A little piece of me died when I heard that the state of Georgia had taken the life of Troy Davis, on death row since 1989 in the murder of Savannah police officer, Mark MacPhail.
By now you know the case, including the recanted testimony from witnesses and the doubts that were cast about how the case was prosecuted. Even longtime Georgia political foes were against this execution, including former Congressman Bob Barr and former President Jimmy Carter. It’s that cloud of doubt in this case that breaks my heart as I grieve for both the Davis and the MacPhail families.
Now if you assume that I’m just another liberal against the death penalty, you’d be dead wrong and the pun is intended. I believe that there are some people on this earth who are just plain evil and they don’t deserve to live. I’m talking about the kind of murderers who have no respect for life and would kill repeatedly every chance they got.
A good example is Charles Manson who was convicted in the killings of 11 innocent people in California back in August of 1969. He was sentenced to death, but his sentence was commuted to life in prison by the California Supreme Court in 1972, when they abolished the death penalty. So Manson sits in prison now at the age of 76, still spouting hate and no one doubts that he would go on another murderous crime spree if he ever got out of prison.
Read about the Manson case if you’ve forgotten about him: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Manson
You might say, well Troy Davis was convicted of killing a police officer and that’s an automatic death sentence. The only problem with that argument is a recent case in Atlanta that we are all too familiar with, a young man by the name of Brian Nichols. In March of 2005, Nichols was facing a certain prison term for raping his ex girl friend. When he saw he was losing the case he went berserk in the Fulton County Courthouse. He beat a prison guard senseless, took her gun and then murdered a judge and a court reporter in one of the courtrooms. As he was escaping from the building, he murdered a sheriff’s deputy in the street and later that night he murdered a federal agent that he encountered by chance. He was captured after he surrendered at the apartment of a young woman that he had kidnapped and taken hostage.
Nichols was charged with 54 crimes and offenses, including the four murders. Three and a half years later, a jury found him guilty on all charges. But Nichols agreed to a last minute deal by pleading guilty and the judge gave him consecutive life sentences, meaning he will spend the rest of his life in prison. There was never any doubt that he had committed all of those terrible crimes, but his life was spared.
Here's a link to the Brian Nichols case: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nichols
Brian Nichols and Charles Manson are the kind of dangerous criminals that the death penalty law is supposed to protect us from. But if we’re not going to execute criminals who’ve killed several people, then how can we automatically agree to execute anyone who’s committed far fewer crimes?
How can the murder of one police officer mean the death penalty, while the killings of a judge, a court reporter, a sheriff’s deputy and a federal agent result in a life sentence? All five of these murder victims were sworn to uphold of the law in the same state, Georgia!
That brings us back to Troy Davis who was executed by lethal injection around 11:10pm on September 21, 2011. The State Parole Board refused to commute his sentence, despite serious doubts about his guilt that were raised by his attorneys. A reporter who witnessed the execution, Rhonda Cook of the AJC, gave us this chilling account of Davis’ final moments.
“Warden Carl Humphrey … asked Davis if he has any final words. Yes, the condemned man said and he raised his head so he could look at Mark MacPhail Jr., who was an infant when his father was murdered, and William MacPhail, the dead officer’s brother.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Davis said.
Mark MacPhail, who was leaning forward, and his uncle did not move. They stared at the man who killed their loved one.
“I did not personally kill your son, father and brother,” Davis said. “I am innocent. “
He asked his family and friends to continue to search for the truth. And to the prison officials he said,
“May God have mercy on your souls. May God bless your souls.”
He then lowered his head. He turned down an offer for a prayer. Within minutes, Troy Anthony Davis slipped out of consciousness and in 14 minutes he was dead.
The execution of Troy Davis has left many of us with an empty feeling. But the lives of Davis and Mark MacPhail must not be in vain. We must learn from this painful case to decide exactly how the death sentence should be given out by the courts. We can argue about Davis’ guilt or innocence forever, but there are still so many unanswered questions. Why did Davis receive the death penalty at all? Was it only because he clung to his innocence and refused to say he that he killed Macphail? If Davis had pled guilty, would he have gotten a life sentence from the court like many others before him? If admitting guilt is a big factor in determining who gets executed in Georgia, then what’s the point of the death penalty? As Troy Davis said in his final moments, “keep searching for the truth”!
Below is link to a 2008 case when the Georgia Parole Board commuted a man’s death sentence.