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.
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.