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States in a race to be No. 1 in death

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With time ticking away on the death-watch clock, the state of Georgia on Tuesday steamrolled all reasonable doubt about the guilt of Troy Davis. He’s now cleared to die by lethal injection, an impressive win for the Peach State’s killing machine, which has racked up 51 executions since the United States reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

Davis’s death, scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, will put Georgia one kill closer to Alabama, which has 53 executions and 206 inmates on death row. One more dead man walking after Davis, and the two Dixie neighbors will be tied at sixth place on the nation’s Top 10 State-Sponsored Killers list.

That’s still a long way from the No. 1 ranked skull-and crossbones-state of Texas (474 killings; 321 on death row) and No. 2 Virginia (109 killings; 11 on death row). But Georgia has shown hellacious determination to score one for the Grim Reaper. And with 103 inmates still on death row, the state is poised to surge into the top five.

America, we’ve got some exciting races to the death house underway, so there ought to be little wonder that Texas Gov. Rick Perry was cheered recently for unabashedly endorsing the liberal administration of the death penalty.

According to a recent Gallup poll, about 64 percent of Americans support capital punishment, and about one-third say that killing innocent people is a “natural cost of an important punishment.”

So don’t expect too many people to be put off by cases like that of Cameron Willingham, who was put to death by Texas in 2004 after being convicted of setting his house on fire and deliberately killing his three children inside. Turned out that the evidence against him was doubtful and a subsequent investigation found evidence of a crime unconvincing.

Of those who believed that an innocent person had probably been executed during the past five years, about 57 percent still favor the death penalty, according to the Gallup poll.

For those in the civilized world who profess not to understand the American fascination with legalized killing, check out “Struck by Lightning: The Continuing Arbitrariness of the Death Penalty Thirty Five Years After Its Re-instatement in 1976,” by Richard C. Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

Dieter notes that from 2000 to 2007, 35 death row inmates were found to be innocent of the crimes of which they were convicted.

Back in 1991, Davis got the death penalty after being convicted of killing an off-duty police officer in Savannah two years earlier. But with no physical evidence linking him to the crime, and with seven of nine witnesses later recanting their testimony and others coming forth to say someone else had confessed to the crime, Davis managed to hold off three attempted executions on appeal.

On further review in November, U.S. District Judge William T. Moore Jr. let the original call stand. “While the State’s case may not be ironclad, most reasonable jurors would again vote to convict,” Moore wrote.

Davis’s final effort was a “Hail Mary” before the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole on Monday.

Pope Benedict XVI and Bishop Desmond Tutu weighed in, intimating that the government’s case against Davis stank to high heaven. With so much doubt, they argued, the least the state could do was commute the sentence to life in prison.

But their pleas were in vain.

Until he is put to death, Davis will be showered with goodies. He will be allowed visits from family and friends. Religious leaders will gather to soothe his soul. He’ll get to eat whatever he wants, and more people will be tuned in to his last words than he could ever imagine.

In Georgia, they knock you out first with some powerful narcotic so you won’t feel it when the other drugs collapse your lungs and stop your heart.

Or so we’re told.

Unlike our global death-penalty partners — China, for instance, where they shoot you, or Iran, where they stone you — our killing game is humane.

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