Can Georgia Do Right?
Troy Davis seeks closure in the form of justice
By David Morse
Is the legal
system of the state of Georgia up to the task – when
the task is to rectify the flawed trial of a black
man accused of killing a white police officer? The
world is waiting to see if justice can prevail.
Friday, October 24, the U.S. Court of Appeals for
Georgia’s 11th Circuit issued a stay of execution
that narrowly prevented accused cop killer Troy
Davis from being put to death by lethal injection
the following Monday.
This is the
third stay of execution in a case that has attracted
worldwide interest. Troy Anthony Davis is charged
with the 1989 murder of police officer Mark Allen
MacPhail. Davis has been in prison for 19 years,
most of that time on death row.
surrounding officer MacPhail’s death are murky. The
violence erupted in a dimly-lit parking lot late at
night when someone in a group of men opened fire
with a .38 caliber pistol.
according to the lawyer prosecuting the case, was
Troy Davis. But Davis, who was 20 at the time, was
very likely framed.
In the absence
of solid physical evidence, including a murder
weapon (the gun was supposedly never found) witness
testimony is especially crucial. However, most of
the witnesses had been drinking, and once the
shooting started, they were seeking cover.
coerced. One was threatened with 10-12 years in jail
if he didn’t implicate Davis. Another, Sylvester
Redd Coles, was himself a suspect in the shooting.
Coles had brandished a .38 earlier in the evening.
He told the court he’d thrown the gun away.
came from a woman standing 160 feet away, looking at
four black men scrambling about in a fracas that was
“over before it began.” Pressured into identifying
Davis at the trial, the woman called his defense
that night said it was all lies. When that was
reported to the court, the woman, Dorothy Ferrell,
was arrested. Her lawyer told her she could be
convicted of perjury and imprisoned for ten years.
“She was a
single mother of four,” observes attorney Deirdre
O’Connor, director of Innocence Matters. “She chose
freedom over the truth.” Another witness said he
couldn’t identify the shooter – when questioned that
night, and again a month later. Two years later, he
confidently identified Davis as the murderer.
Of the nine
witnesses who testified against Davis, seven have
tried to recant. However, the recantations have been
blocked for technical reasons.
shakiness of the case against Davis, the U.S.
Supreme Court decided October 14, 2008 not to hear
Davis’s appeal. Justice John Paul Stevens, speaking
for the minority, questioned the adequacy of
Georgia’s appeal process. In another case involving
Georgia, Stevens found “particularly troubling”
Georgia’s track record with respect to cases
involving black defendants and white victims.
Supreme court’s decision tossed Troy Davis’s life
back into the hands of Georgia, whose supreme court
had already denied the appeal on procedural grounds.
lawyer Spencer Lawton, who out-lawyered Davis’s
meager defense team in the original trial, continues
to press for the death penalty. Lawton was
recently interviewed by radio journalist Dori Smith,
who asked him if the unusually high proportion of
witnesses trying to recant did not perhaps undermine
the credibility of the trial testimony.
contrary, Lawton responded. The high number made the
recantations “suspect.” He called it “too much of a
coincidence,” and asked rhetorically if you couldn’t
trust the witnesses then, how were you going to
trust them later?
Lawton went on
to suggest that the clamor raised on behalf of Troy
Davis by public interest groups like ACLU, Amnesty
International, and the Innocence Project is
tantamount to a “mob” gathered outside jurors’
As for Davis’s
19-year dance with death, Lawton says “Cases like
this can’t drag on forever,” he said. “Everybody
suffers,” The family of the murdered police officer
and even the defendant himself – Troy Davis -- are
entitled to “closure.”
Troy Davis is to be death?
Alice in Wonderland logic seems outrageous, it’s the
same logic that informed the Georgia Supreme Court’s
blinkered approach to the earlier appeal, when it
allowed procedural gambits to override serious
concern for justice.
It is the logic
of the very “mob” that Lawton decries. One can’t but
ask, would the same mentality prevail if the accused
More is at
stake here than one man’s life. Even setting aside
the ethical and philosophical questions surrounding
capital punishment, the fact remains: If Troy Davis
cannot receive a fair and impartial trial in
Georgia, this raises serious questions about the
state’s ability in this the twenty-first century to
provide liberty and justice for all.
seeks closure in the form of justice. We all do.
(c) David Morse 2008
David Morse is a journalist and human rights
activist who has written extensively about Sudan.
* * *
1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus
By Charles C. Mann
a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous
New Revelations of the Americas Before
Columbus, in which he
provides a sweeping and provocative
examination of North and South America
prior to the arrival of Christopher
Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched
but so wonderfully written that it’s
anything but exhausting to read. With
1493, Mann has taken it to a
new, truly global level. Building on the
groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby
The Columbian Exchange and, I’m
proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer),
Mann has written nothing less than the
story of our world: how a planet of what
were once several autonomous continents
is quickly becoming a single,
Mann not only talked to countless
scientists and researchers; he visited
the places he writes about, and as a
consequence, the book has a marvelously
wide-ranging yet personal feel as we
follow Mann from one far-flung corner of
the world to the next. And always, the
prose is masterful. In telling the
improbable story of how Spanish and
Chinese cultures collided in the
Philippines in the sixteenth century, he
takes us to the island of Mindoro whose
“southern coast consists of a number of
small bays, one next to another like
tooth marks in an apple.” We learn how
the spread of malaria, the potato,
tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar
cane have disrupted and convulsed the
planet and will continue to do so until
we are finally living on one integrated
or at least close-to-integrated Earth.
Whether or not the human instigators of
all this remarkable change will survive
the process they helped to initiate more
than five hundred years ago remains,
Mann suggests in this monumental and
revelatory book, an open question.
* * *
Sex at the Margins
Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry
By Laura María Agustín
This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London
* * * * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
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If you like this page consider making a donation
* * * * *
Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
* * * * *
The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
George Jackson /
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
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posted 25 October