PARIS — Even in a region long disdainful of U.S. attitudes toward the death penalty, public officials, editorial writers and activists across Western Europe reacted with fury Thursday to news that Troy Davis was executed in Georgia on Wednesday night.
Despite the divisive sovereign debt crisis, the sagging economy, and conflict in the Middle East, the media in Britain, France, and elsewhere devoted continuous coverage to the Davis case this week, emphasizing that Davis — a black man — had been convicted of killing a white police officer in a Southern state. Many commentators denounced U.S. justice as brutal and flawed.
More than anything, however, the outcry underlined the profound divergence in opinion concerning capital punishment in the United States and Western Europe, where the death penalty is no longer a topic of debate.
“The United States are a very democratic country, but these are barbaric practices,” said Laurent Fabius, a prominent Socialist lawmaker and former French prime minister, speaking on Europe 1 radio.
Robert Badinter, who as justice minister oversaw the abolition of the death penalty in France in 1981, called Davis’ execution a “defeat for humanity.”
“This affair will remain as a stain on the justice system of the United States,” Badinter said.
Convicted of the 1989 killing of a Savannah, Ga., police officer, Davis, 42, maintained his innocence until the end. He was put to death by lethal injection after the Supreme Court declined to act on a petition from his lawyers to stay the execution.
Although other U.S. death penalty cases have attracted world attention in recent decades, Davis’ case provoked particular interest, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit group in Washington. In part, he said, the outrage reflected Amnesty International’s decision to publicize the case several years ago.
Hundreds of protesters had gathered outside the U.S. embassies in London and Paris on Wednesday to call for a stay of execution. The European Union had repeatedly urged the same, given what Catherine Ashton, the bloc’s foreign policy chief, called the “serious and compelling doubts” about Davis’ guilt.
“The EU opposes the use of capital punishment in all cases and under all circumstances, and calls for a global moratorium as a first step towards its universal abolition,” Ashton said in a statement.
In Germany, Claudia Roth, a leader of the Green Party, said Davis’ death was “a cynical and inhumane spectacle that occasions mourning and horror.” Tom Chivers, an editor at The Daily Telegraph in Britain, called capital punishment a “barbaric hangover from an Old Testament morality.” Even Americans who support it, he wrote, must “want it to be credible — a terrible judgment passed down upon the guilty, not a savage lottery of murder.”