by Ifeoma Irobunda (orig. date 10/17/11)
In October 2011, thousands still mourn the now internationally felt execution of Troy Davis.
On August 19, 1989, Troy Davis was arrested for the murder of police officer Mark MacPhail, who had stepped in to give aid to a man Davis was assaulting. According to seven eyewitnesses, Davis shot MacPhail in the head with a smirk on his face. Later on, two additional eyewitnesses stated that Davis had also confessed the murder to them. The gun with which Davis allegedly shot MacPhail was never found, but casings from the gun, matched to prior shootings, were found at the scene, and in August 1991, Davis was sentenced to death.
Davis’s case drew the attention of Amnesty International, the NAACP, and other national and international human rights groups over the next 20 years, and the doubt, outrage, and protest hat echoed from all corners of the world were enough that three previously scheduled execution dates were stayed, and in June 2010, an evidentiary hearing was held for Davis. Though seven of the original nine witnesses invalidated their testimonies, Davis was again found guilty, and a final execution date of September 21, 2011 was set. Throughout the proceedings, MacPhail’s family maintained that Davis was guilty, and that he deserved to die.
In the weeks leading up to the execution, one million people signed petitions for the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant clemency, and a final appeal to the Supreme Court was made, but it was denied.
In the early morning hours of September 21st, protesters gathered outside of the White House and the Georgia penitentiary in which Davis was being held, carrying signs proclaiming slogans such as “Too Much Doubt—Let Him Out!” and “I Am Troy Davis.” At 11:08 p.m., after a four-hour delay during which the Supreme Court reviewed and denied a petition for his release, Troy Davis was executed by lethal injection. His execution came to the dismay of supporters worldwide, and to the quiet approval of the MacPhail family and their supporters, who felt that Davis’s execution was long overdue. Davis’s last words to the MacPhail family included a final declaration of his innocence, and he told them, “May God have mercy on your souls. May God bless your souls.”
The world remains divided on Troy Davis. Some believe that the physical evidence, eyewitnesses, and circumstances surrounding the death of Mark MacPhail mean that Davis was rightfully executed, while others believe that on the night of September 21st, 2011, an innocent man was wrongfully put to death. Moreover, Davis’s execution calls into question the death penalty, the meaning of the phrase ‘‘reasonable doubt,’’ and the tactics and efficacy of the United States justice system.