (say) 5 years?

    Especially if they’re as guilty as anything of appalling crimes. I think you overlook what Davis did & devalue the lives of those he killed and injured and the rest of society that needs to be protected from that scumbag.

    I don’t contest this (but actually, was Davis not found guilty of murdering just one person?). But life imprisonment would do the job equally well, so why was a death sentence merited?

    Of course, there are degrees of murder (and I’m not talking about legal definitions here, I’m talking about the deliberate killing of another human being). Sometimes the crime is done in the heat of the moment, as is the case here. Sometimes the crime is premeditated but provoked by years of abuse (as may be the case in a wife murdering her husband, for example). Sometimes the crime is premeditated and committed for some other reason and is repeated (as might be the case of a mafia boss or a serial killer). So, why are some of these criminals sentenced to death and others not (leaving aside mental illness for the present discussion)?

    That Davis actually committed the crime is not an argument for the death penalty, unless you choose to assume that the justice system is both just and rational.

    Yes I *do* make that assumption. Why would you assume otherwise without having very strong evidence?

    First off, there is piles and piles of evidence to show that our systems of justice very often are unjust.

    Second, there is plenty of evidence to show that they are irrational. A rational system would have no need for prosecution and defence representation. A rational system would have a single team seeking the closest approximation to the truth that they can obtain, and would follow the presumption of innocence. (In the UK, an accused person is nominally presumed innocent until proven guilty, and in most cases this applies. where it does not is if that person is accused of a child sex offence of some kind, in which case the person is presumed to be guilty until proven innocent, but cannot be sentenced to a prison term without an adequate case).

    Third, I have yet to see anyone even attempt to argue that the death penalty is just. The death penalty is about revenge, no matter what Davis’s victim’s relatives might say about their own feelings. It might not be about revenge for the victim’s families so much as revenge for society at large.

    Anyhow, even without all that, there is no need to assume that the system is unjust or irrational, because all I need to assume is that I do not know whether or not it is just and rational. Until I see some evidence to persuade me that it is just and / or rational, it seems far safer and more logical to take the opposite stance as a working hypothesis. Thus, the assumption that must be justified is the one you take, i.e. that the system is either just or rational or both.

  272. Nigel Depledge

    Infinite 123Lifer (270) said:

    Do you believe all men are created equal?
    Myself, under this system of governance that we share right now I would agree that yes, all men women and children should be seen as having equal opportunity and rights.
    But your saying there is more to it than that???

    All “men” are clearly not created equal. The declaration of independence is based on a false assumption.

    First of all, there’s the historical context, that this declaration was penned by the leading lights of a commonwealth of which parts practised extensive slavery.

    Second, there’s the obvious physical differences between people, but over which we have no control (exepct perhaps fleetingly) such as eye colour, hair colour, height etc. that impact upon the way other members of our society treat one.

    Third, there is the social standing into which a person is born. Clearly the offspring of a Harvard lawyer and a Kentucky garbage collector do not have the same opportunities in life. In fact, the latter would have to work damn hard to get even half of the opportunities that the former is likely to be handed on a plate.

    So, although all US citizens have the same rights and opportunities in theory, the practice fails to live up to the principle.

  273. Nigel Depledge

    Infinite 123Lifer (271) said:

    Chance has no reality.

    Eh?

    What does this mean?

    Therefore it is the reality that billions of people cannot agree on even 1 simple thing, let alone capital punishment let alone Troy Davis.

    Do you agree that the sun is likely to rise tomorrow morning?

    Do you agree that a cloudless sky is blue? (Yes, if you take a long-exposure colour photograph of the night sky, it is actually blue.)

    Do you agree that a rainbow is pretty?

    Do you agree that boiling water is hot?

    There are plenty of things upon which two people (or even millions) can agree. Mainly, but not exclusively, these kinds of things are based on reference to evidence. So, I’m not sure what you wer trying to say here.

    Taking each and every disagreement I have heard on the matter into evidence I concur that there is no solution good sir’s. Not even to satisfy the greatest of reasonable men.

    I’m not sure I can agree with this. I think that there are plenty of arguments against the death penalty, and only one for it. All it would take is for peopole to consider the various arguments calmly and compassionately.

    Arguments for the death penalty:
    1. It gives the family (etc.) of the criminal’s victims and society in general feelings of satisfaction and closure.

    No, the prevention of recidivism is not an argument for the death penalty, as there are alternatives that are as effective.

    No, the protection of society is not an argument for the death penalty, as there are alternatives that are as effective.

    No, that a person was found guilty and that’s the verdict and sentence delivered is not an argument for the death penalty, because it presupposes that the death penalty is appropriate without justification.

    Arguments against the death penalty (in no particular order):
    1. It is irrevocable. Innocent people have been executed for crimes they did not commit. At least if someone is wrongly convicted and given a life sentence, you can apologise to them if evidence later turns up to prove their innocence.

    2. It sends the message that killing is not wrong as long as you are killing a bad person, even if that person is defined as bad because they killed someone.

    3. It punishes the family and loved ones of the person executed as much as it does the person who is executed.

    4. It is (arguably) barbaric.

    5. It is (assuming some of the uncontested statements in preceding comments to be correct) more expensive than life imprisonment (I assume this is because of the inevitable rounds of appeals).

    6. It demands that a line be drawn between people who are bad enough to “deserve” death and people who are not quite bad enough to “deserve” death, and such a line will inevitably be subjective and inconsistently applied (as it is in the present situation in the US).

  274. Peter B

    Nigel @ #274: Thank you for expressing so clearly my thoughts about the death penalty. Point 6 in particular is one I’d like to hear death penalty supporters discuss.

    People might also like to visit http://www.innocenceproject.org/ to read about the hundreds of cases where innocent people have been freed after years or decades in jail.

  275. Infinite123Lifer

    (273)
    “So, although all US citizens have the same rights and opportunities in theory, the practice fails to live up to the principle.”

    The point I was making :) to MTU. Sure we say one thing and mean it but do another. That is the United States and this is the way it has to be. . . ahem, frankly because it is the way it happened. The chances of an alternate reality do not exist because things happen as they happen and then cannot be changed. Things are the way they are not by chance, but through reality Nigel. This should be a simple concept when thinking in terms of ultimates; and I have poorly spoken that principle which is so true in such a large and existing sense. :) :(

    I “hope” the Sun will rise tomorrow, but knowing my bad astronomy I know now that it is perfectly plausible that any sort of galactic events could take place to prevent the rising of the Sun. Any number of unknowns. . . agreed? Consequently if the Sun does rise tomorrow it will be the reality of it rising and not the chances today of it rising tomorrow. (iam trying to be a little zen here using some things I might understand of the physical world and the principles of mathematics)

    All the cloudless skies I have seen are blue, yes, those all happened as reality not by chance. It was not by chance that I witnessed those skies. It was through reality.

    Yeah I think rainbows are pretty. In reality, not by chance.

    Yes I agree boiling water is hot to me. That is a super reality having been burnt before. . . ahem, and not by chance.

    (last part of 274)

    There are plenty of things upon which two people (or even millions) can agree. Mainly, but not exclusively, these kinds of things are based on reference to evidence. So, I’m not sure what you wer trying to say here.

    Taking each and every disagreement I have heard on the matter into evidence I concur that there is no solution good sir’s. Not even to satisfy the greatest of reasonable men.

    I’m not sure I can agree with this. I think that there are plenty of arguments against the death penalty, and only one for it. All it would take is for peopole to consider the various arguments calmly and compassionately.
    Arguments for the death penalty:
    1. It gives the family (etc.) of the criminal’s victims and society in general feelings of satisfaction and closure.
    No, the prevention of recidivism is not an argument for the death penalty, as there are alternatives that are as effective.
    No, the protection of society is not an argument for the death penalty, as there are alternatives that are as effective.
    No, that a person was found guilty and that’s the verdict and sentence delivered is not an argument for the death penalty, because it presupposes that the death penalty is appropriate without justification.
    Arguments against the death penalty (in no particular order):
    1. It is irrevocable. Innocent people have been executed for crimes they did not commit. At least if someone is wrongly convicted and given a life sentence, you can apologise to them if evidence later turns up to prove their innocence.
    2. It sends the message that killing is not wrong as long as you are killing a bad person, even if that person is defined as bad because they killed someone.
    3. It punishes the family and loved ones of the person executed as much as it does the person who is executed.
    4. It is (arguably) barbaric.
    5. It is (assuming some of the uncontested statements in preceding comments to be correct) more expensive than life imprisonment (I assume this is because of the inevitable rounds of appeals).
    6. It demands that a line be drawn between people who are bad enough to “deserve” death and people who are not quite bad enough to “deserve” death, and such a line will inevitably be subjective and inconsistently applied (as it is in the present situation in the US).

    Thank you for detailing a large portion of the actual argument. What I meant by that particular statement is that after my little brain has tried to empathetically justify both sides of the argument I just cannot. I cannot make decisions of this nature without being present and that it is entirely a fair argument to suggest that “one cannot decide.”

    As you stated that there were plenty of arguments against the death penalty but only one for it. Well 1 is a real number. A real important number when it comes to family. And sadly enough as I agree with most if not 100% of what you say (for real); still, people and myself have a long way to go when it comes to being agreeable with others (and not on matters of the Sun rising or the sensation of a rainbow, but when it comes to matters such as complicated as death I am sure you could be stunningly aware of how vast the beliefs between cultures of the past and present can be)

    I might be taking the chance and reality thing a bit far (and certainly have not been . . . smooth or professional or critically clear) but it is a deep understanding that that which has come to pass did not happen by chance, for it could have happened no other way.

    Unless of course you have that time machine built :) for once a moment is created and your alive in it and the next moment comes . . . we cannot go back. Chance cannot happen. Only reality can happen. You can calculate the chances, such as the coin flip as 50/50 but in reality only one appears

    Cheers brother :)

    I in my heart believe that anything is possible. Perhaps entropy and time could reverse and we could all grow back into our mothers and so forth and so on until we reach whatever started this wonderful existence in the first place. . . but there is obviously no evidence for that. Chance does not exist in the big picture.

    RIP2EveryLivingThingEver

    Even the wicked, for I know not why reality happens.

  276. Infinite123Lifer

    (273)
    “So, although all US citizens have the same rights and opportunities in theory, the practice fails to live up to the principle.”

    The point I was making :) to MTU. Sure we say one thing and mean it but do another. That is the United States and this is the way it has to be. . . ahem, frankly because it is the way it happened. The chances of an alternate reality do not exist because things happen as they happen and then cannot be changed. Things are the way they are not by chance, but through reality Nigel. This should be a simple concept when thinking in terms of ultimates; and I have poorly spoken that principle which is so true in such a large and existing sense. :) :(

    I “hope” the Sun will rise tomorrow, but knowing my bad astronomy I know now that it is perfectly plausible that any sort of galactic events could take place to prevent the rising of the Sun. Any number of unknowns. . . agreed? Consequently if the Sun does rise tomorrow it will be the reality of it rising and not the chances today of it rising tomorrow. (iam trying to be a little zen here using some things I might understand of the physical world and the principles of mathematics)

    All the cloudless skies I have seen are blue, yes, those all happened as reality not by chance. It was not by chance that I witnessed those skies. It was through reality.

    Yeah I think rainbows are pretty. In reality, not by chance.

    Yes I agree boiling water is hot to me. That is a super reality having been burnt before. . . ahem, and not by chance.

    (last part of 274)

    There are plenty of things upon which two people (or even millions) can agree. Mainly, but not exclusively, these kinds of things are based on reference to evidence. So, I’m not sure what you wer trying to say here.

    Taking each and every disagreement I have heard on the matter into evidence I concur that there is no solution good sir’s. Not even to satisfy the greatest of reasonable men.

    I’m not sure I can agree with this. I think that there are plenty of arguments against the death penalty, and only one for it. All it would take is for peopole to consider the various arguments calmly and compassionately.
    Arguments for the death penalty:
    1. It gives the family (etc.) of the criminal’s victims and society in general feelings of satisfaction and closure.
    No, the prevention of recidivism is not an argument for the death penalty, as there are alternatives that are as effective.
    No, the protection of society is not an argument for the death penalty, as there are alternatives that are as effective.
    No, that a person was found guilty and that’s the verdict and sentence delivered is not an argument for the death penalty, because it presupposes that the death penalty is appropriate without justification.
    Arguments against the death penalty (in no particular order):
    1. It is irrevocable. Innocent people have been executed for crimes they did not commit. At least if someone is wrongly convicted and given a life sentence, you can apologise to them if evidence later turns up to prove their innocence.
    2. It sends the message that killing is not wrong as long as you are killing a bad person, even if that person is defined as bad because they killed someone.
    3. It punishes the family and loved ones of the person executed as much as it does the person who is executed.
    4. It is (arguably) barbaric.
    5. It is (assuming some of the uncontested statements in preceding comments to be correct) more expensive than life imprisonment (I assume this is because of the inevitable rounds of appeals).
    6. It demands that a line be drawn between people who are bad enough to “deserve” death and people who are not quite bad enough to “deserve” death, and such a line will inevitably be subjective and inconsistently applied (as it is in the present situation in the US).

    Thank you for detailing a large portion of the actual argument. What I meant by that particular statement is that after my little brain has tried to empathetically justify both sides of the argument I just cannot. I cannot make decisions of this nature without being present and that it is entirely a fair argument to suggest that “one cannot decide.”

    As you stated that there were plenty of arguments against the death penalty but only one for it. Well 1 is a real number. A real important number when it comes to family. And sadly enough as I agree with most if not 100% of what you say (for real); still, people and myself have a long way to go when it comes to being agreeable with others (and not on matters of the Sun rising or the sensation of a rainbow, but when it comes to matters such as complicated as death I am sure you could be stunningly aware of how vast the beliefs between cultures of the past and present can be)

    I might be taking the chance and reality thing a bit far (and certainly have not been . . . smooth or professional or critically clear) but it is a deep understanding that that which has come to pass did not happen by chance, for it could have happened no other way.

    Unless of course you have that time machine built :) for once a moment is created and your alive in it and the next moment comes . . . we cannot go back. Chance cannot happen. Only reality can happen. You can calculate the chances, such as the coin flip as 50/50 but in reality only one appears

    Cheers brother :)

    I in my heart believe that anything is possible. Perhaps entropy and time could reverse and we could all grow back into our mothers and so forth and so on until we reach whatever started this wonderful existence in the first place. . . but there is obviously no evidence for that. Chance does not exist in the big picture.

    RIP2EveryLivingThingEver

    Even the wicked, for I know not why reality happens.

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