On Wednesday, September 21, 2011, the state of Georgia murdered Troy Davis. The state will reference this murder using terms like “capital punishment,” “the death penalty,” and “ultimate justice.” But make no mistake about it, they are explicitly referring to state sanctioned murder. And the state of Georgia cares so much about what Andrew Cohen describes as “its interest in the finality of its capital judgments,” that it is eagerly willing to disregard “the accuracy of its capital verdicts.”
And the accuracy of the capital verdict against Troy Davis can very much so be called into question.
In August 1991, Troy Davis was convicted on charges of killing a Savannah, Georgia police officer during an altercation that occurred in August 1989.
Davis, then 20, was leaving a house party in Savannah with his teenaged friend, Darrell Collins, when a car drove past. Its passengers leaned out the windows and shouted obscenities. In response, an unknown perp fired a gunshot into the car, injuring a man named Michael Cooper. The vehicle sped off, and Davis and Collins left the scene en route to a downtown pool hall.
Outside, they came across Sylvester “Redd” Coles, who was involved in a dispute over a beer with a homeless man named Larry Young. It was now around 1 a.m., and Coles and Young wandered into a Burger King parking lot, continuing their argument. Curious to see what would happen, Davis and Collins followed. Tensions mounted, and someone pistol-whipped Young, whose head began to bleed. An off-duty police officer named Mark Allen MacPhail, who worked security at a nearby bus stop, noticed the commotion and intervened. Then, three shots were fired at the officer. One hit him in the face; another pierced his left lung.
Troy Davis was sentenced to death.
The case against Troy Davis is one in which so much doubt exists that the threshold of “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” can never be achieved. Since his 1991 conviction, ten people who testified or provided statements against Troy Davis have signed affidavits recanting their previous testimony. Of the nine witnesses involved in the trial, seven of them have recanted their testimony. The allegations of police misconduct in handling the investigation are legion and well-documented. These are things that actual human beings involved in the case have said on record:
“I am not proud for lying at Troy’s trial, but the police had me so messed up that I felt that’s all I could do or else I would go to jail.” — Darrell Collins, a teenaged friend of Troy Davis. Darrell was 16 in 1989.
Larry Young [the homeless man involved in the incident] admitted he had been drinking the day he was pistol-whipped and that police had “made it clear that we weren’t leaving until I told them what they wanted to hear.”
There was so much doubt. And yet, the state of Georgia showed outright contempt in the face of that doubt.
Even more telling, perhaps, are the additional affidavits claiming that Redd Coles must have been the man who killed Officer MacPhail. He “once told me that he shot a police officer and that a guy named Davis took the fall for it,” reads one. A woman explains how Coles asked her daughter to help him establish a false alibi. A relative of Coles who recanted later testified that he saw Coles pull the trigger.
The grievous errors in the Davis case were numerous, and many arose out of eyewitness identification. The Savannah police contaminated the memories of four witnesses by re-enacting the crime with them present so that their individual perceptions were turned into a group one. The police showed some of the witnesses Mr. Davis’s photograph even before the lineup. His lineup picture was set apart by a different background. The lineup was also administered by a police officer involved in the investigation, increasing the potential for influencing the witnesses.
Three jurors involved with the case now state that if they possessed the knowledge they now have back in 1991, they would have never voted to convict Troy Davis. And sentence him to death.
And yet, in a federal district court in Savannah, Georgia, Judge William Moore somehow came to the conclusion that “while Mr. Davis’s new evidence casts some additional, minimal doubt on his conviction, it is largely smoke and mirrors.”
Six of the witnesses who testified at Troy Davis’ trial said the police threatened them in the event they did not identify Troy Davis as the shooter.
And yet, the Georgia Supreme Court never saw fit to provide Troy Davis with a new trial.
And yet, the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles saw fit to deny Troy Davis clemency.
There is literally no physical evidence linking Troy Davis to the shooting of Officer Mark Allen MacPhail.
And yet, the United States Supreme Court rejected a stay of execution for Troy Davis.
As Troy Davis lay strapped to a gurney, waiting for the state of Georgia to execute him, these were the final words of his existence:
I’d like to address the MacPhail family. Let you know, despite the situation you are in, I’m not the one who personally killed your son, your father, your brother. I am innocent.
The incident that happened that night is not my fault. I did not have a gun. 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. For those about to take my life, God have mercy on your souls. And may God bless your souls.
The state of Georgia then used pentobarbital to put Troy Davis in a drug-induced coma. The drug pancuronium bromide was used next to induce paralysis. And finally, potassium chloride was injected into Troy Davis, stopping his heart and completing his wholly state sanctioned murder.
It is easy to dismiss the specter of Troy Davis and his murder as mere passions of the moment. As a transient rallying cry for an issue whose moment of truth has finally arrived. You may believe that the name Troy Davis will be quickly forgotten by an all too eagerly distracted populace.
But what you fail to realize is that until the policy of state sanctioned murder is abolished from respectable human society, there will be more names. There will be more specters. For every Troy Davis you want to forget, there will be a Duane Buck waiting to take his place.
Duane Buck is set to become the 235th person to be executed during Rick Perry’s tenure as Governor of Texas. Buck murdered two people and shot a third in 1995, and is, by his own admission, totally guilty. But his death sentence was obtained in party through the testimony of a since discredited psychologist who stated that Buck’s race (he’s black) made him more of a long-term threat.
We know Duane Buck is guilty; he will even tell you so himself. The question is whether the state of Texas will allow a human being to be murdered simply because of their skin color. This exchange actually happened during the trial of Duane Buck:
The psychologist, Walter Quijano, had been called by the defense, and he testified that he did not believe Mr. Buck would be dangerous in the future. But on cross-examination, the prosecutor asked Dr. Quijano more detailed questions about the factors used to determine whether Mr. Buck might be a danger later in life.
“You have determined that the sex factor, that a male is more violent than a female because that’s just the way it is, and that the race factor, black, increases the future dangerousness for various complicated reasons,” the prosecutor asked Dr. Quijano. “Is that correct?”
“Yes,” the psychologist replied.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently granted an appeal related to “Doctor” Quijano’s testimony that black men are more prone to acts of violence. Not too long ago, it would have been perfectly reasonable to place faith and hope in an institution like the United States Supreme Court to do the right thing.
But then they made a decision to sanction the state of Georgia murdering Troy Davis.
Let there be no doubt. The state of Georgia murdered Troy Davis. And we will never let them forget this fact.