With the recent execution of Troy Davis, who was convicted of killing a police officer, Mark MacPhail, 22 years ago in Savannah, Georgia, many agencies, advocacy groups, celebrities, politicians, and common Americans are calling for a reform of the justice system and the death penalty. World leaders urged the US to grant amnesty to Davis, and with his execution, the UN is now calling for a “resolution calling for a global moratorium on executions with a view to eventually abolishing the death penalty entirely.” (for more on the UN: see here).
What makes this case so alarming, is the amount of doubt in Davis’ actual role in the murder, as well as his involvement with a previous crime. Now, here is where the story gets really odd:
Four witness, among them Redd Coles, had testified that Davis assulted Larry Young (a homeless person), shot another man (who survived), Michael Cooper, and murdered MacPhail. However on cross-examination, Redd Coles admitted to having a .38 pistol, which was the same gun that was used to assault Young and to shot Cooper. No physical evidence was found which tied Davis to the crime.
Sounds fishy, right?
When the trial was reopened again, seven of the nine witnesses recanted their testimonies.
One of those who recanted, Antoine Williams, subsequently revealed they had no idea who shot the officer and that they were illiterate – meaning they could not read the police statements that they had signed at the time of the murder in 1989. Others said they had falsely testified that they had overheard Davis confess to the murder.
Many of those who retracted their evidence said that they had been cajoled by police into testifying against Davis. Some said they had been threatened with being put on trial themselves if they did not co-operate.
Coles was the man who first came forward to police and implicated Davis as the killer. But over the past 20 years evidence has grown that Coles himself may be the gunman and that he was fingering Davis to save his own skin.
In total, nine people have come forward with evidence that implicates Coles. Most recently, on Monday the George Board of Pardons and Paroles heard from Quiana Glover who told the panel that in June 2009 she had heard Coles, who had been drinking heavily, confess to the murder of MacPhail.
Higher courts in the US have repeatedly refused to grant Davis a retrial on the grounds that he had failed to “prove his innocence”. His supporters counter that where the ultimate penalty is at stake, it should be for the courts to be beyond any reasonable doubt of his guilt.
In that last paragraph, I emphasized “prove his innocence” to highlight what to me seemed like the most perverse usage of the justice system. When did innocent until proven guilty get exchanged for guilty until proven innocent?
What this case really emphasizes are the flaws within our justice system, a system which disproportionally punishes minorities. In addition to this, 80% of all Capital Punishment cases involve white victims.
The DOJ study also revealed the influence that the race of the victim has in determining potential capital cases. U.S. Attorneys recommended the death penalty in 36 % of the cases with black defendants and non-black victims, but only recommended the death penalty in 20 % of the cases with black defendants and black victims.
For more information regarding how the race of the victim being white leads to a greater chance of the result being execution (and because this post is getting long!) visit: Race and the Death Penalty.
After reading Race and the Death Penalty, and seeing the statistics, do you believe our justice department disproportionally affects minorities? Should the death penalty be eliminated? Why or why not?