Friday, September 23, 2011

The Troy Davis execution.

Because I'm a lawyer I have been asked a few times recently what I think of the Troy Davis execution.  People send me links to stories and ask me if I agree with them.  

Keep in mind I'm just giving you my average-Jane opinion without knowing anything about the case other than what I read on the internet.  It's not a Texas case so it's completely outside my realm of information.  I won't repost the links people send me because the articles are usually by these raving lunatics (essentially) screaming about how wrong it is for Davis to be executed.  If you pay no attention to this sort of stuff in the news, the short version is, Davis was executed recently in Georgia, for the 1989 murder of a police officer, over the objections of lots of people, who objected because 7 of the 9 eyewitnesses who testified against him at trial have since "recanted."  I say "recanted" in quotes because the exceptionally poor reporting in all the articles I could find failed to make it clear exactly what the 7 witnesses now say vs. what they said at the time of the trial in 1991.  

Anyway, here's an email I was about to send to my friend, which I wanted to post here as a discussion point/starter with you, my other friends.

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First let me say that since it's a Georgia case, I won't know any of the inside scoop.  But I agree, at first glance, 7 of 9 sounds scary.  In fact I'm going to blog about this after doing a little reading, thanks for motivating me! :)

Couple thoughts.

1.  2 didn't recant.  Is 2 eyewitnesses enough? maybe yes maybe no-- what was their testimony?  What if it was a crime with only 2 eyewitnesses?  But something to consider.

2.  Why did the 7 recant?  who were they in relationship to the case? who were they as people, what kind of character, and what about the 2 who didn't recant? why didn't they?

I went to a pro-death penalty site to see what they had to say.   Not that I want bias, but as you pointed out, some of the more mainstream media has its own bias, so I'm looking for a new point of view.  Here's what they said:

"Troy Anthony Davis was sentenced to death for the murder of Savannah police officer Mark Allen MacPhail in 1989.

On August 19, 1989, Troy Anthony Davis was at a Burger King restaurant with friends and struck a homeless man named Larry Young in the head with a pistol when Young refused to give a beer to one of Davis's friends. Officer MacPhail, who was working an off-duty security detail at the Greyhound bus terminal next door, heard Young cry out and responded to the disturbance. Davis fled and, when Officer MacPhail, wearing his full police uniform, ordered him to stop, Davis turned and shot the officer in the right thigh and chest. Although Mark MacPhail was wearing a bullet-proof vest, his sides were not protected and the bullet entered the left side of his chest, penetrating his left lung and his aorta, stopping at the back of his chest cavity. Davis, smiling, walked up to the stricken officer and shot him in the face as he lay dying in the parking lot. The officer's gun was still strapped in his holster and his baton was still on his belt.

Davis fled to Atlanta and a massive manhunt ensued. The next afternoon, Davis told a friend that he had been involved in an argument at the restaurant the previous evening and struck someone with a gun. He told the friend that when a police officer ran up, Davis shot him and that he went to the officer and "finished the job" because he knew the officer got a good look at his face when he shot him the first time. After his arrest, Davis told a cellmate a similar story. He was arrested after surrendering a few days after the murder.

Trial began exactly two years to the day of Officer MacPhail's murder. This resulted in Davis' conviction for murder after less than two hours of deliberation by the jury, and in the imposition of a death sentence after seven hours of deliberation. He was also convicted of obstruction of a law enforcement officer, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. One of the two counts of aggravated assault arose from an incident where Davis shot into a car that was leaving a party an hour before the murder of Officer MacPhail.

Michael Cooper was struck in the head by a bullet, severely injuring him and leaving the bullet lodged in his jaw. Ballistics tests matched the shells from the murder of the police officer to shells found at a party earlier in the evening where Michael Cooper had been shot. Cooper identified Davis as the shooter.

Even though the US Supreme Court rejected his final appeal without dissent in June of 2007, Davis received a 90-day stay from the state pardons and parole board just one day before his July 17, 2007 execution date. The stay was granted to examine claims by witnesses that they had given erroneous testimony or were no longer certain about their identification of Davis.

Mark MacPhail's son, 18-year-old Mark Allen MacPhail Jr. spoke against the 2007 stay to members of the Board of Pardons and Parole. "I told them how it felt having him ripped away from me at such an early age. Picture having Father's Day and having no one to give anything to," MacPhail said he told the board. Anneliese MacPhail, mother of the slain officer, commented to a reporter after learning that Davis's request for a new trial was denied in March 2008. "I wonder, what do all those witnesses remember after 18 years? There is no new evidence. No mother should go through what I have been through." Mark's wife Joan MacPhail said she has lost her best friend, the father of her two children and now her peace of mind as appeals for Davis have drawn on for almost two decades. "It's like another punch in the stomach," she said. "You have to relive that night over and over. That's so wrong. Why shouldn't we have peace in our lives?"

About the changing witnesses, the Georgia Supreme Court stated that most of the witnesses who recanted "have merely stated they now do not feel able to identify the shooter." The majority could not ignore the trial testimony, "and, in fact, we favor that original testimony over the new."

The son of a U.S. Army Ranger, Mark MacPhail was a graduate of Columbus High School in Georgia. His mother, Anne, still lives in Columbus, Georgia. Davis received another stay of execution before his September 23, 2008 execution date. UPDATE: After a delay of approximately three hours, the U.S. Supreme Court denied without comment a request for a stay of execution for Troy Davis."

So I read that and then dug and dug trying to find out which 7 of the 9 witnesses recanted.  All I can find is that "some" say they were "pressured" by police.
What if the ones who didn't recant were a) Michael Cooper, the guy who Davis shot in the head just before killing McPhail, with the recovered bullet that matched the one in McPhail, and b) the friend in Atlanta to whom Davis confessed?

In a general sense, without looking at the facts of this specific case, here's what I think.  Most capital murders happen without a bunch of witnesses.  Sometimes the only witness(es) are less than stellar characters.  What if it's a jailhouse snitch, who, 20 years down the road, changes his tune to get some notoriety, some facetime on TV?  can I think of half a dozen reasons even an honorable person with good character would have second thoughts or doubts years later?  sure.  What if their memory is fuzzy now but wasn't so fuzzy then? 

That's all.  It's a little disturbing that these journalists are jumping on the bandwagon and not reporting the bare bones facts that would enable an average reader to assess the importance of "those 7" versus "those two."  These articles are just glossing over what the 7 said versus the 2 said, both at trial and now.  Poor reporting!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting and well written post Georgette. I believe the correct person was executed. I find it odd that in his last statement he made reference to "him not being the one who had the gun."