Bil Browning

Three Executions: Compare & Contrast

Filed By Bil Browning | September 22, 2011 10:15 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Cleve Foster, death penalty, James Byrd, Lawrence Russell Brewer, Troy Davis

Let's take a brief look at three recent executions that row-of-crosses.jpgwere scheduled within the past week.

  • Troy Davis: After the Supreme Court rejected Davis' plea for clemency, the African-American man was put to death by lethal injection in the state of Georgia last night. Davis died at 11:08pm even though numerous celebrities and world leaders had begged the state to commute the sentence to life in prison. There was a lot of doubt on whether or not Davis was innocent and several people who testified against him during his trial later recanted their testimony.
  • Lawrence Russell Brewer: A white supremacist gang member, Brewer and two other men kidnapped James Byrd, chained him by his ankles to the back of a pick up truck, and drug him 3.5 miles down a country road. Byrd was decapitated. The men attacked Byrd because he is African-American and the recently passed hate crimes law was named for Byrd as well as (the better known in the LGBT community) hate crime victim Matthew Sheppard. Brewer was executed at 6:21pm by lethal injection last night in the state of Texas. There were no last minute appeals and no one political leaders advocated for commutation of his sentence.
  • Cleve Foster: Foster, a white former Army recruiter, was given a reprieve last Thursday by the US Supreme Court. The court has stopped his execution twice before within hours of his scheduled death. Unlike the previous two times, he wasn't served his last meal before learning he wouldn't be executed. Foster is one of two men convicted for shooting a woman and hiding her body in a drainage ditch, but questions linger about the competency of his state-appointed appeals lawyer.

Compare and contrast these three scheduled executions and reflect on how you feel about all three. Was Brewer's execution justified while Davis' wasn't? Did Foster get more leniency than Davis because of his race? And what do you think of the death penalty in general: justified or barbaric?

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1) Davis was executed because the victim in the case in question was a police officer, and the state couldn't bear to let one of their own guys go unavenged, even if it meant framing an innocent man. Also, this is Georgia, one of the most racist states in the Union. If you're a black man implicated in any way in the death of a white man, you're screwed.

2) Brewer was executed because while our society is perfectly comfortable with perpetuating white privilege in subtle ways, we have to make a show of punishing blatant, avowed white supremacists. It was also pretty obvious that he committed the crime he was convicted for, and the new hate crimes law probably made it easier to make it a death penalty case.

3) Foster is alive because he is white and as a soldier he is one of the state's own. Notice that the only thing keeping him alive is the supposed incompetence of a state-appointed lawyer. Also, out of these three cases, his victim was a woman. No one cares when women die. Business as usual.

I am so inclined to agree with you, Claire. And I love this line: "...because while our society is perfectly comfortable with perpetuating white privilege in subtle ways, we have to make a show of punishing blatant, avowed white supremacists." I've been having conversations about this topic all day and this is a great way to summarize it.

I do not believe in taking an unwilling life except in self- or other-defense, so I consider both of the executions unethical. Davis's execution seems more abhorrent to me, not because of the nature of the crime, but because some doubt still remained as to whether he committed it. Without more insight into the defense, prosecution, and judges in each case, I would feel rather foolish making any assumptions about whether the issue of race contributed significantly to Davis's failure to gain clemency. Certainly I consider it possible, if not probable; however, it seems worth noting that Davis has at least twice before obtained stays of execution while the courts reviewed his case, much like Foster did this time.

There is no evidence that the death penalty prevents other murders from taking place. Add in the possibility of executing innocent individuals and the notion that capital punishment is capable of delivering justice becomes nothing short of a barbaric fallacy.

Here are the statistics:

Have a look at the chart at the bottom where states are ranked by their murder rates. The states highlighted in yellow have no death penalty.

The death penalty is not a deterrent. So, if it isn't a deterrent, why have one? Scalia's comment in his dissenting opinion in the Davis case is outrageous:

“This court,” Scalia pointed out, “has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.”

I am no legal scholar but even if that is a correct interpretation, how does someone with his power and influence go to sleep at night without advocating for a constitutional amendment, if not outlawing the death penalty, at least outlawing the possibility that someone who is proven innocent is not put to death regardless of whether they have been convicted?

As far as Brewer is concerned or anyone else is concerned who has been executed, all it proves is that taking a human life is only wrong because one does not have the legal authority to do so and one does not have that legal authority not because one is either right or wrong but because one is not powerful enough. That's why we have the death penalty. The power over someone's life or death is the greatest power of all. The fact that it is so popular is merely an ugly fact of human nature that compensates for its impotence by seeking power vicariously. The death penalty is worse than barbaric.

One more thing. I just realized what I said about proving innocence. In many cases, I believe, it is nearly impossible if not impossible to prove innocence which was the whole tragedy involving the Troy Davis case. I am still having trouble understanding why Scalia is regarded as brilliant. Isn't there a difference between being very or extremely clever and brilliant. I see no light there. There was no clarity in the Davis case, not much more than doubt. I just don't get it.

Scalia sleeps well because he places the guilt on the American people. His thinking being; If you want an end to the death penalty -> amend Constitution -> and I (Scalia) will rule against the state or federal sentences of execution every time.

By the way I agree with you, the death penalty is not a deterrent, and racial imbalance is not a good case against it. Otherwise the racial imbalance folks would not object to executing more white people, when they should just admit they are against all executions as I am too.

Hi Gina,

I think it's pretty obvious the justice system is systemically racist. If that were fixed, however, it wouldn't make the death penalty anymore just. If it were possible never to convict anyone who wasn't guilty beyond any doubt, whatsoever, it wouldn't be any more just or make any more sense. The criminal justice system should simply confine itself to preventing injustice. The justice system is fascinated with its power to harm and create situations where people can be harmed. It sends the message, o k, if you want to harm someone go ahead but you'll have to pay for that if you get caught, then we'll be even. How does that keep anyone safe?

As far as Scalia goes this is where he's coming from:,8599,2020667,00.html

I went to Catholic High School where corporal punishment was allowed. People tell me how "brilliant" he is. I know his kind. He's a fascist bully of the worst order. Yeah, he did his homework. So what?

I'm sorry Geena. I meant Geena, not Gina.

Thank you!
It takes a big person to take time to spell a name right : )

Never could justify killing anyone, regardless of their crime. So many have tried to kill us and we are no better for trying to kill them (in retribution , preemptively, in fear or self-defense.) If human life has even a little value two killings is always a greater loss than one.