When Troy Davis was executed in Georgia last month for the 1989 murder of police officer Mark MacPhail, opponents of capital punishment nevertheless took solace in hoping that the death penalty was on its way to being abolished.
After all, Davis had more going for him than almost any of the 1,270 U.S. prisoners put to death since 1976. About 650,000 Americans had signed petitions opposing his execution. Those pleading for his life included Pope Benedict XVI, former President Jimmy Carter and former FBI director William Sessions.
Seven of the original nine eyewitnesses had recanted their testimony. Thus, the possibility remained that Davis was innocent. But likely, we will never know. Once a suspect has been executed, the justice system does not encourage further investigation.
Some of those who favored the execution say they did so on the premise that the death of Davis will bring closure to the family of Officer MacPhail.
But Jeanne Woodford doubts that assessment. As former warden of San Quentin State Prison, she became so distressed by a lifetime of helping administer the death penalty that on May 12 she took on a radically different post: executive director of Death Penalty Focus, a San Francisco-based group opposed to capital punishment. She was one of six ex-wardens opposed to the killing of Davis.
"The death penalty serves no one." Woodford has said. "It doesn't serve the victims. It doesn't serve prevention. It's truly all about retribution."
She is not alone. In the following paragraphs, 25 other notable people, widely quoted on a variety of websites, express their views on capital punishment, a subject that may well be on the California ballot next year.
A justice's view
1. "... the death penalty is imposed not only in a freakish and discriminatory manner, but also in some cases upon defendants who are actually innocent."
Supreme Court Justice William Brennan Jr.
2. "I was eight years old when my father was murdered. It is almost impossible to describe the pain of losing a parent to a senseless murder ... But even as a child, one thing was clear to me: I didn't want the killer, in turn, to be killed. I remember lying in bed and praying, `Please, God. Please don't take his life, too.' I saw nothing that could be accomplished in the loss of one life being answered with the loss of another."
Kerry Kennedy, daughter of the late Sen. Bobby Kennedy.
3. "If not remedied, the scandalous state of our present system of capital punishment will cast a pall of shame over our society for years to come. We cannot let it continue."
Justice Thurgood Marshall, 1990.
4. "You believe an eye for an eye until you are put in that situation. If they kill those guys, it really doesn't mean much to me. My father is gone."
Basketball player Michael Jordan on the murderers of his father, James.
5. "Government ... can't be trusted to control its own bureaucrats or collect taxes equitably or fill a pothole, much less decide which of its citizens to kill."
Sister Helen Prejean, author of "Dead Man Walking."
6. "Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul."
7. "It's just really tragic after all the horrors of the last 1,000 years we can't leave behind something as primitive as government-sponsored execution."
Sen. Russ Feingold.
8. "To top it off, for those of you who are interested in the economics, it costs more to pursue a capital case toward execution than it does to have full life imprisonment without parole."
9. "Capital punishment, like the rest of the criminal justice system, is a government program, so skepticism is in order."
10. "A humane and generous concern for every individual, his health and his fulfillment, will do more to soothe the savage heart than the fear of state-inflicted death, which chiefly serves to remind us how close we remain to the jungle."
U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark.
11. "When you execute a man who has been on death row seven, eight, 10 or 12 years, you are not executing the same man that came in."
Don Cabana, former warden of Mississippi's Parchman Penitentiary.
12. "Here I want to say that one must be careful in searching his soul ... one may just find that God is there and that he does not support the barbaric idea that man should execute man."
Ron McAndrew, former warden of Florida State Prison.
13. "To me the death penalty is vengeance, and vengeance doesn't really help anyone in the healing process."
Bud Welch, board president, Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights. His daughter, Julie, was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing.
14. "No man has the right to take God's place and say another man should die. It destroyed my life."
Perry Cobb, who spent eight years on Illinois' death row for a crime he did not commit. He was exonerated in 1987.
District attorney's view
15. "California's death penalty is ... an incredibly costly penalty, and the money would be better spent keeping kids in school, keeping teachers and counselors in their schools and giving the juvenile justice system the resources it needs."
Former Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti.
16. "Capital punishment is the most premeditated of murders."
French philosopher Albert Camus.
17. "My overriding belief is that it is always possible for criminals to improve and that by its very finality the death penalty contradicts this."
The Dalai Lama.
18. "People who are well represented at trial do not get the death penalty."
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
19. "To say that the death of any other person would be just retribution is to insult the immeasurable worth of our loved ones who are victims."
Marietta Jaeger. Her daughter, Susie, age 7, was kidnapped and murdered in 1973.
20. "I do not think that God approved the death penalty for any crime, rape and murdered included. Capital punishment is against the best judgment of modern criminology and, above all, against the highest expression of love in the nature of God."
Martin Luther King Jr.
21. "I do not believe any civilized society should be at the service of death. I don't think it's human to become an Angel of Death."
Nobel laureate, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.
22. "The reality is that capital punishment in America is a lottery. It is a punishment that is shaped by the constraints of poverty, race, geography and local politics."
Bryan Stevenson, death row lawyer.
23. "Most people approve of capital punishment, but most people wouldn't do the hangman's job."
24. "I believe that no one should be executed, guilty or innocent. There are appropriate sanctions that protect society and punish wrongdoers without forcing us to stoop to the level of the least among us at his or her worst moment."
Actor and activist Mike Farrell.
25. "I have come to think that capital punishment should be abolished."
Jack Kemp, Republican vice presidential candidate, 1996.