By Patricia Chang
At 11:08pm on September 21, 2011, Troy Davis was executed by injection for allegedly murdering Mark MacPhail by shooting him once in the heart and once in the face in August of 1989. Twenty-two years after the Savannah, Georgia murder, the story can now finally be put to rest. Or can it?
Davis maintained his innocence, even after receiving the death sentence following a convoluted murder trial in 1991. The sentence didn’t sit quite right with many people for numerous reasons. The murder occurred in the deep south during the 1980s; Davis was a young black man and Mark MacPhail was a white off-duty cop. The authorities never found the 0.38 caliber murder weapon. Seven of nine eyewitnesses who testified against Davis later signed affidavits recanting their testimony. Some witnesses said that the police intimidated them into giving false testimony implicating Davis. At least one witnesses said he was illiterate and couldn’t read the police statements he signed against Davis. Others implicated one of the witnesses, Sylvester “Redd” Coles, in the crime, and three witness signed affidavits claiming that Coles had confessed to the MacPhail murder.
Over the course of twenty years, Davis’s numerous appeals and requests on the state and federal levels were all denied, and his execution date was set and postponed four times: July 17, 2007; September 23, 2008; October 27, 2008; and September 21, 2011. By this time, Troy Davis and his case had received international media attention. His supporters ranged from organizations including Amnesty International, the Innocence Project, and the NAACP to renown figures such as the former President Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI, Al Sharpton, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Davis’s sister, Martina Correia, campaigned to have his story heard and to stop his execution. More than 630,000 petitions were sent to the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Parole to try to save Davis’s life.
On September 21, 2011, execution day, the final countdown began to wind down. Yet another bid of clemency was denied just a day before. The Butts County Superior Court denied a request to halt the execution in the morning, and the Georgia Supreme Court denied the appeal. Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the prison, many of them carrying signs, some wearing t-shirts bearing the slogan, “I am Troy Davis.” At 7:10pm, ten minutes after the scheduled execution time, after Davis had spent four hours with his sister, nephew and niece, after he chose not to eat the last meal of “grilled cheeseburgers, oven browned potatoes, baked beans, coleslaw, cookies and grape beverage,” there was a brief but immense moment of hope when the Supreme Court ordered a temporary delay to consider a stay of the execution. But just hours later, at 11:08pm, Troy Davis, age 42, was “put on a gurney at the state prison in Jackson and administered a cocktail of lethal drugs.” Despite serious doubts about his guilt, Troy Davis was executed. Among his last words were addressed to members of the MacPhail family, who were present to witness the execution: “I was not responsible for what happened that night. I did not have a gun. I was not the one who took the life of your father, son, brother.”
After the execution, which lasted fifteen minutes, it is reported that some members of the MacPhail family left smiling.
If truth-seeking and storytelling are truly an essential part of remedying a moral injustice and of healing spiritual wounds, it calls into question whose story — Troy Davis’s or Mark MacPhail’s — should be heard. Whose story should be believed as the truth? Whose voice is louder — the voice of Davis’s hundreds of thousands of supporters worldwide, or the voice of the MacPhail family who still grieves the unjustifiable death of their son? Will Davis’s death heal the loss of MacPhail’s life?
“I’m kind of numb. I can’t believe that it’s really happened,” MacPhail’s mother, Anneliese MacPhail, said in an telephone interview after the execution. “All the feelings of relief and peace I’ve been waiting for all these years, they will come later. I certainly do want some peace.”
“He has had ample time to prove his innocence,” said MacPhail’s widow, Joan MacPhail-Harris, in an earlier interview. “And he is not innocent.”
NAACP President Benjamin Jealous tweeted, “In death, Troy Davis will live on as a reminder of a broken justice system that kills an innocent man while a murderer walks free.”
So — whose story should prevail?
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