The impending executions of two prison inmates have gained national and international prominence, but they are two very different cases.
The Georgia case of Troy Davis has attracted hundreds of thousands of supporters, including the Pope, because they believe Davis might be innocent. Whereas in the Texas case of Duane Buck, his lawyers make no question of his guilt. They argue Buck’s sentencing was unfair because of racially biased testimony at his sentencing hearing.
Last week the Supreme Court of the United States granted a last-minute stay of Buck's execution while they review the claims of his defense team. He was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend, Debra Gardner and Kenneth Butler in 1995. The Troy Davis case is fraught with different problems. His advocates believe the case was based on weak eyewitness testimony and a lack of physical evidence to prove Davis shot and killed an off-duty police officer, Mark MacPhail, in 1989.
Even some proponents of the death penalty, such as former U.S. Congressman Bob Barr, have urged clemency writing, "it is clear now that the doubts plaguing his case can never be adequately addressed." Davis' lethal injection is scheduled for Wednesday.
Why hasn’t Davis’ defense team been able to convince appeals courts? Why has the Buck case caught the special attention of the Supreme Court? Was there racial bias at the sentencing hearing?
Lisa McElroy, Associate Professor of Law, Drexel University's Earle Mack School of Law & writer of the Plain English Column on SCOTUSblog.com