Troy Davis: Did Georgia Officials Kill An Innocent Man?
I’ve lived in Georgia for a very short time, a little over a year, and it’s a wonderful place. In fact, there’s not much I can about it that’s bad. Even getting a driver’s license and tags for the cars was a pleasant experience.
But there is one thing I’ve noticed that’s not so nice, and that’s the high homicide rate in Savannah. There are people in and around the city of Savannah who will bust a cap in your rear end simply for looking at them the wrong way.
Almost every morning, it’s the same feature news stories, over and over again—Woman Shot While Sitting On Front Porch…Two Killed In Laundry Shooting…Three Dead After Overnight Murder Spree…Woman Killed While Walking In Park…Eight Killed In The Past 24 Hours, 2-Year-Old Shot During Drug Dealer Argument,…and, well, you get the picture.
But it’s not just Georgia. The last year I wore a badge, the yearly homicide count in Richmond, Va. was over 330. That annual number is lower now, but even one murder is one too many. I guess the point I’m slowly getting around to is that a life doesn’t seem to be as valuable as it used to be. Killing, unfortunately, has almost become a way of life for some folks. And that brings me to Georgia’s hot-button issue of the day.
Last night, Troy Davis was executed by lethal injection for a killing Savannah police officer, Mark MacPhail, in 1989. Davis had been at a pool party in Savannah where he, during an altercation, shot a man in the face. The he and a friend went to a local Burger King to have a snack, I guess. Doesn’t everyone do that after shooting another human?
While doing the burger and fry thing, Davis got into an argument with a homeless man and began pistol-whipping him. Officer MacPhail saw the trouble and intervened. Witnesses say Davis shot the officer once in the chest and then again in the face. Prosecutors said Davis had a smirk on his face when he killed the officer.
During Davis’ murder trial, prosecutors basically presented only eyewitness testimony, no physical evidence. They’d not located the murder weapon. No DNA. No fingerprints. No blood. No nothing, other than a few people saying they saw what they saw and a mention of finding some bullet-casings that matched the earlier pool-party-shooting. But, several of the witnesses have since recanted their stories, saying they were wrong about their original court testimonies.
This is the evidence that put Troy Davis on death row. And that was the evidence that earned him a spot last night on the gurney in the execution chamber.
Many people argued that the government should spare Davis’ life. They, including former president Jimmy Carter, say there was too much doubt in this case to go forward with an execution. However, every single court, including the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed. The courts ruled that Davis had received his day(s) in court and was guilty as charged. In fact, Davis’ execution had been halted three times before to allow the courts to review the case. The Georgia Clemency Board reviewed his case just this week. And the execution was again postponed just last night, minutes before Davis’ scheduled 7pm execution time, to allow the U.S. Supreme Court another chance to review the facts of the case. They did not agree to review the case again.
This week, Davis begged to be allowed to take a polygraph test to prove his innocence, something he’s been professing for 22 years. The prison system denied that request.
At 11:08 pm, Davis was finally put to death.
Just before the lethal injection process began, Davis lifted his head from the gurney and said, “I am innocent. All I can ask … is that you look deeper into this case so that you really can finally see the truth. I ask my family and friends to continue to fight this fight.”
So, I ask you, did Georgia officials execute an innocent man? Or did Davis go to his grave a defiant cop-killer who never showed a moment of remorse?
I guess we’ll never know for sure…but isn’t that a reasonable doubt? You tell me.
For those who took any time at all to study the details in the case of Troy Davis, the facts seem to vindicate the system that condemned him. His defense claimed there were only 9 witnesses when in fact there were 34 who witnessed the brutal murder that night. The defense claimed seven of those witnesses recanted when in fact only two offered recantations of any substance. When the defense was offered the opportunity to bring them into an appeals court to testify they refused to do so and one can only assume that the Davis team realized that their changed testimony wouldn’t hold up in court.
Three of the thirty-four witnesses were Air Force personnel who were sitting in a bus that night. When asked if they would recant they replied that they would not! One never forgets, not even after 20 years when one man stands over another and shoots him in the face.
The defense also claimed there was no physical evidence even though the shell casings picked up in the parking lot that night matched shell casings that Troy Davis had used in a previous shooting that very evening. Jurors obviously were not told of the bloody shorts found in Troy Davis’ laundry by investigators.
After multiple appeals over a twenty year period, every court and every judge along the way declared the guilt of Troy Davis. When this information reached the highest court in the land they could find no reason to overturn what had been decided again and again by the lower courts.
I was astonished to see protestors wearing signs that declared, “I am Troy Davis.” Troy Davis had been declared a cold blooded murderer. Why would anyone want to be Troy Davis?
Did he shoot the one man in the face, at the pool party shortly before the officer was killed? Is that undisputed? Did the ballistics from the man injured at the pool party match those of the officer killed? If so, it seems very likely that he did also shoot the police officer: He had a weapon, and displayed a willingness to kill.
Perhaps this is not beyond a reasonable doubt (seems conclusive to me), but when you shoot another person in the face, your intent was to kill. I don’t know how anyone could argue otherwise. Even if he didn’t kill the officer, he was hardly an innocent man.
Seven out of 34 prosecution witnesses who have changed their story (if you disregard Ms. Coulter’s analysis of those seven recantations) is still less than one-fourth of the witnesses called, and more than three-quarters of them stand by their testimony. To me, while we know that “eyewitness” evidence is suspect, the fact that the other 27 witnesses still say that Davis is guilty holds more weight. The fact that this case has gone through numerous appeals and that all the courts who reviewed the case have found no evidence to either commute the sentence or overturn the verdict and order a retrial carries even more weight.
I don’t deny that solely eyewitness testimony is problematic as the evidence compelling a conviction and subsequent execution. I’d feel a lot more concerned about this case if there were less eyewitnesses–say, less than five–and if at least three witnesses then recanted. But that’s not the case.
We all know our justice system isn’t perfect, but it’s the only one we’ve got. And, as they say, it’s the worst system in the world…except for everyone else’s.
I can’t speak for anyone else. I have very mixed feelings about the death penalty, and I honestly can’t tell you if I could convict and sentence someone to that penalty. But based on the nature of the amount of eyewitness testimony, all pretty much corroborating each other…this was either the biggest conspiracy to convict an innocent man that Georgia’s ever seen, perpetrated by almost three dozen people (most of whom didn’t really know each other), or the prosecutors successfully met their burden of proof for reasonable doubt, subsequent courts upheld it, even up to the highest court in the land, and justice according to our system was served.
Here’s an accurate portrayal: http://conservativebyte.com/2011/09/coulter-cop-killer-is-medias-latest-baby-seal/
Facts, not emotions…
How many of the 34 wittnesses that originally said he shot one man in the face with a PISTOL at a pool party then went for a burger and began PISTOL whipping a homeless man. Officer McPhail stepped in to stop the beating and Mr. Davis shot him with a PISTOL. Moments before he was put to death Mr. Davis claimed that he did not have a PISTOL that night. How wrong can 34 witnesses be?
I also wonder where all the protesters were who were concerned about the murdered policeman and his family…
Ann Coulter had a good article on this. That there were 34 witnesses, for one. Some were people who knew him personally and had no doubt it was him–at least one witness was standing five feet away.
I have one question, Lee, which your summary doesn’t address, and to which to you may not know the answer. What about Davis’s alleged shooting of the man at the party? Was that in dispute as well?
Is he saying he is innocent of shooting the man at the pool party AND the cop, or just the cop?
Did eyewintess testimony get it wrong twice in two seperate locations with two seperate groups of bystanders?
Innocent? No way to tell. Guilty by the normal standard – beyond reasonable doubt? No. There seems to be a good chance that Georgia has just killed an innocent man AND let a guilty one go free. After all, if Davis didn’t do it, the guy who did must be breathing a sigh of relief – what resources will be put to seeking out a cop-killer if the cops think they have already caught him?
I’m disappointed SCOTUS didn’t stay the execution for a week, or even a couple of days. There seemed to be quite a bit of doubt on this one, and given the number of “eyewitness” identifications that the Innocence Project has shown to be wrong, it’s not surprising that some of the Davis witnesses have recanted. Those two facts bring plenty of reasonable doubt to my mind.