Two men were murdered by the state last night in ‘legal executions’ in Texas and Georgia, respectively. Lawrence Russel Brewer was a white supremacist who committed a vile hate crime and was sentenced to death for it, in the face of outcry from the victim’s family, which opposed capital punishment in the case. Troy Davis was a man who was, in all probability, innocent of a 1989 shooting of a police officer, but spent half his life on death row nonetheless. A literal last minute delay from the Supreme Court ended with an eventual denial of a stay—four hours after his scheduled execution, prison officials began the process. Speaking after the killing, Davis’ attorney reiterated his statement that this was a judicial lynching.
Another man, Derrick Mason, is scheduled to die in Alabama tonight. Supporters of his clemency request include the judge who originally sentenced him to death, who argues that he would not issue such a sentence in that case today and regrets very much having done so at the time. Like many Black men who encounter the justice system in the United States, Mason had inadequate legal representation and his attorneys failed to introduce mitigating circumstances during his trial. Death by bad lawyer is a not uncommon sentence in the United States.
For a very brief period in the 1970s, the United States suspended the use of the death penalty. It was a golden moment for the nation, which could have seized it and become a leader in the abolition of capital punishment worldwide. Growing numbers of countries refuse to perform capital punishment, and the United States is on an increasingly shrinking list of nations it normally wouldn’t want to associate with. The condemnation of these nations for human rights violations seems especially galling in the face of the cold-blooded murder of people in execution chambers across 34 states.