Sunday, September 18, 2011

"A Life in the Balance--Examining the Troy Davis Case"

Although it may seem like I'm belaboring the case for Troy Davis here a little, I have been watching this film by Terry Benedict put out by Amnesty International in four parts on YouTube and thought I'd run the first part here. It's a thoughtful piece and I think one of things it underscores is that even if you are pro-death penalty, as some of Troy's advocates are, there is too much doubt as to what really happened that evening to sentence Davis to death. Amnesty has never taken a position on Troy Davis's innocence, only on the fairness of the proceedings against him. It's a good, thought-provoking documentary, and as both the filmmaker and Davis have said, it isn't for Davis alone that we do well to educate ourselves on these matters.

You can still sign a petition to stop the execution HERE .


  1. Seana

    I havent seen the video (things are a bit crazy here at the moment) but do Amnesty mention the police officer's blood on Davis's black shorts? Of course the evidence is inadmissable because its the fruit of the poison tree but still it makes Davis's claim to have fled the scene before the police officer even came over very suspect.

  2. Seana

    I'm sorry, this is an odd one for you and Amnesty to have latched onto because I've watched this video now and it hasnt changed my mind. I think it's pretty clear that Troy Davis is guilty of shooting the police officer. And I'm afraid also that it's clear beyond a reasonable doubt, not a shadow of a doubt, but beyond a reasonable doubt.

    The circumstances seem to have gone like this:

    1. Troy Davis, a dangerous troubled youth, shot at a man earlier in the evening of the murder. Slugs from Davis's gun were recovered.
    2. Redd Coles, a friend of Davis, was beating up a homeless man. Davis and Coles together began hassling the homeless man.
    3. The police officer went to intervene.
    4. Davis shot the officer and both Davis and Coles bolted.
    5. Coles contacted a lawyer, they went to the police and told them the story.
    6. The police raided Davis's house and recovered a pair of black shorts covered with the police officer's blood and DNA.
    7. The police began canvassing witnesses and pressurising some (but not all) of them to say it was Davis.
    8. The slugs from the two crime scenes are compared and said to match.
    9. The shorts evidence is thrown out because the cops didnt get a warrant.
    10. The majority black jury finds Davis guilty.

  3. contd.

    11. over the years the forensic evidence from the guns has been discredited and some of the eyewitnesses (but not all) have said that they were pressured by the police and didnt know which of the two men was the shooter.
    12. but three witnesses still say that Davis was the trigger man, Davis has no explanation for how the officer's blood got on his shorts (of course he doesnt have to because this evidence cant be used in court) and the forensic evidence still says it is more probable than not that the slugs came from Davis's gun.

    And here's the really strange part, even if Coles was the shooter not Davis, the fact that they were engaged in a common purpose (roughing up the homeless man)
    means that either one of them could be convicted of murder - Coles simply did the right thing by going to the police and turning state's evidence first.

  4. On reading the case notes (or such that I could find online) I'm sorry to say that I would have to turn down an appeal for clemency. I'm opposed to the death penalty (except for those who murder children) but in this case its clear to me that Davis is guilty of murdering a police officer which is a capital crime in most states.

  5. Thanks for taking the time to make the case, Adrian. I think the recanting witnesses and the circumstance of their youth and color remain a problem, but you're right, I didn't know about the black shorts, not that anybody really does for the reason you point out.

    I think the reasonable thing to do is to commute the sentence in this situation, but I will now understand what the review board may have reasoned if they don't agree.

    Although I would always defer to you on points of law, I think that it would be wrong to execute the man he has become in any case.

    But we'll soon know now.

  6. Seana

    And completely against my argument is the fact that the only two Supreme Court Judges who didnt think think there should be an additional evidentiary hearing were Thomas and Scalia and its safe to say that those two are NEVER on the side of the angels, especially when they vote together.

  7. Well, I was wrong about knowing soon, as the parole board decided to deliberate rather than make a decision today. Although I wouldn't expect the Pope or Desmond Tutu or Jimmy Carter to sway you, it is interesting that ex-FBI head William Sessions has called for a stay.

    In any case, my interest in this case is personal rather than political. I came into the story in a flukey way, when I took part in one of those Amnesty holiday letter writing drives, where you basically just send messages of hope to people incarcerated around the world. You don't talk about issues, you just say something to the effect of know that someone out here is thinking of you at this time. It seemed like a nice non-commercial thing to do during the holiday season. I did it for a couple of years before they kind of switched their focus. I never heard back from anybody, but that was fine, I wasn't expecting it--half the people probably couldn't read English anyway.

    Then one year one of the people I wrote to was Troy Davis. I had no previous knowledge of him or his case. I was quite surprised to get a letter back from him--apparently he had picked me randomly as one of the people he would respond to out of the many people who had written cards of encouragement. He was apparently limited somewhat in his responses by the number of stamps he was allowed to have.

    At this point in the story, I always feel like people are thinking, yeah, yeah, women and jailbirds--it's like moths to the flame. But really, what I felt like was simply, oh, this is a real human being. And with that, a burden of responsibility to do what I could.

    I've had an intermittent correspondence with him over the few years that have passed since then. I write and say that I've heard of some new twist in his situation, he writes and expresses his concern about his family, talks about his faith in God and extends good wishes toward me and mine. Sometimes he expresses frustration with his situation and talks about the Catch 22 that he and others find themselves in. He always mentions the bigger picture. It is a curiously formal and gracious correspondence.

    I truthfully don't know if he is innocent. Like a lot of things, I expect it is a bit more complicated than yes or no. The only reason I do pursue this apart from some of the troubling issues around the actual conviction is that the only Troy Davis I've known even in my tangential way has not seemed like someone who deserves to die by execution. He has always claimed innocence, even when he was 45 minutes away from execution. If it's an act, it's a pretty good one.

  8. Seana

    Without doubt they are terrific people, Amnesty. For me they are up there with the Southern Poverty Law Centre and Medecins San Frontiers. I certainly have no objection to the way they framed their case in the video - their job is to raise doubt on death penalty cases and to discredit the framework of death row itself and they very effectively do so.

    In this case however I think he did it. Or at the very least was guilty in the common purpose sense.

  9. Yes, the larger issues they were presenting was one of the reasons I wanted to put up the video here. I think the part (in a later segment) about how hard it is to prove innocence after a verdict has been reached is worth thinking about in itself.

  10. I should also say that I think the death of MacPhail, who was only trying to prevent the brutal treatment of a homeless man, is tragic, no matter who pulled the trigger.

  11. Death penalty should be abolished. Keep looking deeper into this case, I can only say that an innocent man was murdered and that you are on the right track.

  12. Thanks for your comment, Kitchen Benchtops. It is very sad that his sister died not long ago after a long struggle with cancer.

    Whatever the truth of the long ago crime, he seems to have set a very good example for his nephew.

  13. A state attorney asserted that the testimony of at least five prosecution witnesses remained unchallenged, and the evidence of Davis's guilt was overwhelming.