Tuesday, September 20, 2011


As I am going to have to at some point change this back from an advocacy platform to what it was intended to be, I thought a good transitory word would be 'vigil'. I will note here that it was announced this morning that Troy Davis was not granted clemency, and is scheduled to be executed at 7 PM Wednesday evening, Atlanta time. I feel that the time of advocacy is over and the time of vigil has begun. But what exactly is a vigil?

I was not surprised by the sense of watchfulness and wakefulness it has. It comes to us from the Latin, of course, and took on the meaning of 'the eve of a religious festival' in the thirteenth century. The meaning of a watch kept on a festival eve comes later, toward the end of the fourteenth century, and our more contemporary sense of 'an occasion of keeping awake for some purpose' isn't recorded till 1711.

For some reason this started me thinking about vigilantes, which originally comes from the Spanish language, but somehow ended up in the American West--probably, I'm guessing, through the Spanish speakers who also lived in the region. It's interesting that the original sense of watchmen has all but disappeared from our mythology of vigilante justice with its disregard for due process.

I'll write a less cursory post about something probably completely unrelated in a few days.


  1. It's one of the lead stories on Slate today.

  2. While I'm still on this, though, there is an interesting article on Slate eyewitness testimony in relation to this case. A lot of it came up in the film, but this guy has made something of a study of how eyewitness testimony works.

  3. You beat me to the punch by a couple of minutes.

  4. I can't help think of John Grisham's The Confession when you're talking about this case. I was honestly hoping for a different outcome.

  5. Thanks for taking a moment to sto in, Glenna. Obviously I was hoping for a different resolution too.

    Although Adrian and I have different perspectives on Davis's guilt or innocence I still don't think a commuted sentence to life with or without the possibility of parole would have done that much dishonor to the slain policeman's memory even in the worst case scenario. Doing a life sentence isn't exactly a reward.

    The Confession probably wouldn't be the best one for me to read right now.

  6. Seana

    editorial in the New York Times here:


    It's a fair statement of the defence, although I'm not really that happy with the formulation "no physical evidence of his guilt was introduced at trial" which means that the editorial writer knows about the bloody shorts. If you're going to mention the hearsay confession, then you should also mention the bloody shorts...

  7. I have seen pieces on this on both the PBS Newshour and Rachel Maddow in the last hour. PBS, as usual tries to be reasonable, which I guess is admirable, although I wasn't crazy about the Heritage Foundation lawyer and his smug assurance about where Americans stand on the death penalty, and the Troy Davis supporters being waved away as the anti-death penalty crowd.

    The interesting thing is that clemency isn't really about gulit or innocence. You don't have to prove innocence to grant clemency. What you're saying is that there is something bigger about this situation that means we will stop a larger penalty from being inflicted.

    A friend I was talking about this with maybe put it best when she said that when there are so many questions remaining around a case like this, maybe we shouldn't be assuming that we are wise enough to take a life.

    To add to it all, on the Maddow show they showed that Georgia is the state that has run out of their officially sanctioned execution drug, and have resorted to using a Danish animal killing drug which the Danes have not approved for use on humans. They've used it on two people in Georgia so far, and there are big questions as to whether it has been humane, to the extent that they had to videotape the last execution. It's all beginning to seem rather sordid and messy.

  8. I don't know that this will convince the skeptics and I can't say I even know what it means myself, but I just read that Troy Davis is willing to take a lie detector test about hi version. The link is here.

  9. I don't know if anyone is still reading down here, but I just read the NAACP report on the case, and this is what they say about the black shorts which were said to have implicated Davis:

    "In 2008, the State submitted to the Board a report by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) that purportedly showed the presence of blood on a pair of shorts recovered from Davis’ home in the days after the murder. Davis’ attorneys were unaware of the existence of this report. Following the Board’s denial of clemency in 2008, a DNA and serology expert reviewed the full GBI report. The federal court in 2010, after reviewing the new expert analysis, concluded that “the shorts in no way linked Mr. Davis to the murder of Officer MacPhail,” and found that “it is not even clear that the substance was blood.” The court concluded that even if the substance was blood, it “could have belonged to Mr. Davis, Mr. Larry Young, Officer MacPhail, or even [could] have gotten onto the shorts entirely apart from the events of that night.” Therefore, the value of this item as evidence has been thoroughly challenged."