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Intro: "Troy Davis faces execution on 21 September, despite seven of nine non-police witnesses recanting. Where is the justice in that?"

Troy Davis on death row in Georgia, where he faces execution by lethal injection. (photo: Getty Images)
Troy Davis on death row in Georgia, where he faces execution by lethal injection. (photo: Getty Images)

Troy Davis, Victim of Judicial Lynching

By Amy Goodman, Guardian UK

17 September 11


Troy Davis faces execution on 21 September, despite seven of nine non-police witnesses recanting. Where is the justice in that?

eath brings cheers these days in America.

In the most recent Republican presidential debate in Tampa, Florida, when CNN's Wolf Blitzer asked, hypothetically, if a man who chose to carry no medical insurance, then was stricken with a grave illness, should be left to die, cheers of "Yeah!" filled the hall. When, in the prior debate, Governor Rick Perry was asked about his enthusiastic use of the death penalty in Texas, the crowd erupted into sustained applause and cheers. The reaction from the audience prompted debate moderator Brian Williams of NBC News to follow up with the question, "What do you make of that dynamic that just happened here, the mention of the execution of 234 people drew applause?"

That "dynamic" is why challenging the death sentence to be carried out against Troy Davis by the state of Georgia on 21 September is so important. Davis has been on Georgia's death row for close to 20 years, after being convicted of killing off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail in Savannah. Since his conviction, seven of the nine non-police witnesses have recanted their testimony, alleging police coercion and intimidation in obtaining the testimony. There is no physical evidence linking Davis to the murder.

Last March, the US supreme court ruled that Davis should receive an evidentiary hearing, to make his case for innocence. Several witnesses have identified one of the remaining witnesses who has not recanted, Sylvester "Redd" Coles, as the shooter. US District Judge William T Moore Jr refused, on a technicality, to allow the testimony of witnesses who claimed that, after Davis had been convicted, Coles admitted to shooting MacPhail. In his August court order, Moore summarised, "Mr Davis is not innocent."

One of the jurors, Brenda Forrest, disagrees. She told CNN in 2009, recalling the trial of Davis, "All of the witnesses - they were able to ID him as the person who actually did it." Since the seven witnesses recanted, she says: "If I knew then what I know now, Troy Davis would not be on death row. The verdict would be not guilty."

Troy Davis has three major strikes against him. First, he is an African American man. Second, he was charged with killing a white police officer. And third, he is in Georgia.

More than a century ago, the legendary muckraking journalist Ida B Wells risked her life when she began reporting on the epidemic of lynchings in the Deep South. She published Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All its Phases in 1892 and followed up with The Red Record in 1895, detailing hundreds of lynchings. She wrote:

"In Brooks County, Georgia, 23 December, while this Christian country was preparing for Christmas celebration, seven Negroes were lynched in 24 hours because they refused, or were unable to tell the whereabouts of a colored man named Pike, who killed a white man ... Georgia heads the list of lynching states."

The planned execution of Davis will not be at the hands of an unruly mob, but in the sterile, fluorescently lit confines of Georgia diagnostic and classification prison in Butts County, near the town of Jackson. The state doesn't intend to hang Troy Davis from a tree with a rope or a chain - to hang, as Billie Holiday sang, like a strange fruit:

"Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees."

The state of Georgia, unless its board of pardons and paroles intervenes, will administer a lethal dose of pentobarbital. Georgia is using this new execution drug because the federal Drug Enforcement Administration seized its supply of sodium thiopental last March, accusing the state of illegally importing the poison.

"This is our justice system at its very worst," said Ben Jealous, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Amnesty International has called on the state board of pardons and paroles to commute Davis' sentence. "The board stayed Davis' execution in 2007, stating that capital punishment was not an option when doubts about guilt remained," said Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA. "Since then, two more execution dates have come and gone, and there is still little clarity, much less proof, that Davis committed any crime. Amnesty International respectfully asks the board to commute Davis' sentence to life and prevent Georgia from making a catastrophic mistake."

It's not just the human rights groups the parole board should listen to. Pope Benedict XVI and Nobel peace prize laureates President Jimmy Carter and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, among others, also have called for clemency. Or the board can listen to mobs who cheer for death.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column. your social media marketing partner


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+25 # reiverpacific 2011-09-17 11:48
Can't add much to this but that I've worked for both the state of Kentucky and Virginia departments of "Corrections" as an independent construction consultant and I'd hate to be jailed in ANY of these states, whether White, Black, Latino, or American Indian. The cultures are brutally archaic, and only invite brutality among the inmates. The Jim Crow mentality still holds true for sure!
I always thought that any prisoner in this country and others with any kind of non-medieval system, was tried by jury "of their peers" and only convicted in the absence of "reasonable doubt".
Of course, that is a joke (look at the revenge, political and institutional hate visited on Leonard Peltier -apparently a "Model prisoner" for two life sentences in the face of deeply-flawed evidence).
I've been invited to see the "Chair room" in the former Richmond penitentiary, where I was told a couple of pretty gruesome tales by screws who had witnessed electrocutions, described in gloating terms and chuckled at by the governor of the place. And whilst I was still there, a (white) man was electrocuted in Richmond for a murder which was being boasted of in Grundy, at the other side of the state, by the real murderer, and no appeal was granted!
This institutional mean-spiritedne ss is being spread nation-wide by the likes of Rick Perry, I'm afraid!
+10 # Underledge 2011-09-17 11:57
Perhaps the witnesses who apparently lied under oath should be brought up on charges?
+4 # Texas Aggie 2011-09-18 10:52
Actually they didn't lie deliberately. The police had threatened them with charges of aiding murder if they didn't say what they were told to say. If anything, the police should be charged with interfering with witnesses.
+11 # sandyboy 2011-09-17 14:25
Sadly, those who cheer death sentences think they're making a stand against bad people, but when they ignore cases like this they themselves have become the bad guys. It's always the same - they'll applaud injustice until it's one of their own family strapped to a gurney. Why can't our legal system be more about justice and less about revenge?
0 # rom120 2011-09-17 15:33
The United States is lecturing China on "human rights abuses", isn't this a joke?
I am 100% for the death penalty but not the way the US is handling it. You're black you're dead.
+8 # Peacedragon 2011-09-17 16:41
I am 100% against the desth penalty. A life sentence would give people time to work to correct errors.
+5 # tomo 2011-09-17 18:08
Amy, it looks like we just don't care anymore. There is a high price for such judicial murders. As they occur unchecked, whatever respect there may once have been for what we rather hopefully call "the justice system," dissolves further; disorder in society increases. Crime begins in many quarters to take on the character of an act justified rebellion. All custom of civility is drained from society.
+4 # Rara Avis 2011-09-18 06:33
If Troy Davis can be found guilty of murder without any phsysical evidence linking him to the crime and seven of nine witnesses recanting their testimony due to police coercion one wonders about the credibility of the remaining two witnesses.

You also have to wonder about the Governor of Georgia, and those who could at least put his death on hold until this is examined further. You also have to wonder about the police and their method of investigating crime.

In such an environment no citizen, no matter how law abiding previously, no matter of what station in life, or race, is safe. The freedom and liberty promised under our Constitution is mocked.
+3 # Texas Aggie 2011-09-18 10:54
There was no investigation. The cops decided to pin it on Troy and then went out and browbeat a bunch of "witnesses" into testifying or else be charged with aiding and abetting a murder.
0 # suzyskier 2011-09-19 14:54
I am totally against the death penalty! For one thing it is so permanent and for the other rather barbaric. To go ahead and murder (that's what it is) someone in an instance like this is horrifying.

Frankly the governor of Texas is nothing but a cartoon character and people cheering the 234 death sentences must be sub-human. He is really a scary guy and there are too many gullible, stupid people that would vote for him, probably on the one issue alone. I know people who would leave the country if he were to win, a nightmare scenario!

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