Davis execution puts justice system on trial
Logan Carlson and Michael Wilson
lcarl555@uwsp.edu - mwils249@uwsp.edu

The State of Georgia murdered Troy Davis Wednesday night, a man who was convicted of murdering a police officer in 1989. We use the term murdered instead of executed because that is exactly what the state did to Davis, as there was more than enough doubt of his guilt to not only grant a re-trial but that he was, more than likely, an innocent man. This was a deliberate, cold-blooded murder of a human being that posed no threat to anyone.

What Davis went through on Wednesday night was not only cruel but an entirely unusual punishment inflicted upon him. Davis was scheduled to be executed at 7:00pm local time when the United States Supreme Court issued a temporary reprieve, only minutes before. He then waited over four hours to hear if the Court was going to take his case, his life hanging in the balance from minute to minute.

Ultimately the Court decided not to issue a stay of execution pending review of his case, despite “persistent, pervasive doubt” of Davis’ guilt, according to former FBI Director William Sessions.

On August 19, 1989, police officer Mark MacPhail was gunned down, while on duty, in the parking lot of the Savannah Greyhound bus station. The next day, Davis was arrested based on the eyewitness report of a Sylvester “Red” Coles.

The murder weapon was never recovered, and no physical evidence linking Davis to the case was ever presented. For more twenty years, however, Davis sat in the Georgia penitential system’s death row.

Darrell Collins is one of the seven of the nine non-police witnesses who have recanted their original testimonies for the case. In 2002, Collins wrote an affidavit in which he retracted his account, stating that he had succumbed to police coercion, after hours of threats and screaming, by finally telling them “what they wanted to hear.”

A sixteen-year-old at the time, Collins was interrogated without a lawyer or his parents present. “They would tell me things that they said had happened and I would repeat whatever they said,” he confessed in his affidavit.

Perhaps worst of all, Joseph Washington, who was witness to the crime, said in a 1996 signed affidavit, “I saw Sylvester Coles—I know him by the name Red—shoot the police officer. I am positive it was Red who shot the police officer.”

Three of the jurors said that they would have switched their vote given this new evidence. Ultimately the State of Georgia will be guiltier of the killing of Davis than Davis was for the murder of MacPhail; at least we know for a fact that they killed Davis.

A global movement of nearly one million pleas for justice for Troy Davis sprung to action over the last few months, spearheaded by Amnesty International. Davis’ case was also taken up by the NAACP, the ACLU, the Pope and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, as well as known death-penalty supporters like former Republican Congressman Bob Barr.

However, Georgia would rather murder a man than expose the classist and racist realities of our legal system, where the rich seldom face prison time and our prisons are disproportionally composed of low-income black and Hispanic males.

Despite the fact that similarly charged criminals who plead guilty are taken off of death row and are given a lower sentence, Davis was adamant about his innocence, which he spent the last two decades defending. He would not bargain; the stakes were too high.

When the U.S. Supreme Court finally took his appeal in 2009, Davis was ordered in court to “clearly establish his innocence,” a much more difficult thing to prove than guilt in terms of legal processes and tangible evidence for either. It is because innocence is so difficult to prove that our justice system is based on the idea of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Davis was murdered with a drug called Nembutal, which is manufactured by a Danish company called Lundbeck. Nembutal is commonly used in veterinary offices to euthanize animals. Lundbeck recently issued a statement saying they will no longer sell to any prison that uses it to carry out executions and that any doses the prisons currently have should not be used in executions.

The reason Georgia has to use Nembutal is because the drug that was previously used for lethal injections, sodium thiopental, is no longer being manufactured. Georgia was able to score some sodium thiopental from a “pharmacy” in England that was being operated out of a driver’s education facility, but the Drug Enforcement Agency seized it as the state had illegally imported it.

The United States stands proudly among the forward thinking nations of the world that still use capital punishment, with the likes of Somalia, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, and the Axis of Evil: North Korea, Iran, and Iraq. Amnesty International estimates that the US had the fifth highest rate of executions in the world during 2010; only China, Iran, North Korea and Yemen executed more of their citizens.

Defenders of capital punishment say the threat of its enforcement deters potential criminals from committing such crimes; however, states that do not have capital punishment have far lower rates of incarceration. Killing another human being, even if you can establish guilt, is not protection or justice; it is cold-blooded revenge.

Over 130 death row inmates have been exonerated since 1973. Although these cases represent important legal victories for justice, they also prove the fallibility of our justice system. Defenders of capital punishment would therefore need to develop a system that proves guilt absolutely in all cases—which is impossible.

The right wing often portrays the government as incompetent, unable to do anything of value for the country. Well it seems that in states that have been historically dominated by Republicans, government has become remarkably efficient at killing people.

We must always remember that no matter how we construct our legal justice systems, no human holds the moral authority to take the life of another, regardless of the circumstances.

The bottom line is that killing another person, regardless of his guilt or innocence is wrong. How many more years before we join the civilized world and ban this cruel punishment?