Abolish the Death Penalty

And hold Georgia's Board of Pardons and Paroles accountable for the double murder of Troy Davis and justice

Millions of you across the city, the state, the nation, and even the world are devastated by Georgia’s state-sanctioned murder of Troy Davis. And that’s because it was ruthless, malicious and just plain wrong. But it’s not really over. There’s a lot you can still do in his name to make sure that such injustice never happens again.

Davis’s case stems from a 1989 incident in Savannah, Georgia. At around 1 a.m. one night in August, Davis—then just two years past his 18th birthday—and a friend encountered Sylvester “Red” Coles who, after an argument with Larry Young over a beer, began pistol-whipping Young. Mark MacPhail, an off-duty police officer who was working security nearby, intervened on behalf of Young. Then someone with a .38 caliber firearm blasted the courageous cop with two shots, one in the chest and the other in the face. He died instantly but heroically. Later that night, Coles went to police and told them that Davis had committed the crime. Investigators immediately swarmed and searched Davis’s house but found no gun, no ammo, and no Davis. After being informed that there was a warrant for his arrest, he turned himself in.

Davis was tried on capital murder and related charges in 1991. In addition to Coles, eight other witnesses testified against Davis. Six of them said they had seen him shoot and kill the cop, and two said they had heard him confess. But later, seven of those nine recanted in sworn documents. However, Coles was not one of them. You think maybe that had something to do with the fact that he had previously confessed to having a confrontation with Young immediately before Officer MacPhail arrived? And do you think maybe it had something to do with the fact that he had previously confessed to owning a .38 caliber firearm that later came up missing? Also, do you think maybe it had something to do with the fact that a prosecution eyewitness had testified that a man in a yellow shirt was harassing Young and threatening him by saying, “Don’t walk away from me. You don’t know me. I’ll shoot you,” and that Coles had previously confessed to having worn a “yellow Turtle’s Records” t-shirt that night and to having fled to his sister’s house to change that shirt before contacting the police?

On August 28, 1991, after deliberating on this high-profile life or death case for a mere two hours, the jury found Davis guilty. And after just seven hours on August 30th, the jurors sentenced him to death.

The law requires that the prosecution prove its case “beyond a reasonable doubt” in order for a defendant to be found guilty. That means if a juror “pauses or hesitates or refrains from acting on a matter of importance in his/her own life,” then he/she has a reasonable doubt and the defendant must be found not guilty. But if there is no pausing or hesitating or refraining, then the juror has gone “beyond” a reasonable doubt and the defendant must be found guilty. Absolute certainty is not required to find someone guilty of a crime—and neither should it be. But if someone has been found guilty of capital murder and then is scheduled for the penalty phase to determine life or death (assuming that the judicial system of 34 American states plus the federal government continues to be as vengeful and barbaric as those of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Iran, China, and North Korea), absolute certainty should be mandatory before a person is sentenced to death. Otherwise, what do we do when we later realize that there’s been a mistake? And mistakes are often made because we live in an imperfect world run by imperfect humans. Shouldn’t the decision to impose a death sentence be flawless? Shouldn’t we demand perfection? But since we can’t deliver perfection, isn’t a sentence of life without parole reasonable punishment for the bad guys and reasonable protection for us good guys?

As discovered by the Innocence Project, “Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in 75 percent of convictions overturned through DNA testing.” If the state is going to be in the harsh business of killing fellow citizens and other human beings, shouldn’t the law require more than naturally fallible eyewitness testimony? Shouldn’t it require, at the very least, DNA or fingerprints or footprints or videotape or confessions or the like?

The persons in the best position to answer these questions are on the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles. Call them at 404-656-5651 or fax them at 404-651-8502 or email them at clemency_information@pap.state.ga.us. And politely ask each of them for the factual basis of their absolute certainty as to Davis’s guilt and for the factual basis of their belief in the perfection of the evidence against him. Here are their names and brief background info:

James E. Donald: The board’s chairman and one of two alleged African Americans and avowed Christians who should know better.

Albert R. Murray: The board’s vice chair and the other purported African American who also should know better. Maybe his work as a “victim advocate” politically colored his views and mentally discolored his skin.

Terry E. Blanchard: Another hardcore Christian who forgot about the compassion and forgiveness that Jesus lived and died for.

L. Gale Buckner: A cop’s cop for nearly her entire career. That’s a wonderfully commendable thing for her and for society. But how fair and balanced could she have been as one of the deciding votes in a case involving the death of a fellow police officer?

Robert E. Keller: Not just a former prosecutor but a past chairman and past executive counsel of the Prosecuting Attorneys of Georgia. Another fair and balanced vote?

On September 21, 2011 at 10:53 p.m., a contract killer who served as the hit man for the governor of Georgia initiated the process of lethal injection into Davis’s body. At 11:08 p.m., he was pronounced dead. The execution, with all the lingering questions, was ruthless, malicious and just plain wrong. But it’s not too late to do something about this and similar wrongs that could happen in the future. Petition your state legislature to abolish the death penalty. Form coalitions in Davis’s name through the Death Penalty Information Center. If Georgia’s double murder of Davis and of justice means anything to you, then do something about it. And do it now.