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September 19, 2011

"Slain officer's family calls for Troy Davis' execution"

The title of this post is the headline of this new piece from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution providing a report on today's clemency hearing for death row inmate Troy Davis.  Here are some details:

The state Board of Pardons and Paroles has finished hearing testimony in the last-ditch clemency bid from Troy Anthony Davis, who is trying to be spared execution scheduled for Wednesday.  The board could still issue its decision today.

Surviving relatives of slain Savannah Police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail, some teary-eyed, stood before cameras after the hearing ended and expressed confidence the board will allow Davis' execution to go forward.  "What a travesty it would be if they don't uphold the death sentence," MacPhail's widow, Joan MacPhail-Harris, said.  "Troy is not innocent," she said.  As for claims that Davis was wrongly convicted, "It's been a lie."

MacPhail-Harris was flanked by her 23-year-old daughter, Madison MacPhail, and 22-year-old son, Mark MacPhail Jr.  The officer's mother, Anneliese MacPhail, also expressed confidence the board will deny clemency to Davis.  "It's time for justice today," MacPhail-Harris said. "My family needs justice.  He was taken from us too soon, too early."

Madison MacPhail, unable to hold back tears, said Davis must be executed.  "It is the correct form of justice," she said.  "Troy Davis murdered my father, no questions asked."

Earlier in the day, Davis' legal team presented its case to the parole board. "We believe we have established substantial doubt in this case," Stephen Marsh, one of Davis' lawyers, said after a three-hour hearing.  The execution should not be allowed to go forward, he said.

The five-member board began its hearing at 9 a.m. and finished hearing testimony after 5 p.m.  The board has not said whether it will issue its decision today as to whether Davis will be granted clemency or whether his execution should be carried out as scheduled on Wednesday at 7 p.m....

Davis, who has always maintained his innocence, is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection Wednesday at the state prison in Jackson.  Davis declined to request a special meal before the execution, prison officials say.

Davis’ case generated worldwide attention after a number of witnesses recanted or backed away from trial testimony that implicated Davis in the shooting.  Some people later pointed to another man at the murder scene as the killer.  But one court after another has rejected Davis' claims. His legal appeals appear to be exhausted, so the parole board could be his last chance to avoid execution.

A host of dignitaries have asked the parole board to grant Davis clemency.  These include former President Jimmy Carter, former FBI Director William Sessions, former Georgia congressman Bob Barr and former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Norman Fletcher.

Among witnesses to testify today before the parole board was Brenda Forrest, a juror who voted to sentence Davis to death at the 1991 trial.  She now says she has doubt about her verdict and is asking the board to grant clemency.  Two other jurors who voted to sentence Davis to death have signed affidavits asking the board to spare Davis from execution....

This marks the second time the parole board will decide whether to grant Davis clemency. In September 2008, the board rejected his bid, but the five-member board has three new members since that decision.  The parole board has the sole authority in Georgia to grant or deny clemency to a condemned inmate.  If the board decides to commute Davis' death sentence, it could sentence him to life in prison with the possibility of parole or life without parole.

A few older and recent posts on the Davis case:

September 19, 2011 at 07:05 PM | Permalink


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I think that the Board is going to commute the sentence.

What I'd love to know is what was Davis doing with Coles in the first place? Why didn't he tell the police that Coles did it? Was he really all that surprised that Coles started pistol-whipping the homeless man? Why did he wait 10 years before pointing the finger at Coles? None of this is relevant for the trial, but it certainly is relevant when he is trying to undo the results of a trial. And isn't this Exhibit A for why we don't generally credit recantations? Do we want to subject witnesses from possibly coercive intrusions from lawyers years after a trial? These are real issues, and they are getting swallowed up because of a guy who was hanging out with a bad guy and watched him pistol-whip a homeless man. I don't really feel sorry for Troy Davis--even if you believe him, he has made his bed . . . . he bears responsibility for his current predicament.

Posted by: federalist | Sep 19, 2011 8:55:10 PM

The Georgia Board has announced that it will not issue a decision tonight. Their recommendation will be announced Tuesday.

Posted by: Peter G | Sep 19, 2011 9:43:39 PM

What makes you think there is going to be a commutation, federalist? And does your comment now suggest you have some doubt as to Davis's guilt? Just curious what exactly is making you go a bit soft here (at least compared to your usual comments).

Posted by: Doug B. | Sep 19, 2011 10:25:36 PM

First, the victim's family is the family of a cop. Their friends are cops. Their "support" throughout all of this has been cops and prosecutors. Of course they've drunk the kool-aid. Of course they believe Davis' claim of innocence is a lie; they've spent the last two decades structuring their mental lives around Davis' guilt and seeking his execution. In this sense, the victim's family are some of the biggest victims of the prosecutors' misconduct.

Second, Sylvester Coles is apparently an EXTREMELY violent and frightening man whose threats are, shall we say, credible. The original nine witnesses were quite scared of him and some still are.

Third, as for Davis waiting ten years, I am not sure that that is the case. Davis' attorneys, for whatever reason, adopted a legal strategy that did not initially emphasize an alternative killer. As for what Davis said to friends and attorneys, who knows.

Fourth, in recantations, it makes sense to look at the total picture. Why the change? How many witnesses recanted? Here, seven of nine witnesses recanted and they had very good explanations for why they gave false testimony initially: very credible threats from Cole, credible threats from the criminal authorities, a tremendous lynch-mob mentality throughout the community and media, and an accurate sense that Davis was doomed to be convicted whether or not they told the truth.

That leaves Cole (the actual killer) and one other person who haven't recanted. The one other person was a witness whose original statement professed an inability to identify the killer at all because it was dark, etc., meaning that that witness' statement ironically had and has little or no value.

So in the end, Davis' execution would be based wholly on... the testimony of the actual killer.

Whatever your feelings about recantation as a policy issue, and whatever your feelings about the wisdom of hanging out with a shady character like Coles, don't you think that that is a bit over-the-top?

Moreover, your analysis presupposes that there was some huge impediment or cost to the prosecutors doing justice here (freeing Davis and pursuing Coles). In reality, there was none. At any time during the last decade or more, they could have stopped this circus at any time they so chose. They could stop it today, tomorrow, the next day, and they could have stopped it on any day for the last ten years. They could have done justice. They could have freed an innocent man and prosecuted a killer. Nice day's work for a prosecutor, you would think.

Instead, they spent perhaps a million dollars ensuring that a killer could continue to walk free and that an innocent man would be executed, trashing the name of prosecutors throughout the country, trashing race relations in this country, and breeding cynicism and distrust of our criminal justice system.

Posted by: James | Sep 19, 2011 10:28:17 PM

"I don't really feel sorry for Troy Davis--even if you believe him, he has made his bed . . . . he bears responsibility for his current predicament."

I feel sorry for you if you really think that way. Being a wealthy tax lawyer probably has a lot of perks, but I wouldn't ever consider trading places with you.

Posted by: The Death Penalty Sucks. | Sep 19, 2011 10:55:06 PM

Personally, I'd like to hear someone answer federalist's question: if Davis saw the murder but was innocent, why not finger Coles in 1989?

Posted by: MikeinCT | Sep 19, 2011 11:31:29 PM

No Doug, I am not going soft. I fully support the execution. I just have my doubts about the fire in the belly of the GBPP. They've gone squishy before on an execution.

Posted by: federalist | Sep 20, 2011 9:06:24 AM

James, you know, it's funny for a crowd who will come up with all sorts of fantastic scenarios of innocence for various and sundry killers to point the finger at a guy who hasn't been convicted of anything.

You don't know whether Coles did it or not. That pretty much destroys your credibility.

Posted by: federalist | Sep 20, 2011 9:11:57 AM

Looks like the execution is on. GBPP denied clemency.

Posted by: federalist | Sep 20, 2011 9:24:01 AM

I have no idea about Davis and, admittedly, I know very little about this case. But assuming that the facts are strong that Davis is innocent, I think the abolition groups have to recognize that their claims might not be taken seriously by many people because with just about ever DP case they are willing to claim innocence or some other major error in an effort to avoid execution.

There's a credibility problem here.

Posted by: just me | Sep 20, 2011 9:24:35 AM

The problem with executing Davis for this crime, is that doubt has been raised. I would say the recanting of 5 of the witnesses is more than reasonable doubt. Furthermore, the fact that this was an African-American man, who killed a white police officer, demands a closer look at the evidence that's been re-presented because of our justice (I use this word very lightly) systems documented abuse of rights of African-Americans.

Posted by: Kareemah El-Amin | Sep 20, 2011 9:49:14 AM

"It is the correct form of justice," she said. "Troy Davis murdered my father, no questions asked."

May the MacPhails gradually gain peace after justice is complete.

Abolitionists who have ignored evidence and imbibed the Kool-Aid of Sister Jean & Co. ought to turnabout and thank the Almighty--not Darwin--that heroic men like Mark Allan MacPhail stand ready to do JUST violence on their behalf.

Posted by: adamakis | Sep 20, 2011 9:51:36 AM

Letter to Chairman of Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles: Grant Clemency to Troy Davis
Council of Europe Goodwill Ambassador
Founder and Chair, Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation
Member of the Executive Director's Leadership Council, Amnesty International USA

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bianca-jagger/bianca-jagger-troy-davis_b_969299.html (click on my name)

Posted by: peter | Sep 20, 2011 10:10:17 AM

Why didn't Troy Davis tell what he saw? Tell who? The judge or jury? Unless the defense lawyer allows a defendant to testify, they often don't. Especially if the lawyer believes his client is guilty, which might have been the case with Davis' original trial attorney. Many defendants think they are going to get their day in court and they will be allowed to tell the truth. Then they have to sit as a spectator, watching the prosecutors lie, watching witnesses lie, watching their own attorney make mistake after mistake. Have you ever seen a defendant stand up and yell "Objection"? I mean in real life courtroom situations, not in the movies. Also, he may have told them about Sylvester Coles. His attorney may have wanted to bring forth this scenario. But prosecutors can also persuade a judge not to let this evidence in because it may tend to "confuse the jury."

Posted by: msyoung | Sep 20, 2011 3:43:31 PM

msyoung --

You really have no clue about how the law operates.

"Why didn't Troy Davis tell what he saw? Tell who? The judge or jury? Unless the defense lawyer allows a defendant to testify, they often don't."

Defense lawyers do not "allow" or "not allow" the defendant to testify. It is a nearly universal practice that that decision is left to the client (of course with the lawyer's advice). In addition, it is frequently the case, particularly in murder trials, that, if it looks like the defense is going to rest without the defendant having testified, the judge will specifically address the defendant about his right to take the stand, and will assure himself that, if the defendant does not want to to so, that is his own decision, not the lawyer's.

Exactly that happened in the Casey Anthony trial.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 20, 2011 5:43:26 PM

just me --

Good point. If a person wants to be taken seriously, some nuance, and some ability to appreciate the other side in given instances, even while not agreeing with it, is important.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 20, 2011 7:49:10 PM

What is the point in killing this guy? How is it going to bring that dead officer back? And if anyone uses the "eye for an eye" argument, this only convinces me that deep down, human beings are nothing but a bunch of aggressive brutes who believe that violence solves most of our problems.

It amazes me at the numerous excuses that so-called "decent" humans use to kill another person. It's sickeing. And if you accuse me of being a Liberal, I'm proud to say that I am one.

Posted by: Rosie | Sep 21, 2011 3:08:33 PM

Joan MacPhail. Please ask ur self how would u feel 10-20 years from now to find that an innocent man was murdered yet again because of the hatred u may have harboured for him when u thought u were so right? May u find the peace u need for the rest of u life! I do hope u can tell the family how they should feel and say its the State who gave the decision.

Posted by: Ann-Marie | Sep 21, 2011 7:18:36 PM

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