Maybe he was no saint. But to opponents of the death penalty, Troy Davis has become a martyr sacrificed on an altar of indifference to common sense, fair play and ultimately justice.
There are no mulligans on death row.
So if the state of Georgia is going to extract the ultimate sanction in taking a life, doesn't it stand to reason that the prisoner strapped to a gurney awaiting a lethal injection should really be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt?
Is this really too much to ask of a supposedly civilized society?
It is noteworthy that on the same day Davis met his official fate as a convicted cop killer, in Texas white supremacist Lawrence Russell Brewer was also executed for his role in the 1998 murder of James Byrd Jr., a black man dragged to his death behind a pickup truck.
No doubts. No questions. No problem.
Even die-hard capital punishment foes would have a hard time generating much sympathy for Brewer. One less violent, racist slug. At least it's a start.
Davis is another issue entirely.
Yes, the 1989 murder of Savannah police Officer Mark MacPhail was a tragedy. And yes, someone should pay for taking this man away from his family. But shouldn't we be sure that someone was the actual shooter? Without a scintilla of reservation?
By now, the facts surrounding Davis' claim of innocence in the killing of MacPhail are well-known. Seven of the nine so-called eye witnesses against him at trial later recanted their testimony, with some claiming they were coerced by law enforcement to give false evidence.
No murder weapon was found. And no DNA evidence linked Davis to the crime scene.
And yet Troy Davis was repeatedly denied a new trial.
We should expect better of the United States Supreme Court, which seemed all too happy to join the star chamber proceedings against Davis.
For four hours Wednesday evening the justices dithered over whether to grant Davis a stay of execution, eventually issuing a terse one-sentence ruling denying the condemned man relief.
What was the vote? We may never know. The ruling was unsigned.
The public should have a right to know, and certainly Davis should have had a right to know, which justices believed witness recantations, possible witness tampering and a lack of evidence in a death penalty case are not sufficient reasons to stop an execution.
There is a reasonable possibility the state of Georgia executed an innocent man this week.
It certainly makes it more difficult for the United States to run around the globe passing itself off as a beacon of freedom and justice and fair play, when the courts of the land appear to be unwilling, or unable, or oblivious to exhausting every possible avenue to make sure the people it executes are guilty of the crimes for which they have been charged.
Perhaps Davis and the witnesses who recanted were all part of some grand conspiracy to free him from death row. Perhaps. But in the absence of a more revealing evidentiary hearing, we'll never know. The Supreme Court made sure of that.
For death penalty supporters, the Davis case should give pause.
Because of the work of organizations such as the Innocence Project, 17 death row inmates have been exonerated through the application of DNA testing.
Innocent people have been condemned to death. In all probability, innocent people have been put to death. That's not a judicial system. It's an inquisition gussied up under American flags, impressive Corinthian courthouse columns and hollow platitudes like "Equal Justice Under The Law."
For state legislatures contemplating abolishing the death penalty, the Davis case becomes exhibit A, raising a simple question.
Aren't we better than the travesty of state-sanctioned vigilante justice meted out to Troy Davis?
On Wednesday night at least, the answer was: apparently not.