Troy Davis, a convicted murderer of an off-duty police officer, Mark MacPhail in 1989, was executed last Wenesday at 11:08 PM in Georgia, where capital punishment is still allowed. On the night of August 19, 1989, MacPhail was shot while he was trying to defend a homeless man, who was being harassed by a group of men, including Davis. During the trial, there were 34 witnesses and ballistic evidences that traced bullets found at the scene of crime to the bullets that Davis has previously seen using, but there was not any scientific evidence – such as DNA testing- provided.
Ever since his first trial, Davis has always claimed his innocence. Even right before he entered the death chamber he said, “I did not personally kill your son, father, brother.” “All I can ask is that you look deeper into this case so you really can finally see the truth.” During his trial with a grand jury in 1991, a jury of seven black men and five white men recommended a death penalty after seven hours of deliberation.
After the first decision, Davis tried to appeal to the state and district court on the ruling made during his trial in 1991. However, the appeals were denied several times, on the basis that his trial was fair with fair representation of juries and he should have brought evidence that he later brought out in the earlier appeal process or court cases. For Davis’ last appeal to the US Supreme Court, Georgia Supreme Court has claimed “enough is enough”.
Davis’ case arose several problems that caused uproar online and offline.
First, since 1996, seven of the witnesses that have previously pointed Davis as the murder, have confessed that they were coerced to convict Troy Davis by the police during the initial trial in the 1991. UVA law professor, Brandon L. Garrett, claims that “Troy Davis’ case is finally a case about the fragility and malleability of eyewitness memory.” Garrett says, “The eyewitness identifications in the Troy Davis case do not remotely pass muster based on what we know today about eyewitness memory—they were not double-blind, they were not conducted properly, and the staged re-enactment was blatantly suggestive. Nor is there any other indication that these witnesses were reliable.” However, even with these new facts and Davis’ claims of unfair trials, his appeals were rejected by the court.
His executions were stopped three times due to the support by many public figures and organizations, however, his appeals were denied again, because the new evidence was not as favorable as the initial testimonies. Davis has fought for his life even to the last minute, as he asked for a polygraph test (lie detector test) to be done on him, however, that request was also rejected.
Many protesters believe that Davis’ case exemplifies flaws in the justice system in the United States, questioning, how could a death penalty be carried out even in the midst of uncertainties about his case still remaining?
Supporters like NAACP brought a light into the racial discrimination in this case. In the press release 14 days Davis was executed, the president of NAACP claimed, “After reviewing the evidence, I am convinced that Troy Davis is an innocent man.” Precedent cases suggest that a black man in Georgia is more likely to be executed than a white man. Even nationally speaking, only 13% of American populations are black; however, 41% of those who were put on a death row have been black although 98% of those applied for death penalty are white. Unfortunately, even in the 21st century, race still matters in the legal system.
Lastly, many are questioning the nature of death penalties. Amnesty International has been the biggest supporter of Davis (in addition to NAACP), seriously questioning the capital punishment that is still carried out in the U.S. The main argument by Amnesty is that “Guilty or innocent every person is a human being with human rights. Executions are always wrong.” According to the Gallup poll, support for capital punishment has gone down from 80% in the 1994 to 64% in 2010 for conviction of murder.
Many students on grounds were caught in a shock after the news of execution, especially those who have been following Davis’ case for a while. Christina Avalos, a third year student who interned at Amnesty International USA this past summer said, “It is devastating that after all the protest, public response, and doubts surrounding Troy Davis’ conviction, he was not granted clemency. I find it extremely hypocritical of the United States to pride itself on being a promoter of human rights around the world, condemning other nations’ harsh punishments and legal practices, while we continue to use the death penalty, even in cases with serious uncertainties.”
The City of Charlottesville Amnesty chapter, in conjunction with Amnesty International UVA chapter, had been actively fighting for Davis. The Friday before Davis’ execution, Amnesty International UVA group, local Charlottesville group, and high school chapter got together to hold a “march for Troy” in the Downtown.
President of Amnesty International at UVA, Purvi Patel says they have been and will continue to raise voices for Davis. “Amnesty International has been fighting for the abolishment of the death penalty, not only in Virginia, but in all of the United States. Capital punishment is the ultimate denial of human rights. Additionally, our justice system is riddled with economic and racial bias and tainted by human error.” Amnesty International at UVA will be having an event called Witness to Innocence. Nathson Fields, a death row exoneree, will be the main speaker. He was in prison for 20 years, over 11 of which were spent on death row, before he was able to prove his innocence. It will be Nov. 2nd at 7:30pm in MIN 125
Troy Davis’ long journey to fight for his life ended. However, his execution will be continued to bring out issues such as the flawed American justice system, issues of capital punishment, and the delicate issue of continuing racial discrimination in the United States