Dear Georgia: I’m ashamed
Last Wednesday night, all eyes were on Jackson, Ga., as Troy Davis, a 42-year-old inmate accused of killing off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail in 1989, waited to hear the words that would save his life for the fourth time: “stay of execution.”
Several hours after the execution was scheduled to occur, two things happened that shocked and confused people around the world. The first was that the U.S. Supreme court issued a one- to seven-day temporary delay of execution, which, while not a guaranteed stay, meant that there was at least a small glimmer of hope and that Davis would at least make it through the night.
The second was that, within half an hour, the court denied his final appeal, and at 10:53 p.m. EDT, the state of Georgia began the execution of Troy Davis via lethal injection. He was pronounced dead at 11:08 p.m. His last words to the MacPhail family were, “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…For those about to take my life, God have mercy on your souls. And may God bless your souls.”
If you’re not familiar with Troy Davis and the controversy behind his case, here’s a quick recap: In 1991, nine people testified either to having seen Davis kill MacPhail or to having heard Davis confess to killing him. Seven of the witnesses have since claimed that they were coerced into saying what they did because they were afraid to testify against police officers, especially because several of the witnesses had minor criminal records.
In addition, the murder weapon was never found, and supporters of Davis have said for years that there was simply too much doubt and not enough conclusive evidence in the case.
The scary part is that Davis spent his life in jail. He, like us, was young with a world of possibilities ahead of him, but he never had the chance to explore any of them, because the justice system was more concerned with not proving him innocent than proving him not guilty. I’m not trying to start a debate about whether or not Troy Davis was innocent. What I am trying to do is point out what Georgia has done. You can’t un-execute someone, and if any court at any level had enough doubt to stay Davis’ execution not once, but four times, they had reason to stay it again.
Prosecutors denied Davis’ request to take a polygraph test the day of his execution, but why? If the MacPhails wanted the truth and justice for their son that they always said they did, why wouldn’t they want to do everything in their power to find the man who actually killed him instead of causing another potentially innocent man to die? MacPhail’s mother’s main argument over the last several years has been that “[her] son is dead, while [the Davis’] is still alive,” but an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.
This case will without a doubt lead to a reevaluation of the death penalty—people are already talking about it. Troy Davis’ life was already taken from him in the sense that he spent it away from his family and his loved ones; but was it really fair to take what he had left simply because he might have seemed guilty?
At the very least, Troy Davis’ life and death should, and hopefully will, lead us as a society to appreciate the value of a person’s life. We live in a country in which we execute people even if there are extreme doubts about their guilt. That needs to change.