The Execution of Troy Anthony Davis

14 Sep

I’ve never been able to make up my mind about capital punishment in general – some days I lean towards it, some days I’m decidedly against it. I would like to say that the humanist in me is instinctively repulsed by state-sanctioned murder, except that’s simply not true. Some mornings I wake up absolutely convinced that for some people and certain crimes, execution is the only answer. I don’t defend it, but neither do I apologize for this ambivalence. We’re talking about taking a life and balancing it against a heinous crime – if I want to second-guess myself, that’s what I’m going to do.

The one argument that always holds me back from wholeheartedly supporting capital punishment, however, is the possibility of a miscarriage of justice. We like to think that this is something that doesn’t happen too often and that capital cases have plenty of checks and balances built into it.

But how does one cope with cases like that of Troy Anthony Davis of Georgia? It goes like this:

Mark Allen MacPhail, a 27 year old Savannah, Georgia police officer, was moonlighting as a security guard at a bus station in Georgia in the early hours of 19 August 1989. He was shot attempting to break up a melee in a Burger King parking lot. In full uniform he ran to stop a man who was striking a homeless man, Larry Young, with a .38 pistol. The assailant ran off. When MacPhail called out for him to stop, the assailant shot him under his bullet-proof vest and then in the head as he fell. Earlier a man named Michael Cooper was shot by a .38 calibre bullet while leaving a party in nearby Cloverdale. It was suggested in court that the same gun that wounded Cooper was used to kill MacPhail.

The man arrested for the murder was the then-19-year-old Davis, “a former coach in the Savannah Police Athletic League who had signed up for the Marines” who was convicted through the testimony of nine eye-witnesses in the absence of any physical evidence linking him to the crime or the murder weapon, a .38.

In the 18 years that have passed since then, seven of those eyewitnesses have recanted their testimony citing police coercion (a charge the prosecution does not deny), one of the remaining eyewitnesses has allegedly been heard boasting that he committed the murder, and his appeals have been repeatedly rejected on technical grounds (link above) even though everyone from Desmond Tutu to a former Director of the FBI have written letters on his behalf:

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), a federal law passed in 1996 to limit appeals and expedite death sentences, forced federal courts to reject Davis’s pleas on procedural grounds, said legal experts.

And now for the final irony: the US Supreme Court will convene on the 29th of this month to look at Davis’ case; but the state of Georgia will put Davis to death on the 23rd. Davis’ sister Marina talks about what happened last week in front of the Parole Board:

The next morning when Martina, her lawyers and witnesses appeared before the Parole Board, she says the only thing she found a bit strange was the fact that the new Chair person Gale Buckner was being nice unlike the last time when she came across as hostile. Witness after witness came forward to talk about police and prosecutorial coercion and misconduct.
At one point when one of the witnesses said how she was asked not to change her story then by the Prosecutors for fear of perjury, Martina says Gale Buckner got very agitated and said to the witness, are you telling me you lied then?” The witness said, “Yes I was lying and I told the prosecutors it wasn’t Troy.
Martina adds, “The Board had enough information the first time to know that this case was full of inconsistencies and this time around compounded with all that they heard, it was more than enough not just to commute his sentence but to pardon Troy. Buckner also told me that the Board will not be making any decision for the next 3-4 days because they have so much information to go through. It was shocking for me then to be called in barely 30 minutes after the Prosecutors had come out after presenting their case, to find out that they had a typed statement ready and had called a press conference to say that they were denying clemency to Troy.

And that’s where matters stand right now: Davis is set to be executed at 7 p.m. on the 23rd of September. Less than 10 days from now. Kavita Chhibber has an indepth history of the case up on her site. It’s one of the most disturbing things I’ve read lately, a witch’s broth of racism, media-meddling, injustice, and tragedy – not only for Davis and his family, but also for the slain police officer and his family in my opinion.

If you would like to help, then the link above has email addresses and phone numbers that you can call.

“Regardless of whether he did it or not,” says Rodgers, ‘ there are so many inconsistencies in the prosecutor’s case, so many moments of doubt, so many cracks, both from witness recantations to the prosecutor’s narrative of the case itself that there is no way Troy Davis should be executed. Everyone gets very emotional because a police officer was killed… But the key issue is-Should he be executed because if he is they can’t take it back. This is not an open and shut case. There is more than reasonable doubt and just for that reason Troy Davis should not be executed. We can then sit for the next 20 years and discuss the legalities but executing a man in a system that supposedly believes every one to be innocent until proven guilty this would be a shame. Yes he was proven guilty but not beyond a reasonable doubt.”

UpdateL Troy Anthony Davis gets an eleventh hour reprieve.


Posted by on September 14, 2008 in Life, News


14 responses to “The Execution of Troy Anthony Davis

  1. ana

    September 15, 2008 at 1:51 am

    Once again. . . a miscarriage of justice.

    How the hell does it make sense for the Supreme Court to convene to rule on this case six days after Davis is scheduled to be executed???

  2. Kavita Chhibber

    September 15, 2008 at 2:45 am

    Thank you for posting this Amrita.
    It doesn’t matter which part of the world you are in. I have links to email the Parole Board, the US Dept of Justice, the White House. The Parole Board can still be pressured into stepping in and stop this execution. I hope to meet Troy this weekend. His lawyers left for Washington D.C on Friday itself after clemency was denied by the Parole Board, to urge the US Supreme Court to ask for an emergency stay on the execution. All your emails will make a difference.
    This is the worst case of racial bias and a screwed up judicial system that one could come across. It has never happened in 100 years that 7 out of 9 witnesses have recanted their testimony citing police and prosecutors’ pressuring them.. And one of the remaining two is the prime suspect. Two of the witnesses didn’t even know how to read and signed a document given to them, not knowing what it was.
    So please reach out.
    Thank you

  3. memsaab

    September 15, 2008 at 11:45 am

    I can never bring myself to agree with the death penalty, even in cases where guilt is clear. I just don’t see how it doesn’t put as at the same level as the criminals we’re putting to death.

    Truthfully, if I were facing life in prison or the death sentence, I’d probably rather be put to death.

    And cases like this just make me even more adamant about being anti-death penalty. I shudder to think how many innocent people–and how many people with extenuating circumstances that most people would have compassion for—we’ve killed. I’ll definitely visit the link above and do what I can.

  4. Pitu

    September 15, 2008 at 11:47 am

    Why am I not surprised?

    Black man + State of Georgia. Hmmph.

    Kavita, I will definitely send emails. Thank you for organizing this.

  5. sachita

    September 15, 2008 at 5:42 pm

    Ridiculous, such blatant racism in these times. What are we writing the “the killing of mocking bird” all over again.

    I do support death penalties(assuming the rarest of rare cases) but I always thought the long time the state takes to execute would be enough to prove some one as not guilty and will be awarded only in gruesome cases when proven beyond doubt. but clearly I was wrong.

  6. Val Pearson

    September 16, 2008 at 1:02 am

    Thank you so much for posting this article. i will be emailing on the parole boards and any other email that I can fine. I just want to sit here and cry at what the justice system is doing to Troy. I will pray for you and your family. I am going to post the link to this story if that is ok. Please have faith that all will be ok.

  7. Hades

    September 16, 2008 at 9:11 am

    From the way you’ve represented it (and that’s the only representation I know. Haven’t heard of this case before), it seems racial prejudice had a role to play in this man’s conviction. Which, if it’s true, is a shame.

    While even for some crimes, say the Dhanonjoy Chatterjee case, it seems but natural that death is the only punishment harsh enough to merit the crime.

    But looking at it dispassionately, I really can’t think of the death penalty serving any purpose. Crimes of passion like that can’t be prevented by stuff as inane as a death penalty. That leaves organised crime. Quite frankly to me that’s a bit open. Can you prevent the rise of a Dawood Ibrahim by threatening him with death? Since he is a big fish, hasn’t he faced death earlier as a gangster? That didn’t stop him; will this death threat stop him?

    Of course we are all human (even me with all my superhuman qualities). The death penalty serves to quench our lust for revenge, even if that revenge might not necessarily serve any constructive purpose.


  8. Amrita

    September 16, 2008 at 2:41 pm

    Ana – They set the execution date AFTER the SC set its date afaik. it makes me wonder if all they want is an execution and to be done with it. Horrible.

    Kavita – thanks for sending me the link.

    Memsaab – I can see both sides of that argument. Some days I feel exactly like that and cases like Davis’ really make me believe that. But then there are other days when I think, “well, so what if it is state sponsored revenge? Some crimes just deserve it.” In the case of Davis however, I think he definitely deserves another look.

    Pitu – Just when you think we lived in a better world than that, huh?

    Sachita – some of the information this case provided shocked me too. I had the exact same view as you i.e. that the time taken would take care of any irregularities. And guess what, that’s precisely what that law does away with.

    Val – every little bit counts. Please link to the Davis website as well (link provided above).

    Hades – I hadn’t heard about this case either, another thing that makes me absolutely angry. Had Kavita not sent me a link, I wouldn’t have even known about it. But having read through not only her report but that from other sources including HuffPo and Time, I definitely think this man deserves another look if not clemency.
    As far as the death penalty goes, you’re right, it’s ultimately about revenge. I don’t agree with people who think this is justice, it’s about punishing an individual more than it making a difference to the victim. I’ve also always wondered if it is actually as much of a deterrent as it’s supposed to be. Which is why I’m so ambivalent about it. Like Memsaab, if I were in such a situation, I’d much rather die and get it over with than spend the rest of my life in a cage. So… it’s all a wash I suppose

  9. Kavita Chhibber

    September 23, 2008 at 9:02 pm

    90 minutes before he was to be executed, the US Supreme Court Stopped the execution. The court will decide on the 29th whether to reopen the case.

  10. Amrita

    September 23, 2008 at 11:43 pm

    Kavita – that is the best news I’ve heard all day! Updating post in a bit. Thanks for the head’s up.

  11. Kavita Chhibber

    September 24, 2008 at 12:39 am

    Please hear Troy’s interview on my website. This is the only interview he has done. We talked on sunday 21st September and his faith in God is unbelievable. He is totally at peace with himself and very elevated spiritually-no bitterness, no rancour-
    Please email the white house and if in the US write asap to the US Supreme court to review the case. He has only a week’s reprieve- and they may decide on monday they don’t want to hear it. All the info is on my website. Thanks

  12. ana

    September 24, 2008 at 9:43 pm

    Great news about the reprieve. I’ll be praying that the case is reopened, nahiN tau this is going to kill my already diminishing faith in our justice system.

  13. E Pradeep

    September 24, 2008 at 11:29 pm

    I have always advocated against the use of death penalty but when someone asked me to see myself in the shoes of the people who have been through the Khairlanji massacre or some of the most gruesome incidents that have happened, I was not too sure what to say. We can look at the issue analytically and logically but would I be looking at so dispaasionately if it were to happen to me? I do not know but deep inside, I feel that violence can never beget a solution.

    Being rescued at the last minute gives this incident a very filmy style look; hope the reprieve lasts. The Times of India reports today that Obama may lose quite a few votes because of the colour of his skin – some things just do not change so fast whether here or in the West.

  14. kavita chhibber

    October 9, 2008 at 7:03 am

    Troy Davis turns 40 today – and he still waits for some reason to celebrate this day.

    As a kid he loved G.I. Joe and got many of those figurines for his birthday, recalls sister Martina Correia. Birthdays were fun events in the family backyard with cake, ice cream and hot dogs and some nice gifts. Martina was not around when Troy turned 16, a special birthday for any teenager but sent him gifts while training in the Military. Little would she know that his 21st birthday would be behind bars and on death row.

    A maximum security prison is hardly the perfect haven to celebrate a special occasion. That too of inmates whose spirit is being broken through isolation, bad nutrition, and a non productive life style.
    The only exceptions are July 4th when they get Hamburgers and Hot dogs to celebrated Independence day, or when a convict is executed. Then the guards get a special barbecue meal. When an inmate receives a lot of cards they may just acknowledge the birthday briefly as the guards read the mail. Once a month they rent a DVD and the inmates can watch a movie. There is a TV which is controlled by the guards and the inmates can watch that.

    They were allowed unlimited books-not any more. Now its seven, the number of visitors too has been cut down drastically and there are not many activities except for a short outing in an enclosed area with a basketball hoop where they can shoot baskets on concrete floors.

    “Many inmates have diabetes and hypertension because of the food they get to eat,” says Martina. “There are many inmates with HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis, and don’t get medical treatment. The inmates have to pay 5 dollars each time they visit the doctor and if there is no family to finance them, then they remain untreated unless they are dying.”

    Last year a death row inmate died of cancer and a major news paper reported it as-death row inmate escapes execution-dies of cancer.”

    The winter months are harsh. The inmates sleep with 4-5 thin military style blankets, the heating is inadequate. “Last year to conserve energy, they cut off the hot water daily from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. and so many people fell sick taking cold baths. If someone sends you money, they charge you a dollar per month as tax in he prison. The inmate has to buy everything from the prison store, so that the prison can make some money.”

    Martina says her family has never been far away from Troy. They used to send Troy 3-4 boxes of things that he could use, but now its been cut to one 15 pound box once a year. Martina and her family has visited Troy for every birthday, and every holiday they could. They have sent individual cards from each family member and friend. Cards that said-even though he is across the miles, he is with them. “We have a present under the Christmas tree for Troy each year. The pile is waiting for him, when he comes back. My mother still wakes up at 6 a.m. every Sunday to cook an elaborate Sunday dinner as if she is still cooking for a houseful of growing kids. Troy used to love her cooking and ate everything!”

    Martina helped organize an event last weekend on a 2 day notice for leading members of the NAACP. There is great support from the state and national NAACP. Music and wonderful speeches, shared stories of atrocities on young black men in the late 80s by those who experienced it, walking to the crime scene where it all happened, made it a memorable event.”

    The US Supreme Court asked for more time to look at the information before it hears arguments about the case on Friday and expects to give its decision on Tuesday, the 14th of October.
    There are millions across the world praying for Troy Davis and that he finally finds justice. Troy himself is praying along with his family, for justice not just for himself but also for the MacPhail family.

    As we wait and the world watches, all eyes are on the US Supreme Court. We hope they do the right thing and give Troy Davis the justice he deserves.

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