Troy Davis’ Exectution, Was He Innocent?

By Amber Smith ’14

Troy Davis maintained innocence until his death. Photo courtesy of blog.reidreport.com

Troy Davis was executed on September 21, 2011, for the alleged murder of an off duty police officer named Mark MacPhail in 1989. He was convicted in 1991 for shooting MacPhail to death while coming to the aid of the homeless man that was being attacked.

There was a four-hour delay for legal review before Davis was executed by lethal injection. Davis’s case has been widely broadcast amongst the public, many who believed he was innocent just as he had pleaded all the way up to his execution. September 21, 2011 the U.S. Supreme Court denied a last minute stay of execution. Davis, 42, died at 11:08 p.m. ET, according to a Georgia Department of corrections official.

“I’d like to address the MacPhail family,” Davis said, according to The Associated Press. “Let you know, despite the situation you are in, I’m not the one who personally killed your son, your father, your brother. I am innocent. The incident that happened that night is not my fault,” he added. “I did not have a gun. All I can ask…is that you look deeper into this case so that you really can finally see the truth. I ask my family and friends to continue to fight this fight,” he said. “For those about to take my life, God have mercy on your souls. And may God bless your souls.”

The MacPhail’s family seemed to have comfort in Davis’s execution and MacPhail’s wife even stated, “it’s time for healing” after the execution. Although the family believes Davis’s execution served them justice, many of the public feel differently. The public felt there was a lack of sufficient evidence and the witnesses that testified were not believable.

Mark McPhail was 27 when he was shot to death in 1989. Photo courtesy of alt.coxnewsweb.com

New York Governor Mario Cuomo condemns Davis’s death penalty and provides the statement, “As was shown by the recent Troy Davis execution in Georgia, where shaky witness testimony and a lack of physical evidence were considered insufficient to create ‘reasonable doubt,’ too many people seem unconcerned about the overly ambitious prosecutor, the sloppy detective, the incompetent defense counsel, the witness with an ax to grind, the judge who keeps courthouse conviction box scores,” Cuomo writes.

The U.S. Supreme Court is comforted with their verdict because in the 1991 trial of Davis, there were seven witnesses that testified they had seen Davis shoot MacPhail, and two others claimed that Davis had confessed the murder to them. Although the murder weapon was not recovered, the evidence presented at the trial linked bullets recovered near the scene to bullets found at another shooting in which Davis was also charged.

The U.S. Supreme Court used as many measures as possible to obtain evidence to show Davis was innocent. In 1991 they ordered the United States District Court to order for the Southern District of Georgia to consider new evidence “that could not have been obtained at the time of trial clearly establishes [Davis's] innocence.”

The new hearing was held in June 2010. The defense presented seven witness statements out of the nine original witnesses whose testimony had identified Davis as the murderer. The two other witnesses changed their previous testimony.

The defense was trying to display that Sylvester Coles could be responsible for the murder of MacPhail. Coles’ confession to the killing was excluded as hearsay because Coles was not subpoenaed by the defense to deny it. In the decision of August 2010, the conviction was upheld. The court described defense efforts to blame Coles as “largely smoke and mirrors” and found that several of the offered witness statements were not changed at all.

Other appeals, including the one to the Supreme Court, were rejected, and a fourth execution date was set for September 21, 2011. About one million people signed petitions asking the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant clemency for Davis, the request was denied. On September 21, the board refused to reconsider its decision and after a last minute appeal to the United States Supreme Court was also denied, the sentence was carried out on September 21, 2011.

Was Troy Davis innocent? We may never know, but we can trust that the U.S. Supreme Court made the right decision because they did a thorough investigation and multiple revisions of the case and evidence presented. Doing so provides closure based on all their hard work of contemplating his verdict. They truly believed based on valid information that Davis was the murderer of MacPhail.

Please contact Amber Smith at smith14@sbc.edu with any questions/comments.

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