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Georgia’s Killing of Troy Davis: A State-Sponsored Miscarriage of Justice

| September 21, 2011

Troy Davis

Troy Davis

Last Updated: 10:30 p.m.

10:30 p.m. update: US Supreme Court has rejected Davis’s final appeal.

9:01 p.m. update: Absolutely disgusting, the Georgia State Police’s display of force–100 troopers in riot gear, choppers, more cop cars than in Sugarland Express, eyeballing the crowd. How can that be necessary? How can that not be inflaming? Details from the Journal-Constitution: “A convoy of troopers in at least 15 cars arrived to join their colleagues at the site. Meanwhile, officials from the Atlanta University Center and Savannah State University asked their students at the protest to return to their buses to return to their respective campuses. The departure of at least three busloads of students appeared to reduce the crowd by about a third or more.” So the crowd thins. Cops swell up.

8:20 p.m. update: The Supreme Court is taking an unusually long time to make its decision–or to take no decision, though legally speaking, Georgia could go ahead with the execution–and could have done so as of 7 p.m. The delay from the court suggests wither that all nine justices have not had a chance to weigh in, or that some disagreement is in play. Meanwhile, this is what the Journal-Constitution reported a little while ago: “MacPhail’s mother Anneliese, surrounded by friends and relatives at her home, was leafing through photos of her son, and in her words “smoking like a steam engine” as she awaited word on whether the execution would proceed tonight.” No word on what’s going on inside the prison, where the last hour and twenty minutes could not have been anything less than torture for Davis: another illustration of the barbarity of it all. Outside the prison, cops in riot gear lined up as if it were Kent State, circa 2011, though the protesters throughout these days and weeks of protests have never been anything but peaceful. It’s the state whose violence is in question, as it is again with this contrived display of force.

6:56 p.m. update: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is reporting in a headline that the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected Davis’s appeal. But no other news organization has that development yet, and the Atlanta paper itself doesn’t elaborate past its headline. Nevertheless, because of the last-minute appeal, the execution has been delayed past its scheduled 7 p.m. time.

As it turned out, at 7:05 p.m., the paper corrected its headline, reverting back to its previous headline saying only that the Georgia Supreme Court had rejected the appeal. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision is still pending.

6:02 p.m. update: From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Davis’ chance to be spared execution suffered a blow this afternoon as first Superior Court Judge Thomas Wilson declined to issue a stay and then the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously rejected Davis’ final bid. Davis’ lawyers will now appeal to the the U.S. Supreme Court, his last chance for relief.”

At 7 p.m. tonight Troy Davis is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at the Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, Ga.

It is the latest death penalty case involving a conviction that does not pass the reasonable doubt test: a mountain of doubt has accumulated since the conviction. Those doubts include revelations of slapdash, intentionally contaminating and manipulative police work, seven of nine witnesses’ recanting their testimonies (let’s be precise: partially recanted part of their testimonies), the confession to the killing by the man who first accused Davis, and race, never a distant motive in capital-case convictions in the South, again playing a role. The required standard for the death penalty is not merely that the victim is guilty of a capital crime, but that guilt is beyond reasonable doubt. It is beyond doubt that that standard was never met in Davis’s case, and that a steady stream of new evidence has only intensified the doubt.

Still, the Georgia Parole Board, which alone can stop the execution at this point, said it will not do so.

Davis will have spent six of his last 10 hours (from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.) with family. He’ll have had his last meal at 4 p.m. Unlike some states, Davis won’t get a choice. Georgia death row inmates eat the same meal as the rest of the 2,100 inmates at the Jackson prison. Today’s dinner: a cheeseburger, potatoes, baked beans, slaw, cookies and a grape drink.

Editor’s Blog

As always with death row inmates, Davis has been on death watch for several days: in one of the more scabrous of many scabrous features of the death-penalty ritual, prison guards don’t want inmates taking their own life. That would be giving them too much freedom. They want the fun reserved for the dirtied solemnity of the state’s routine of what amounts to to state-sponsored murder, a more premeditated and indefensible sort than the kind that lands murderers on death row to start with. Today’s planned killing heightens the barbarity of the spectacle, and of the government’s crime, which in this case very likely exceeds that of Davis.

He wouldn’t be the first, nor the hundredth, victim of a wrongful execution. According to the Innocence Project, 273 people facing the death penalty have been exonerated since 1989 through DNA testing in the United States. Not surprisingly, 70 percent of those exonerated were minorities, who are disproportionately represented on death row.

Eyewitness testimonies, alone used to convict Davis, is often unreliable, and certainly was so in Davis’s case.

On August 19, 1989, Mark MacPhail, an off-duty cop, was working security at the Greyhound Bus Terminal connected to the Burger King at 601 W. Oglethorpe Avenue in Savannah. At about 1 a.m., MacPhail went to the Burger King parking lot to breakup a fight. McPhail was shot and killed: a bullet to the face, a bullet to the heart. He was married, he had a 2-year-old daughter and a younger son. Four days later, Davis surrendered to police in connection with the events that night, which involved a lot more than that particular shooting and several other people. He pleaded not guilty to the killing.

“This case has attracted worldwide attention, but it is, in essence, no different from other capital cases,” The Times writes today. “Across the country, the legal process for the death penalty has shown itself to be discriminatory, unjust and incapable of being fixed. Just last week, the Supreme Court granted a stay of execution for Duane Buck, an African-American, hours before he was to die in Texas because a psychologist testified during his sentencing that Mr. Buck’s race increased the chances of future dangerousness. Case after case adds to the many reasons why the death penalty must be abolished.”

Davis is facing execution for the fourth time. His killing was scheduled three times before: July 17, 2007, Sep. 23, 2008 and Oct. 27, 2008. It’s unlikely to be halted this time, ensuring a miscarriage of justice.

Amazingly, at two minutes to 7 p.m., CNN ran the cheeky story of a woman with a big Afro whose hair was searched by airport security. The story ran all the way to 7 p.m. And we wonder why few people give a flying fling when something like today’s killing takes place. The woman with the Afro, incidentally, was flying out of Atlanta.

–Pierre Tristam

Below is a letter from Troy Davis published by News One for Black America, to which I was alerted by Brad Davis at our the FlaglerLive Facebook page. (Thanks Brad).

I want to thank all of you for your efforts and dedication to Human Rights and Human Kindness, in the past year I have experienced such emotion, joy, sadness and never ending faith. It is because of all of you that I am alive today, as I look at my sister Martina I am marveled by the love she has for me and of course I worry about her and her health, but as she tells me she is the eldest and she will not back down from this fight to save my life and prove to the world that I am innocent of this terrible crime.

As I look at my mail from across the globe, from places I have never ever dreamed I would know about and people speaking languages and expressing cultures and religions I could only hope to one day see first hand. I am humbled by the emotion that fills my heart with overwhelming, overflowing Joy. I can’t even explain the insurgence of emotion I feel when I try to express the strength I draw from you all, it compounds my faith and it shows me yet again that this is not a case about the death penalty, this is not a case about Troy Davis, this is a case about Justice and the Human Spirit to see Justice prevail.

I cannot answer all of your letters but I do read them all, I cannot see you all but I can imagine your faces, I cannot hear you speak but your letters take me to the far reaches of the world, I cannot touch you physically but I feel your warmth everyday I exist.

So Thank you and remember I am in a place where execution can only destroy your physical form but because of my faith in God, my family and all of you I have been spiritually free for some time and no matter what happens in the days, weeks to come, this Movement to end the death penalty, to seek true justice, to expose a system that fails to protect the innocent must be accelerated. There are so many more Troy Davis’. This fight to end the death penalty is not won or lost through me but through our strength to move forward and save every innocent person in captivity around the globe. We need to dismantle this Unjust system city by city, state by state and country by country.

I can’t wait to Stand with you, no matter if that is in physical or spiritual form, I will one day be announcing,


Never Stop Fighting for Justice and We will Win!

More of New One for Black America Troy Davis coverage here

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21 Responses for “Georgia’s Killing of Troy Davis: A State-Sponsored Miscarriage of Justice”

  1. Kendall says:

    Just heard its going to the US Supreme Court.

    This is an example of everything that’s wrong with our penal system.

    This is not cut & dry.

  2. Jojo says:

    Please, your breaking my heart. Tell that to his two kids. Man is a cop killer. He met his maker!

  3. Liana G says:

    Update…execution delayed as case heads to supreme court.

    Jojo, He did not do it. You can read the full story on Amnesty Int’l website. Being Black with a record does not automatically make one a killer, or cop killer for that matter.

    …”The case against him [Troy Davis] consisted entirely of witness testimony which contained inconsistencies even at the time of the trial. Since then, all but two of the state’s non-police witnesses from the trial have recanted or contradicted their testimony.

    Many of these witnesses have stated in sworn affidavits that they were pressured or coerced by police into testifying or signing statements against Troy Davis.

    One of the two witnesses who has not recanted his testimony is Sylvester “Red” Coles — the principle alternative suspect, according to the defense, against whom there is new evidence implicating him as the gunman. Nine individuals have signed affidavits implicating Sylvester Coles.”…

  4. NortonSmitty says:

    We all should demand that the facts of the case be fully investigated. If there is a question that Troy Davis killed that officer, and there seem to be many, the investigation will end when he is put to death. That means there is a cop killer out there who got away with murder. I can’t understand why this isn’t the priority of every law abiding or law enforcing citizen involved. Seems to me finding out who was the undisputed killer is more important than admitting and preserving a mistake, if that is what it turns out to be.

    Leaving aside that if we did kill an innocent man the blood is on our hands.

  5. Hsart says:

    What Comes around, Goes Around. Eye for an Eye, Tooth for Tooth. Ya Wanna Play Your Gonna PAY!! All you Bleeding hearts out there Cry Out till it Happens to someone in Your Family. Then YOU Demand Justice!! Too bad you dont get a Chance to work in the Corrections Dept. for a short while, It would make You WAKE UP and SICK to know just how many Dirtbags walk away from Crimes they have Committed, after months of Bragging about what they have Done!! Makes Me PUKE!! WAKE UP, Fire up Old Sparkey, ASAP. Dont Try Um, FRY UM!!!!!

  6. NortonSmitty says:

    11.25 PM I guess this is what has come to pass for justice in the land of the free and the home of the brave in 2011 AD. RIP and I pray he did kill that man. Or God have mercy on all our souls for what we allowed to have done by our government in our name.

    It just dawned on me. I want to know why it is that the same people who constantly tell us think that the Government can’t get anything right suddenly believe these same elected idiots are infallible when it comes time to kill one of our country’s citizens using the authority we granted them.

  7. Dede Siebenaler says:

    Was anything really solved tonight?

    7 of 9 witnesses recanting their testimony, citing pressure from the police to “nail” this man.

    Hmmm… I guess that I’ll just think on this one a little more.

  8. palmcoaster says:

    Agree with Liana and this evening for worst I saw on MSNBC that a man or two executed in Texas may have been innocent as well. This is when I think that death penalty should be abolished.

  9. Reno says:

    Justice served.

  10. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    All these Johnny Come Latelys to this case fail to discuss the fact that this man and his supporters have had the chance to prove his innocence many times over, and failed to do so. He has likely had more appeals than just about any other death row inmate, going all the way to the Supreme court many times, and the Supreme court even taking the extraordinary measure of remanding it to the district court in Georgia for an evidentiary hearing which rarely if ever happens. At that hearing Davis’ attorneys had the ability to force the testimony of the so-called confessor of the crime and they didn’t, why not? As the judge stated in his ruling, they chose to wait literally until the last minute (night before) to subpoena Collins (the supposed confessor) simply because they wanted to control which evidence upon which the court should rule.
    The man was found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the murder. The fact that some involved in the case, witnesses and three jurors, have had a change in heart 20+ years later is not in and of itself “new evidence” that proves this man’s innocence. He had ample opportunities to prove his innocence after being found guilty by a jury of his peers (which was made up predominately with minorities). The man offers to take a lie detector test on the day of his execution? Why not take that a year ago? 10 years ago?

    Bottom line, I don’t know that Mr Davis killed Officer McPhail anymore than any of his supporters know that he didn’t. But I do know that our justice system, as flawed as it may be, worked exactly as it should. Mr. Davis was given every possible opportunity to rebut his conviction and failed every time.

  11. Yogi says:

    Obviously the jurors were totally convinced he was guilty. It is no wonder the witnesses change their stories after they face the grind of those who question their motives and judgement day in and day out. Putting someone to death is a hard choice to make. How many of you have ever had to make the choice? The justice system is not perfect, but it is better than no justice. From what I read on these pages day in and day out, no one is safe. People change their minds and their values with the shifting of the winds to suit their own egos and self desires. Moral relativism expands daily and reminds me of the days in Hitler’s Germany.

    • Pierre Tristam says:

      Yogi, the jurors were convinced back then, at the time of the first trial, before the recantation by seven of the nine witnesses on whom the verdict relied. Last night CNN interviewed one juror who said she’d have never gone along with that verdict then had she known what she knows now about those witnesses. None of this is to argue that Davis was not guilty. The question goes to reasonable doubt when applying the death penalty. Reasonable doubt is all over the place. This isn’t a matter of moral relativism, but of applying the rules of the system impartially. The rules were not applied, and every subsequent appeal and decision, including yesterday’s by the Georgia Supreme Court, bled from the same poisoned tree–used in this case, of course, essentially to lynch Davis.

  12. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    “The rules were not applied, and every subsequent appeal and decision, including yesterday’s by the Georgia Supreme Court, bled from the same poisoned tree–used in this case, of course, essentially to lynch Davis.”

    What “rules” were not applied? The jury system we have is set up to evaluate the credibility of witnesses, why are they all of a sudden now more credible 20 years later than they were then? Why didn’t Davis’ legal team present the so-called confessor at the district court hearing?

    To equate the judicial process that took place over a span of 20+ years with appeal after appeal after appeal of a verdict in which a jury, made up predominately of minorities, found Mr. Davis guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the murder of an innocent police officer who was a husband, a father, a brother, and a son, to a “lynching”, cheapens the horror that those who suffered actual lynchings experienced, and frankly lessons the credibility of the editor of this site.

    • Pierre Tristam says:

      Because, Johnny Taxpayer, even assuming that Davis was guilty beyond all reasonable doubts, are you suggesting that lethal injection–or whichever means of state-sponsored killing you prefer–is any less barbaric, any more defensible, than a lynching? At least you can ascribe lynchings to a mob mentality, to bigotry on speed, to fanaticism entirely detached from any reason or civility, let alone law. You can’t say the same about executions–with their surrounding pomp, the spectators’ gallery, the state’s bogus solemnity–which add up to disgustingly choreographed, legalized and even celebrated lynchings. It’s not even a difference of degrees, but of manners. There’s direct descendence between this country’s long and repulsive history of lynchings to its now lengthening and equally repulsive history of executions. And nothing cheapens our justice system or claims to civility more, the defenders of either included.

  13. Basil says:

    Justice was served if the coward did not want to be judged by our society he should have followed it’s laws and for the liberals we should let every criminal go if there is not an instant replay

  14. Liana G says:

    It seems that the more I think about this, the more I wonder about the real motive behind the decision by our Supreme Court – the highest court and ultimate law of the land – to side with a decision rife with questionable tatics and faulty evidence.

    And when I think of the millions of people who spoke out on this, from the ordinary to the very important, Americans and foreigners alike, I can’t help feeling if this is not a message being sent to everyone paying attention that we, the US gov’t, are all powerful, and we can and we have and we will do and continue to do whaterver we want to suit our agenda. In other words – be very afraid, be very, very afraid.

    Why did it not go all the way up to the President as was done in the past with other presidents? Was this aimed at him too?

  15. Dan says:

    I see all these claims that “he’s innocent”. Can anyone here show a case where the inmate on death watch said “yep I’m guilty as sin put me to death”. NO everyone claims innocence. The prisons are filled with falsely convicted people that think they are wronged by the judicial system. Maybe we should free them all. Every convict in prison has a mother or grandmother that describes them as a “sweet boy”
    Regardless of the courts. There are consequences for or actions and how we live. Good and bad, we reap what we sow.
    The justice system is blamed because this man sat on death row for 21 years and only now is his punishment carried out. Imagine being spanked today for what you did 21 tears ago. You would think “that’s not fair” you probably would not ever remember the details of what you had done 21 years ago. He sat because people while they may doubt his innocence, believe it is wrong to take a life, even that of a killer or other type of evil person who themselves do not value life unless it is there own.

  16. Tyler says:

    Dan, no one should be executed unless it is positive that they were the one who commited the crime. In this case 7 out of 9 witnesses recanted, which is mostly what the case was based on. Even one innocent person lost because of our poor system is too many. If it was back then it would have been wrong as well. It’s not that he claimed innocence made it true, it’s the fact that so much pointed towards the side of innocence. He should have gotten another trial, our justice system failed him at every step of the way.

  17. Nancy N. says:

    Dan, actually inmates being put to death do usually acknowledge their crimes in their final moments according to a member of the news media that attended Davis’s execution as an official witness (sorry, can’t remember her name). She said that this execution had a striking difference from the other 7 or so that she’s also witnessed, because Davis maintained his innocence in his final words where other inmates usually issue apologies to the victim’s family.

  18. John says:

    Where were all you anti death penalty phonies when the guy in Texas was being executed for killing a black man by dragging him behind a truck ? This was all happening around the same time as the Davis execution, yet I didn’t see any big protests. I guess it’s alright cause he was a piece of garbage, right ? You can’t have it both ways…

  19. Howard Duley says:

    Every single individual in prison is innocent. The jury system gets everything wrong all the time. We should open the prison cells and give all those poor victims of judicial injustice at least a million each. Considering the amount of prisoners incarcerated that should bankrupt the country and we can borrow more from China. Sounds like a solution to me.

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