Troy Davis — Will Miscarriage of Justice Force America to Change?

Troy Davis — Will Miscarriage of Justice Force America to Change?


Upon learning that the Georgia clemency board for the second time in four years rejected a plea to commute the death sentence of Troy Davis, a man convicted of the 1989 murder of Savannah police officer Mark Allen MacPhail, I began to worry that the new South, the so-called “post-racial south,” was not so different from the old.

Have Americans truly evolved with respect to the capital punishment?

Most of the industrialized world has abolished the death penalty. Yet we hang on to a practice fraught with latent procedural biases that lead to the distinct possibility innocent blood may be shed due to government-ordered retribution.

Barring a stay of execution by the U.S. Supreme Court, Wednesday night Troy Davis will die by lethal injection for MacPhail’s murder.

There will be those who argue that Davis was found guilty by a jury of his peers, based upon the evidence before them.

From a legal standpoint, myriad studies point to the fact that eyewitness testimony is unreliable — notoriously so.

In criminal prosecutions, the state must prove that the defendant was, in fact, the individual who committed the crime.  One area in which real-life criminal courtrooms are similar to their counterparts in movies and on television is during direct examinations of essential witnesses, when the prosecutor asks, “Is the person you saw committing the crime in the courtroom today?”

An affirmative answer is followed by a dramatic directive to point out the defendant to the jury.

But we now know that in the Davis case, seven of nine eyewitnesses have since recanted their stories. Perhaps even more chilling, Quiana Glover testified before the clemency board that she overheard an eighth witness, Sylvester “Redd” Coles, while drunk and bragging, admit in 2009 that he, in fact, was MacPhail’s murderer.

What do we do with the knowledge that witnesses who recanted tell a sordid story of an overzealous prosecution bent on having someone pay for an officer’s death?

Does it matter that three jurors have signed affidavits attesting they now doubt the sufficiency of their verdicts based upon the new evidence?

These facts cast serious doubts about the collective wisdom, if not the functionality, of a legal system that considers such new evidence but then will not order a new trial. Simply stated, if Troy Davis did not deserve a new trial, who does?

Troy Davis, a poor black man with few ties to the Georgia ruling elite, now faces the ultimate sentence based upon dubious evidence. His case hearkens back to the age of lynch mobs, when angry crowds often denied the accused due process in their need for vengeance.

For a country at the forefront of industry and innovation, one that many citizens proudly boast was founded on “Christian values,” we regrettably are stuck in a very non-Christian reality — poor people of color stand a higher chance of being executed than those with means and connections.

In her understandable grief, Madison MacPhail, daughter of the deceased, angrily exclaimed, “Troy Davis murdered my father, no questions asked.”

No, Ms. MacPhail, questions must be asked. Questions and DNA evidence have released hundreds of previously condemned prisoners from death rows across America. In every case, a jury had considered evidence and deemed it worthy for the imposition of the ultimate sentence.

The Davis family has been comforted by the support of millions of strangers who signed clemency petitions, including Jimmy Carter, former Georgia Republican Representative Bob Barr, former FBI Chief William Sessions and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu.

Their collective cries have gone unanswered today.  Should the U.S. Supreme Court decline to stay this execution, Davis’ death could become a seminal event — an injustice that forces our nation, once and for all, to consider whether its public policy on the death penalty will comport with its public failures.



  1. Mr. Hobbs makes relevant points. But let's not limit the effects of this affront to justice to a minority. The lack of justice here effects, and should shame and indeed frighten all Americans. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, said a great man.

  2. thank you Mr. Hobbs for your insight and well stated assessment of "justice" in America. One point that I have not heard raised is in regards to the legal assistance given to Mr. Troy Davis from the beginning of his nightmare within the Georgia State justice system. I can only imagine that if people had rallied behind him from the beginning, and given him the attention and well deserved legal support, this sham of a trial would never have resulted in him landing on death row. I am not blaming his legal team, that I am sure did the best they could, however, we do know that money and power will buy experience and expertise, neither of which Troy Davis possessed. If America is ever going to correct the wrongs within it's justice system, it must first look at eliminating the barriers to legal aide based on social and economic status. Yet in order to do that, we must be willing to challenge the status quo, we must be willing to challenge our own complacency.

  3. Can't wait to jump on the "South" just like all the liberal/progressives making excuses to cover up their own failures?

    If there are soooo many injustices in this case PLEASE tell WHY this man did not testify in his own defense?? Why were shell casing matching firearm – found in his pants pockets? Why was his seen by murdered officer beating up on homeless man? Why did he have such a violent record? SHOW us Chuck the evidence to back up your claims!?!?! And, stop playing the race card.

  4. seems to me instead of wasting so much time, effort and money on begging to free him, y'all would spend that on actually finding the person who did murder the policeman since all these people have all these claims???

    • That was in Jackson County, Chuck. Why don't you tell us the history of what the "white" northern yanks did to the "whites" after War? Do you know? Maybe you can tell us of the yanks that invaded during War that were caught? They were NEVER found after causing terrorism in county. Come on Chuck give us all the history not just the "part" inflame this "choir" on this site???

      • Better yet, tell of the USCT troops that murdered "whites" in 1864 after they surrendered? A "white" US officer received medal of honor for stopping them after holding his pistol to ones head and stopping him. Or maybe you can tell story of Marianna church being burned to ground with a 15 year old "white" man inside along with others?

    • You sound like that knucklehead Bush administration lawyer who testified in a senate hearing that she took an oath to uphold the president when she was sworn into office. Most of us laughed because we knew every government employee required to take an oath, takes an oath to "support, protect and defend the constitution of the United States, against ALL enemies, foreign and DOMESTIC…" I wonder if you knew enough about the history, laws and regulations of the USA to laugh with us?

      That was a bit of a satiric question because you clearly don't understand that the law requires that a man is determined innocent until PROVEN guilty and not vice versa as in your last question!!!

  5. "Does it matter that those who have recanted tell a sordid story of an overzealous prosecution bent on having someone pay for an officer's death?"

    Does it matter that some witnesses have not recanted? Does it matter that man has a history of carrying illegal firearms? Does it matter 38 calibure shells were found in his pants? Does it matter blacks keep blaming "whites" yet keep murdering each other a rate FAR WORSE than the opposite. Yet, Chuck and others still keep this anti White/South mantra going. Tell who is propagating "real" understanding and who is promoting opposite??


    Back in 2007 Mr Williams wrote this. Nothing seem to have changed. While trying to vilify and keep open wounds from yesteryear, black "leaders" concentrate on race while ignoring real problems. Prophecy in Williams words :
    "The failure of civil rights leaders, people like Jackson and Sharpton, as well as politicians to vocally condemn black-on-white crime — and the relative silence of the news media in reporting it — is not simply a matter of double standards. It's dangerous, for it contributes to a pile of racial kindling awaiting a racial arsonist to set it ablaze. I can't think of better recruitment gifts for America's racists, either white or black."