The Troy Davis Execution

troy davis – illustrator: lavar munroe

The Troy Davis Execution

South has never been afraid to dive into controversy. When we wrote about the case in 2008, Troy Davis was awaiting execution for what his defense claimed was a wrongful conviction. Ultimately, his many stays of execution would run out and he would be put to death in September of 2011.

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Troy Davis has spent the last 19 years of his life in jail for a murder he claims not to have committed. But will the judicial system listen to his side of the story before it's too late?

Troy Davis was convicted in 1991 of the brutal murder of an off-duty police officer Mark Allen MacPhail near Savannah's Greyhound bus station one humid night in August of 1989. It was a story that shocked the city and immediately grabbed headlines; a killing that was so senseless, so unnecessary, and which took the life of an innocent 27 year-old who had, only a few weeks earlier, celebrated the birth of his second child, a son named Mark, Jr.
From his initial trial and throughout more than a decade of appeals, Davis' defense has claimed that public pressure and a need for vindiction left the police with "tunnel vision" to nab Troy. On August 24, 1989, a Savannah Morning News article titled "Relieved Officers Celebrate Davis' Surrender" reported that officers "did little to hide their joy," and were seen giving each other and exchanging high-fives. The defense contends that the emotional investment of officers involved in the case precipitated a failure to investigate other suspects – particularly Sylvester Coles, the man who originally named Davis as the killer, and who, several witnesses claim, had a .38 caliber revolver the night of the shooting.
Between 1996 and 2005, the Georgia Resource Center (GRC), along with Davis' defense team, collected signed affidavits from seven of the nine witnesses recanting their trial testimonies, including several who claimed to have been pressured by police to indict Troy in MacPhail's murder. 
One of the most damning affidavits came from Antoine Williams, a witness at the shooting: "They asked me to describe the shooter and what he looked like and what he was wearing. I kept telling them that I didn't know…After the officers talked to me, they gave me a statement and told me to sign it. I did not read it, because I cannot read"
While the witness recantations in Troy Davis' case would seem to negate the sole evidence used to convict him, he remains trapped in the midst of a perfect storm of legal technicalities and unfortunate circumstances. 
In 1996, during the interim between Davis' conviction and the Georgia Rescue Center's investigation of his innocence claims, a law called the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act was passed, and has proven one of the major barriers blocking his defense. The AEDPA was intended to expedite the legal proceedings of Timothy McVeigh – one of the men responsible for the Oklahoma City bombings a year earlier – so that he could not escape justice through the quagmire of limitless appeals. The new legislation had some uninteded consequences, though, and has seriously hindered Davis' defense in its attempts to introduce the recantations as new exculpatory evidence.
During the summer of 2007, with Davis' execution date immanent, his defense scrambled to file motions for a retrial with the Georgia Supreme Court. Spencer Lawton Jr. was unmoved, stating, "Clearly, the defendant has brought these motions for the purpose of delay. The defendant waited to bring this motion until the eve of his execution solely to thwart justice."
Davis does't think about what he would do if he were released from prison, but when asked, he responds: "I've had several people ask me that question. I live in the moment. If I allow myself to constantly make plans for the future, and then I get a rejection, that would emotionally destroy me." So, as he has for the last 19 years, he will wait patiently for the outcome and continue to hope for the best. "In most situations it's not [difficult to stay hopeful]," he says. "But I was brought up in the church and my family taught me to have faith in God. I have to believe that if I keep praying to God, He'll step in and correct this wrong that He has done. Because I have so many supporters and a loving family, I refuse to give up."
The murder of Officer Mark MacPhail cannot be undone, and neither can the suffering his and Davis' families have endured. However, the person responsible for the crime should not escape punishment. A retrial wouldn't just serve Davis and his family; it would help honor Officer MacPhail's memory as well. "It's an injustice that has been allowed to fester…That goes for Officer MacPhail, too. He deserves the truth. Both of them deserve justice, but neither of them has received it."

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