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Monday, September 26, 2011

Troy Davis: Georgia's 'Strange Fruit'

We know Georgia for it's peaches, but on 9/11/2011, it bore 'Strange Fruit.'
The facts are these: 
  • Troy Davis was executed on September 11, 2011 11:08 PM. His death certificate reads 'homicide.'
  • Mark MacPhail was shot and killed on August 19, 1989. No gun was ever found. No DNA evidence exists.
  • Nine witnesses initially testified that Davis was the one to commit MacPhail's murder. Seven of these have since changed their testimony. Several cited police coercion as their original motivator for false witness. Police deny coercion was ever used.
  • Of the two witnesses that remain, one has not spoken about the case at all since the original 1991 trial. The other himself has been suspected of committing the murder.  
  • In 2009, the United States Supreme Court gave Davis a new hearing, but because it is a post-conviction, such hearing function as 'guilty until proven innocent.' Not all of the witness mentioned above were called upon during the new hearing, and without the gun or DNA evidence, Davis was unable to prove his innocence.
Of course, Davis's case is convoluted that has a long history, but his story reflects an ever growing pool of dubious convictions that carry profound consequences 

From the early 1900's the fallibility of eyewitness testimony has been well established. The Innocence Project has helped exonerate 273 people of crimes they did not commit and states that "eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in more than 75% of convictions overturned through DNA testing." Many cases like Davis's have occurred before, with varying results (hear one compelling story on This American Life).

These cases are scary because it feels like such twists of fate could happen to any of us. But it is more likely to happen to some than others...

Racial inequality in the American justice system is rampant. Daily, people of color across the country are disproportionately suspected of crime based on their race, and police bias has lead to fatalities on numerous occasions. Almost 50% of prisoners serving life sentences, and 38% of all prisoners, are black (iconograph). These numbers reflect neither total US population demographics (less than 13% black), nor the demographics of actual crime being committed (eg. marijuana convictions). Furthermore, courts are more likely to impose the death penalty when the victim is white, clearly demonstrating which lives are more valued. 

There is also significant disparity across SES. Those that cannot afford their own lawyers are assigned to overwhelmed court-appointed public defenders. But US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg observes that "people who are well represented at trial do not get the death penalty."

And so we are left wondering what Davis's fate might have been if he had been white. Maybe it would have been the same. Or maybe his case would have been dismissed like that of Strauss-Kahn's, or maybe he would have acquitted like Casey Anthony. Or maybe he would have been given a short prison sentence and then released on bail, like Johannes Mehserle (who was video taped shooting his unarmed victim). Or maybe the victim's family might have declined the death penalty, like James Anderson's did. Or the Georgia Board of Pardons could have commuted Davis's sentence, like they did for Samuel David Crowe (who confessed and plead guilty to murder). 

No one of these cases or statics, proves racial bias. But it's the frequency of copious examples that horrifies me. So though Davis's case makes us pause to think how the flawed justice system is, I know I will probably never actually have to worry about it.

In closing, let us be mindful how easy it is to defend the life of someone we believe is innocent (Recall humbly Romans 5:7-8). But what if we knew for a fact he was guilty? It is more difficult to say 'I am Lawrence Brewer' (the white-supremacist convicted of hate-murder, and executed the same day as Davis). 

Typically, white Evangelical Christians are in favor of the death penalty, but this is the same group that is so animatedly pro-life in other situations, insisting that all life is sacred. Yet one cannot help but recall Jesus's answer to demands for the adulteress's execution.  

Sister Helen Prejean famously observes "The profound moral question is not, 'Do they deserve to die?' but 'Do we deserve to kill them?' The UMC Discipline also affirms: ‎"We believe the death penalty denies the power of Christ to redeem, restore, and transform all human beings."

As for myself, I believe that the business of ranking sins, or the value of a person's life, is way above my pay-grade.

    See Also:


    1. I have no idea of his guilt or innocence but there was more evidence than what was presented here.  A lack of absolute evidence, in my opinion, should preclude the death penalty.  It appears from the information in Wikipedia, that Mr Davis was there at the shooting  and the ammunition was his. 
      In 2009, the Supreme Court of the United
      States ordered the U.S.
      District Court for the Southern District of Georgia to consider whether new
      evidence "that could not have been obtained at the time of trial clearly
      establishes [Davis's] innocence". The evidentiary hearing was held in June 2010.
      The defense presented affidavits from seven of the nine trial witnesses whose
      original testimony had identified Davis as the murderer, but who it contended
      had changed or recanted their previous testimony. Some of these writings
      disavowed parts of prior testimony, or implicated Sylvester "Redd" Coles, whom
      Davis contended was the actual triggerman. The state presented witnesses,
      including the police investigators and original prosecutors, who described a
      careful investigation of the crime, without any coercion. Davis did not call
      some of the witnesses who had supposedly recanted, despite their presence in the
      courthouse; accordingly their affidavits were given little weight by the judge.
      Evidence that Coles had confessed to the killing was excluded as hearsay because Coles was not subpoenaed
      by the defense to rebut it. In an August 2010 decision, the conviction was
      upheld. The court described defense efforts to upset the conviction as "largely
      smoke and mirrors" and found that several of the proffered affidavits were not
      recantations at all. Subsequent appeals, including to the Supreme Court, were
      rejected, and a fourth execution date was set for September 21, 2011.  (paragraph from Wikipedia.)

      I would definitely agree that our justice system is insufficient and biased.  However the US media is even worse and persuades people without giving them all the evidence.  We do have a problem and I applaud and participate in the effort to correct it. 

      Yet most of the time we hear one side of an argument and jump to that side, especially if it agrees with our previous convictions.  In Proverbs 18 it is written v13  He who answers before listening--that is his folly and his shame.v 17 The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.

    2. With no intention of compiling
      a dossier of the event, I include the links for more information for my readers (general
      practice for all my posts). I am glad you availed yourself of those! 

      I too read
      that page as well as the references it sites. You see here my conclusions based
      on the information available. 

    3. Really rood follow up:

    4. On the flip-side, victims who are people of color are much less likely to get national attention when they go missing.Particularly male minorities. Recently, a young man named Avonte Oquendo has been missing for the last four weeks. He is black, male, and the reward for his safe return is up to $85,000--yet he is still not on the national news or even listed in the missing persons page of his hometown Queens, New York. (My icon has his picture and information.) I find the discriminatory practice in the media in these cases very disturbing. And unacceptable.Our black sons are just as valuable as our white daughters.

    5. Absolutely a salient point!

      Thanks also for passing along Avonte Oquendo's information!


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