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On Troy Davis, the death penalty, and reasonable doubt

On Troy Davis, the death penalty, and reasonable doubt

Image from an "I am Troy Davis" vigil protesting the impending execution of Troy Davis

Guest post by Emily Hauser

Reasonable people can certainly hold differing opinions on the question of the death penalty. I am, personally, opposed to state executions under any circumstances, but I do understand those who feel that monstrous acts deserve the harshest possible consequences – I also understand the desire to remove the monsters from our midst.

But in those places and cases where the sentence is death – should we not at least be absolutely certain that convicted is, in fact, a monster? Is guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt?

In 1991, Troy Davis was convicted of the 1989 murder of Mark MacPhail, an off-duty police officer coming to the aid of a homeless man in Savannah, Georgia.

There’s no physical evidence tying Davis to Officer MacPhail’s death, and seven of the nine eyewitnesses have recanted or changed their testimony, many testifying that they’d been coerced by police. One of the two remaining witnesses – Sylvester “Redd” Coles, the first person to accuse Troy Davis – has been implicated by several people as the actual shooter. Davis has himself always maintained his innocence, and at least one juror has said, flat out: “If I knew then what I know now, Troy Davis would not be on death row.”

And yet Davis is now days from lethal injection. Upon return from the Labor Day holiday, the State of Georgia handed down an execution date: September 21, next Wednesday. Davis’s only remaining hope is clemency – the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles is to hold a hearing on Monday, in which it will decide his fate.

A long list of human rights organizations have been involved in advocating for Davis’s clemency bid, among them Amnesty International and

Amnesty itself has taken no position on the question of Davis’s guilt or innocence, maintaining simply that there is far too much doubt regarding the details of the case to move ahead with execution. Its clemency campaign has the support of a long list of legal experts, from former state Supreme Court Justices to author and attorney Scott Turow (click here for a partial list), and just today, the organization delivered 650,000 petition signatures to Georgia’s Board of Pardons. This series of brief videos (click here) is an excellent source on the case and Amnesty’s efforts; a 60-second version can be seen here.

Anyone wanting to express their support for Troy Davis’s clemency campaign can add their name to Amnesty’s petition by clicking here, and/or get in touch directly with the Georgia Board of Pardons by email ([email protected]) or fax: (404-651-8502). Additionally, Davis’s sister Kimberly and are asking that letters be sent to Chatham County District Attorney Larry Chisolm, who can request that the court withdraw the death warrant against Troy Davis. To send a note via, click here.

Finally, a Global Day of Solidarity for Troy Davis will be held in cities across America and around the world on Friday – if you’d like to attend a rally near you, contact Amnesty International for locations and times. The main event will be a march and prayer service in Atlanta, to begin at Woodruff Park, and end at Ebenezer Baptist Church, the church at which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached.

Reasonable people may disagree on the efficacy and morality of the death penalty, but in the words of Georgia State University legal expert Prof. Anne Emanuel: “A verdict that is not ironclad is not good enough to support the death penalty.”

Emily L. Hauser is a freelance writer and social activist. She blogs at Emily L. Hauser – In My Head and can be followed on Twitter @emilylhauser



Kimberly J. Curtis

Kimberly Curtis has a Master's degree in International Affairs and a Juris Doctor from American University in Washington, DC. She is a co-founder of The Women's Empowerment Institute of Cameroon and has worked for human rights organizations in Rwanda and the United States. You can follow her on Twitter at @curtiskj

Areas of Focus: Transitional justice; Women's rights; Africa