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Execution of Troy Davis Rekindles Death Penalty Debates

Voltaire once said, “It is better to risk saving a guilty man than condemn an innocent one.” Had the Supreme Court heeded this quote, Troy Davis might still be alive.

On Sept. 21, 2011, Davis was executed in Georgia for the murder of Mark MacPhail, a Savannah police officer. Prior to his death, Davis’s scheduled execution sparked outrage across the globe. Over 500 protesters lined the street in front of the prison before his execution.
Former President Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI, former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson and former FBI Director William Sessions all spoke out on Davis’s behalf, pleading for the postponement of the execution; Sessions even asked the Supreme court in 2009 to grant Davis an innocence hearing in order to “prevent a potential miscarriage of justice.”

The NAACP began the “I am Troy” campaign, and considered asking President Obama to grant Davis clemency.
Protests sprang up all throughout Europe, including a rally in France that gathered 150 demonstrators waving signs with Davis’s face printed on them.

The Innocence Project, Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union have all gotten involved, and over 660,000 people have signed petitions in support of Davis. Clearly, Davis’ execution impacted the world.

Executions typically attract anti-death penalty protesters, but rarely of this magnitude. The reason for the outpour of support for Davis was the seven recantations of witness testimony prior to his execution. On a case with no physical evidence to go by, Davis’ conviction was almost entirely based on eyewitness testimony.

Of the nine witnesses that testified naming Davis as MacPhail’s shooter, seven recanted either all or parts of their statements. Some admitted to being coerced by officers to testify against Davis and one, Antoine Williams, admitted that he had no clue who had shot MacPhail and that he was illiterate; he was unable to read the police statement he signed after the murder.

Of the two witnesses who did not recant, Sylvester Coles, the first witness to come forth and implicate Davis, may possibly be the real gunman as more and more evidence is beginning to suggest.

Nine people have come forward implicating Coles as MacPhail’s shooter. Though no gun was found at the scene of the crime, police were able to determine that MacPhails’s death resulted from the bullets of a .38 caliber gun. Coles admitted to owning that same type of gun.

According to the Innocence Project, 273 death row inmates have been exonerated since 1989 through post-conviction DNA. Seventy-five percent of those exonerations dealt with cases where poor eyewitness testimony led to the conviction of innocent people.

In fact, research has shown that eyewitness testimony is often unreliable. Hugo Munsterberg conducted a study in as early as 1907 questioning how reliable eyewitness testimony can actually be. The American Judicature Society found that the leading factor of wrongful convictions is mistaken eyewitness testimony.

These facts are scary. If 273 people have been exonerated through DNA evidence, imagine all those who have not and who are either still sitting on death row or, even worse, have already been executed. If research indicates that eyewitness testimony can often be unreliable, how can people like Davis be executed when eyewitness evidence is all there is for a conviction?

Since his 1989 arrest, throughout his trial and appeals and all the way up until his execution, Davis pleaded his innocence. After three previous stays and one rare innocence hearing, Davis was denied a final stay of execution by the Georgia Supreme Court, the Board of Pardons and Paroles and the federal Supreme Court. The Georgia Department of Corrections even denied Davis a polygraph test, which Davis and his attorneys tried to use as a last minute attempt to deter the execution.

Before Davis was finally put to death, he asked to speak to MacPhail’s family and said, “I was not responsible for what happened that night. I did not have a gun. I was not the one who took the life of your father, son, brother,” and then told them to delve deeper and seek the truth once he died.

Regardless of whether or not Davis was actually innocent, he should not have been executed on Sept. 21, 2011. Granted, I realize that just about everyone in the United States prison system pleads their innocence, making it difficult, if not impossible for the courts to devote sufficient time to look at every single innocence claim.

Davis’s case differs because of those seven recantations. With no gun left behind and no DNA found at the scene of the crime, Davis’ conviction relied on those nine testimonies.

The fact that the courts did not look into the seven recantations is mind boggling to me. The recantations and the possibility that Coles might be the real shooter leads me to believe that Davis’ execution was absolutely unjustified.

In trial, the burden of proof is supposed to be on the state. Defendants are innocent until proven guilty, but once they are convicted, that burden goes onto them.

This is a huge burden to answer to and in the case of Davis, nearly impossible to prove. Despite the recantations and other witnesses coming forth to implicate a different man, the federal judge who presided over Davis’ innocence trial did not grant a new trial, instead regarding those accounts as “largely smoke and mirrors.”

I continue to ask myself why those accounts did not even warrant an investigation. They were completely dismissed and Davis was executed.
This is a man who very well might have been innocent but was executed all because of eyewitness testimonies; testimonies that were for the most part later recanted.

If proper evidence ever does come out to reveal that Davis was not MacPhail’s killer, there is no way to repay him and his family. His death is irrevocable. It could have been postponed further. Those recantations could have and should have been properly looked into before this man was executed.

Around campus, there appeared to be mixed views on Davis’ execution. Dr. Susan Brinkley, Chair/Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice, revealed, “I think any time you have the potential of taking a defendants life, all avenues should be explored. You cannot undo an execution but you can undo a life sentence.”

Assistant Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Dr. David Krahl felt strongly on the issue and stated, “I think it was a grave miscarriage of justice. I think it was another example of a criminal penalty, in this case the death penalty, that was misapplied. There was substantial room for doubt … I am fully convinced that in this particular case that Mr. Davis was wrongly executed.”

Troy Davis was executed on September 21, 2001 despite evidence of his innocence. | Logic1914/Photobucket.com

Krahl even asserted, “I can tell you that the case of Troy Anthony Davis is not over.”

Julien Guerard, a senior and a Government World Affairs major, took an opposing stance and affirmed, “I supported the execution of Troy Davis by the State of Georgia because of the extensive and unparalleled judicial review that he received leading up to his execution …
One may disagree with the principle of the death penalty, but no intellectually honest person can ignore the unmatched appellate process that Troy Davis received. It is in that line of thinking that the execution of Troy Davis was undoubtedly justified.”

This is not an article advocating for or against the death penalty. Rather, I am questioning our justice system and why Davis was executed without exploring the recantations. If Davis was in fact innocent, there will never be a way to repay him or his family. If an innocent life is taken by our justice system, then I wholeheartedly believe that our justice system is committing the murder which it condemns.

That is not justice. That is a tragic irony. If Davis was innocent, then anyone could one day face his same fate. Even I could one day be executed for a crime I did not commit. Where is the justice in that?

Jessica Keesee can be reached at jessica.keeseee@spartans.ut.edu

29 comments

  1. I’m sorry but I had to smile when I read Mr. Sharp’s request that his posts be approved. I made a simple request on Mr. Sharp’s website and repeated that request and not only were my requests ignored (after he had stated that he could back up everything he had said), the posts were not published. He then accused me of being someone else: a “silly fellow” who follows him around. I’m afraid that Mr. Sharp is displaying what is commonly called hypocrisy.

    If someone is going to have his life taken from him we need to be absolutely sure that he is not only guilty (and that includes culpability) but that he will be an ongoing danger to innocent people. If he can be kept in prison with no possibility of parole (barring exoneration) and his caretakers and other prisoners can be protected there is no need to execute him. In the case being discussed there is substantial question as to guilt. He should not have been executed; at least not at this time.

    Like

  2. FOOTNOTES

    1) a) “Troy Davis: Worldwide anti death penalty deceptions, rightly, failed”,
    http(COLON)//homicidesurvivors(DOT)com/2011/09/25/troy-davis-worldwide-anti-death-penalty-deceptions-rightly-failed.aspx

    b) “Troy Davis fairly convicted, not ‘railroaded’ ”
    http(COLON)//savannahnow(DOT)com/column/2011-10-06/column-spencer-lawton-troy-davis-fairly-convicted-not-railroaded

    2) “Innocence Hearing”, ordered by the US Supreme Court, US DISTRICT COURT, in the SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA, SAVANNAH DIV.,RE TROY ANTHONY DAVIS, CASE NO. CV409-130
    http(COLON)//multimedia(DOT)savannahnow.com/media/pdfs/DavisRuling082410.pdf

    Like

  3. I posted the footnotes #1 and #2 on Oct 7, 8,15 and 26th and they are still listed as:

    “Your comment is awaiting moderation.”

    and I can still see them, but, evidently, no one else can.

    Like

  4. FOOTNOTES

    1) a) “Troy Davis: Worldwide anti death penalty deceptions, rightly, failed”,
    http://homicidesurvivors.com/2011/09/25/troy-davis-worldwide-anti-death-penalty-deceptions-rightly-failed.aspx

    b) “Troy Davis fairly convicted, not ‘railroaded’ ”
    http://savannahnow.com/column/2011-10-06/column-spencer-lawton-troy-davis-fairly-convicted-not-railroaded

    2) “Innocence Hearing”, ordered by the US Supreme Court, US DISTRICT COURT, in the SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA, SAVANNAH DIV.,RE TROY ANTHONY DAVIS, CASE NO. CV409-130

    Click to access DavisRuling082410.pdf

    Like

  5. And Dudley, I can’t help but wonder. You spoke commendably about the importance of fact checking, and I even see the whole “I cited (this)” process happening, but (1) and (2) aren’t on this page.

    Like

  6. Dudley Sharp:

    I find your information very interesting. I’m not challenging anything yet, but if there are more details elsewhere that I should know about, I would love to maintain a sense of balance and totality to my facts.

    Otherwise, as judicially as I can say, I am not in favor of the death penalty. I understand the position that part of maintain domestic tranquility is the elimination of “potential future threats” But I can’t help viewing it as legally promoted revenge. Hammurabi’s 282 Law Code was a different time, and perhaps “taking the other eye” breeds more devistation than balance.

    I don’t appreciate that those seven recanters were not further investigated (if that’s true). To quote Arthur Miller, perhaps, yes, those people are “either lying now, or… were lying in the court, and in either case… have committed perjury” (Danforth, the Crucible), but if there was more to be heard, I believe they had a constitutional amendment right to speak with an equally consitutional right to a fair trial.

    Like

  7. contd

    “Ultimately, while Mr. Davis’s new evidence casts some additional, minimal doubt on his conviction, it is largely smoke and mirrors.” (2)

    “As a body, this evidence does not change the balance of proof that was presented at Mr. Davis’s trial.”(2)

    “The vast majority of the evidence at trial remains intact, and the new evidence is largely not credible or lacking in probative value.” (2)

    No surprise.

    Like

  8. contd

    “Ultimately, while Mr. Davis’s new evidence casts some additional, minimal doubt on his conviction, it is largely smoke and mirrors.” (2)

    “As a body, this evidence does not change the balance of proof that was presented at Mr.
    Davis’s trial.”(2)

    “The vast majority of the evidence at trial remains intact, and the new evidence is largely not credible or lacking in probative value.” (2)

    None of this came as a surprise to anyone who actually followed the case, in contrast to the Save Troy Davis folks who were, willingly, duped.

    Like

  9. contd

    “Ultimately, while Mr. Davis’s new evidence casts some additional, minimal doubt on his conviction, it is largely smoke and mirrors.” (2)

    “As a body, this evidence does not change the balance of proof that was presented at Mr. Davis’s trial.”(2)

    “The vast majority of the evidence at trial remains intact, and the new evidence is largely not credible or lacking in probative value.” (2)

    None of this came as a surprise to anyone who actually followed the case, in contrast to the Save Troy Davis folks who were, willingly, duped.

    1) a) “Troy Davis: Worldwide anti death penalty deceptions, rightly, failed”,
    http://homicidesurvivors.com/2011/09/25/troy-davis-worldwide-anti-death-penalty-deceptions-rightly-failed.aspx

    b) “Troy Davis fairly convicted, not ‘railroaded’ ”
    http://savannahnow.com/column/2011-10-06/column-spencer-lawton-troy-davis-fairly-convicted-not-railroaded

    2) “Innocence Hearing”, ordered by the US Supreme Court, US DISTRICT COURT, in the SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA, SAVANNAH DIV.,RE TROY ANTHONY DAVIS, CASE NO. CV409-130

    Click to access DavisRuling082410.pdf

    Like

  10. contd

    “Ultimately, while Mr. Davis’s new evidence casts some additional, minimal doubt on his conviction, it is largely smoke and mirrors.” (2)

    “As a body, this evidence does not change the balance of proof that was presented at Mr.
    Davis’s trial.”(2)

    “The vast majority of the evidence at trial remains intact, and the new evidence is largely not credible or lacking in probative value.” (2)

    None of this came as a surprise to anyone who actually followed the case, in contrast to the Save Troy Davis folks who were, willingly, duped.

    1) a) “Troy Davis: Worldwide anti death penalty deceptions, rightly, failed”,
    http://homicidesurvivors.com/2011/09/25/troy-davis-worldwide-anti-death-penalty-deceptions-rightly-failed.aspx

    b) “Troy Davis fairly convicted, not ‘railroaded’ ”
    http://savannahnow.com/column/2011-10-06/column-spencer-lawton-troy-davis-fairly-convicted-not-railroaded

    2) “Innocence Hearing”, ordered by the US Supreme Court, US DISTRICT COURT, in the SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA, SAVANNAH DIV.,RE TROY ANTHONY DAVIS, CASE NO. CV409-130

    Click to access DavisRuling082410.pdf

    Like

  11. Troy Davis & The Innocent Frauds of the anti death penalty lobby
    Dudley Sharp

    The Troy Davis campaign, like many before it (1), is a simple, blatant fraud, easily uncovered by the most basic of fact checking (1).

    The case for Davis’ guilt is overwhelming, just as were his due process protections, which may have surpassed that of all but a few death row inmates.

    The 2010 federal court innocence hearing found:

    ” . . . Mr. Davis is not innocent: the evidence produced at the hearing on the merits of Mr. Davis’s claim of actual innocence and a complete review of the record in this case does not require the reversal of the jury’s judgment that Troy Anthony Davis murdered City of Savannah Police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail on August 19, 1989.” (2)

    contd

    Like

  12. Jessica writes:

    “According to the Innocence Project, 273 death row inmates have been exonerated since 1989 through post-conviction DNA.”

    This is incorrect.

    9 inmates have been rleased from death row because of DNA exclusion.

    Possibly, 25-40 actuay innocents, total, have been identified and released from death row.

    Some Anti death penalty folks say that 138-139 have been exonerated from death row, but that oncludes non innocent cases.

    What happened to Jessica, is that she was caught in the pit of anti death penalty deceptions, with the absurd 273 death row DNA exonerations and she made the mistake of trusting her source, just as with the rest of her story.

    Fact checking is crucial.

    Like

  13. Just saying:

    Thanks.

    The odd thing is that I posted the same material, 10/7&8 and I can still see it, waiting in moderation. Normally, if a site isn’t going to publish, they just delete, but there they sit – factual reviews of the Davis, as opposed the the blatant anti death penalty nonsense.

    Sadly, college students censor, just as do others.

    Like

  14. Dudley, are they censoring your posts now? Must have had something to say that they didn’t like. This new editor guy is not as fair as the last. THey only allow posts and Notes to the Editor that they agree with. Don’t be surprised. You will also only see articles bashing Repubs. and never Democrats. It gets annoying.

    Like

  15. Troy Davis & The Innocent Frauds of the anti death penalty lobby
    Dudley Sharp, sharpjfa@aol.com

    The Troy Davis campaign, like many before it (1), is a simple, blantant fraud, easily uncovered by the most basic of fact checking (1).

    The 2010 federal court innocence hearing found:

    ” . . . Mr. Davis is not innocent: the evidence produced at the hearing on the merits of Mr. Davis’s claim of actual innocence and a complete review of the record in this case does not require the reversal of the jury’s judgment that Troy Anthony Davis murdered City of Savannah Police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail on August 19, 1989.” (2)

    “Ultimately, while Mr. Davis’s new evidence casts some additional, minimal doubt on his conviction, it is largely smoke and mirrors.” (2)

    “As a body, this evidence does not change the balance of proof that was presented at Mr. Davis’s trial.”(2)

    “The vast majority of the evidence at trial remains intact, and the new evidence is largely not credible or lacking in probative value.” (2)

    None of this came as a surprise to anyone who actually followed the case, in contrast to the Save Troy Davis folks who were, willingly, duped.

    1) a) “Troy Davis: Worldwide anti death penalty deceptions, rightly, failed”,
    http://homicidesurvivors.com/2011/09/25/troy-davis-worldwide-anti-death-penalty-deceptions-rightly-failed.aspx

    b) “Troy Davis fairly convicted, not ‘railroaded’ ”
    http://savannahnow.com/column/2011-10-06/column-spencer-lawton-troy-davis-fairly-convicted-not-railroaded

    2) “Innocence Hearing”, ordered by the US Supreme Court, US DISTRICT COURT, in the SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA, SAVANNAH DIV.,RE TROY ANTHONY DAVIS, CASE NO. CV409-130

    Click to access DavisRuling082410.pdf

    Like

  16. That is a good theory, however, proving that they refused to consider the evidence would be difficult. He exhausted every appeal allowed by law, and it even went up to the Supreme Court, and they refused to rule. The problem would be proving that every person in that appeals process refused to consider the evidence. They rule based on evidence, and all parties ruled the same. If you could possibly make a case that one person did not uphold their duties, then subsequently every party involved would be implicated. It would be a tough fight.

    That being said, the best route to take would be to put in more safe guards. I am not sure the death penalty will ever be struck down, but making sure that it is harder to follow through is certainly attainable. We just need to see a stronger effort being made towards legislation that makes the irreversible action harder to carry out, in lieu of the possibility of murdering an innocent man/woman.

    Like

  17. Troy Davis & The Innocent Frauds of the anti death penalty lobby
    Dudley Sharp, sharpjfa@aol.com

    The Troy Davis campaign, like many before it (1), is a simple, blantant fraud, easily uncovered by the most basic of fact checking (1).

    The 2010 federal court innocence hearing found:

    ” . . . Mr. Davis is not innocent: the evidence produced at the hearing on the merits of Mr. Davis’s claim of actual innocence and a complete review of the record in this case does not require the reversal of the jury’s judgment that Troy Anthony Davis murdered City of Savannah Police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail on August 19, 1989.” (2)

    “Ultimately, while Mr. Davis’s new evidence casts some additional, minimal doubt on his conviction, it is largely smoke and mirrors.” (2)

    “As a body, this evidence does not change the balance of proof that was presented at Mr. Davis’s trial.”(2)

    “The vast majority of the evidence at trial remains intact, and the new evidence is largely not credible or lacking in probative value.” (2)

    None of this came as a surprise to anyone who actually followed the case.

    1) a) “Troy Davis: Worldwide anti death penalty deceptions, rightly, failed”,
    http://homicidesurvivors.com/2011/09/25/troy-davis-worldwide-anti-death-penalty-deceptions-rightly-failed.aspx

    b) “Troy Davis fairly convicted, not ‘railroaded’ ”
    http://savannahnow.com/column/2011-10-06/column-spencer-lawton-troy-davis-fairly-convicted-not-railroaded

    2) “Innocence Hearing”, ordered by the US Supreme Court, US DISTRICT COURT, in the SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA, SAVANNAH DIV.,RE TROY ANTHONY DAVIS, CASE NO. CV409-130

    Click to access DavisRuling082410.pdf

    Like

  18. I’m surprised that race wasn’t mentioned as a possible factor in the execution of Troy Davis. African Americans are 4 times more likely to receive the death penalty than are Caucasians in similar capital cases. There was a man executed in Texas who was convicted using testimony from a psychiatrist who stated that his race made him more likely to commit another crime which is the key legal justification for capital punishment in the state of Texas. This psychiatrist specializes in capital punishment testimony and often never actually meets or physically evaluates the accused.

    http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/death-penalty-black-and-white-who-lives-who-dies-who-decides

    Like

  19. In my opinion people who are responsible for an innocent person being put to death because they refuse to consider the evidence should be prosecuted for first degree murder.

    If they had that possibility to look forward to when they made their decision they would certainly think a little more seriously about it.

    Like

  20. Well, he did exhaust every option that was available to him in the current system. To say he got a raw deal? I can’t say. I didn’t hear the case, don’t know all the facts. I do know that the jury found him guilty, and subsequently all others who looked at his case agreed.
    Now, we may not like the death penalty, but if we believe in our justice system, then we have to be okay with the fact that he served his sentence. Just because the public doesn’t think he is guilty, this doesn’t mean he is innocent. He went through the system, and he lost. Now, if you have a problem with it, change it.
    Honestly, I am not really surprised this happened with our current system. We have the Justice Dept. mixed up in this whole Fast and Furious debacle, and the White House backing them up. We need people who aren’t afraid to stand up and say “the death penalty is flawed, let’s do away with it”. Even better, someone who will just do the right thing.

    Like

  21. THIS IS SO WRONG AND UNJUSTIFIED WHY OT JUST GIVE SOMEONE AN ACTUAL LIFE SENTENCE IN REPLACE OF EXECUTION

    Like

  22. I am not against the death penalty by any means, but what was done here was heartbreakingly wrong! There was too much doubt in this case and our courts treated it like it was a game!

    Like

  23. I agree, the justice system is flawed, and we shouldn’t be killing people this way. However, no one noticed that in the past two weeks, 4 men have been killed by lethal injection, including this man. Why only stand up for him, and not all who are being killed?

    Like

  24. This is a sad case, as are all death penalty cases. A life for a life is not what we were told would equal God’s justice. God will judge those who stand before him. Requiring someone to push a button to take a life makes him the scapegoat for all those who say he legally should. They are ALL responsible for these deaths. We can do better; we should be doing better.

    Like

  25. I BELIEVE A NOT GUILTY MAN WAS PUT TO DEATH FOR NO REASON THIS WASNT JUSTICE THIS WAS SOMEONES POLITICAL STUNT THEY ALL DO THAT GOD BLESS THIS FAMILY AND LET THE TRUTH COME OUT!

    Like

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