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Troy Davis and the Machinery of Death

Posted on Sep 27, 2011

By Amy Goodman

On Sept. 21 at 7 p.m., Troy Anthony Davis was scheduled to die. I was reporting live from outside Georgia’s death row in Jackson, awaiting news about whether the Supreme Court would spare his life.

Davis was sentenced to death for the murder of off-duty Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail in 1989. Seven of the nine nonpolice witnesses later recanted or changed their testimony, some alleging police intimidation for their original false statements. One who did not recant was the man who many have named as the actual killer. No physical evidence linked Davis to the shooting.

Davis, one of more than 3,200 prisoners on death row in the U.S., had faced three prior execution dates. With each one, global awareness grew. Amnesty International took up his case, as did the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Calls for clemency came from Pope Benedict XVI, former FBI Director William Sessions and former Republican Georgia Congressman Bob Barr. The Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles, in granting a stay of execution in 2007, wrote that it “will not allow an execution to proceed in this state unless ... there is no doubt as to the guilt of the accused.”

But it is just that doubt that has galvanized so much global outrage over this case. As we waited, the crowd swelled around the prison, with signs saying “Too Much Doubt” and “I Am Troy Davis.” Vigils were being held around the world, in places such as Iceland, England, France and Germany. Earlier in the day, prison authorities handed us a thin press kit. At 3 p.m., it said, Davis would be given a “routine physical.”

Routine? Physical? At a local church down the road, Edward DuBose, the president of Georgia’s NAACP chapter, spoke, along with human rights leaders, clergy and family members who had just left Davis. DuBose questioned the physical, “so that they could make sure he’s physically fit, so that they can strap him down, so that they could put the murder juice in his arm? Make no mistake: They call it an execution. We call it murder.”

Davis had turned down a special meal. The press kit described the standard fare Davis would be offered: “grilled cheeseburgers, oven-browned potatoes, baked beans, coleslaw, cookies and grape beverage.” It also listed the lethal cocktail that would follow: “Pentobarbital. Pancuronium bromide. Potassium chloride. Ativan (sedative).” The pentobarbital anesthetizes, the pancuronium bromide paralyzes, and the potassium chloride stops the heart. Davis refused the sedative, and the last supper.

By 7 p.m., the U.S. Supreme Court was reportedly reviewing Davis’ plea for a stay. The case was referred to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who hails from Pin Point, Ga., a community founded by freed slaves that is near Savannah, where Davis had lived.

The chorus for clemency grew louder. Allen Ault, a former warden of Georgia’s death row prison who oversaw five executions there, sent a letter to Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, co-signed by five other retired wardens or directors of state prisons. They wrote: “While most of the prisoners whose executions we participated in accepted responsibility for the crimes for which they were punished, some of us have also executed prisoners who maintained their innocence until the end. It is those cases that are most haunting to an executioner.”

The Supreme Court denied the plea. Davis’ execution began at 10:53 p.m. A prison spokesperson delivered the news to the reporters outside: time of death, 11:08 p.m.

The eyewitnesses to the execution stepped out. According to an Associated Press reporter who was there, these were Troy Davis’ final words: “I’d like to address the MacPhail family. Let you know, despite the situation you are in, I’m not the one who personally killed your son, your father, your brother. I am innocent. The incident that happened that night is not my fault. I did not have a gun. All I can ask ... is that you look deeper into this case so that you really can finally see the truth. I ask my family and friends to continue to fight this fight. For those about to take my life, God have mercy on your souls. And may God bless your souls.”

The state of Georgia took Davis’ body to Atlanta for an autopsy, charging his family for the transportation. On Troy Davis’ death certificate, the cause of death is listed simply as “homicide.”

As I stood on the grounds of the prison, just after Troy Davis was executed, the Department of Corrections threatened to pull the plug on our broadcast. The show was over. I was reminded what Gandhi reportedly answered when asked what he thought of Western civilization: “I think it would be a good idea.”


Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.


Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 900 stations in North America. She is the author of “Breaking the Sound Barrier,” recently released in paperback and now a New York Times best-seller.

© 2011 Amy Goodman

Distributed by King Features Syndicate

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By Shenonymous, September 29, 2011 at 10:52 pm Link to this comment

Speaking about the death penalty and barbarism:  The women
of Mississippi need to be encouraged to leave that state, move
somewhere else, leave the state to the men who want them to
have their rapists’ babies! 

There is an anti-abortion initiative on the upcoming Mississippi
ballot, Initiative 26, that defines the term person as follows: 
SECTION 33.  Person defined.  As used in this Article III of the
state constitution, “The term ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall
include every human being from the moment of fertilization,
cloning or the functional equivalent thereof. 

This initiative forces women who are raped and get pregnant
to have their rapist’s baby or face a charge of murder if they have
an abortion, and when convicted, and they will be convicted of course
since it is the law, they will be executed.  This means if females are
raped by a relative, say their fathers, they will have to bear these
children of incest.  Pay attention!  This means if a 13-year old, OR
YOUNGER, and is able to get pregnant because her body has developed
to ovulate is raped by her father or brother or uncle or grandfather she
will by law have to bear the baby of incestuous rape.  This is the worst
assault on the rights of women as human beings ever to be voted on in
the history of this country. 

WOMEN OF MISSISSIPPI, HAVE YOUR RAPIST’S BABY! OR BE PROSECUTED
FOR MURDER! 

Not only that! The voters of Mississippi is also voting against taking birth
control pills which can also land you in a court case as a murderer.  Are
these people nuts or what? 

I suggest that all sane women boycott the state of Mississippi
permanently, do not live there, do not buy anything there, do not
even travel through it on the way to somewhere else.  Avoid it like
the plague, go around it! 

Oh…yeah, and put an end to the death penalty.

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By berniem, September 29, 2011 at 1:22 pm Link to this comment

I wonder if this whole death penalty issue might not be solved by the constructive efforts of some of our more creative and skillful hackers? Maybe letting it be known that all those “employed” as executioners would be publicly identified in all possible media if they do not resign immediately or if one more execution takes place anywhere in the nation. Also, any corrections officers who escort prisoners for such purposes would be identified. Waiting for the current “Reich-Court” to overturn this barbaric practice is absurd!

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By Chris Michael Burns, September 28, 2011 at 6:14 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

To stevepesceca,

Nowhere in Amy’s article does she write anything for
or against the death penalty. She writes about Troy
Davis’ case individually and posits that he was
wrongfully executed because it was not proven that he
was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Nor does she
talk about the personality of Troy Davis. In all of
her coverage of this case, I did not hear her once
comment on whether or not he was a “good guy” or a
“bad guy”, only that he had been wrongfully
convicted.

YOU are the one who made it about his personality by
saying that he had shot another man earlier in the
evening. This is the kind of thing that would be
presented in court as character-building evidence,
making it about the suspect’s character, NOT hard
evidence.

The fact remains: no physical evidence linking Davis
to the crime and 7 out of 9 witnesses’ testimonies
recanted.

I agree with your reasons for being opposed to the
death penalty and I agree that it is too easy to call
“racism” in this case, but you have no basis for
attacking Amy’s article which sticks neatly to the
facts of Davis’s case and does not trail off into
political and ethical polemic.

But anyhow, thank you for your non-support of the
Death Penalty. I completely agree.

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By stevepesceca, September 28, 2011 at 10:00 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

First off, I am stunned by how all, and I mean all, can’t remember when there was such uniformity in articles on here, all of you guys are sheeping along with the contrived media publicity narrative that Georgia was racist and Troy Davis was innocent. I do believe Georgia has officials who are racist. And I would even accept the idea that the cop killing evidence was embellished. I have unfortunately read quite a bit on this and listened to the actual current attorneys speak about this. And they were not even arguing for a retrial of the first shooting earlier in the evening where Troy shot down another man in cold blood. I’m not sure why you guys are willing to ignore that fact. I think it should be at least somewhat interesting to you guys that Troy murdered an additional person in a separate incident, shouldn’t it?

All that was being argued, by this high priced law firm doing pro-bono work for publicity and succeeding wildly, is that the case which brought the death penalty for murdering a cop was worth retrying (and it was re-re-re-reviewed all the way to the supreme court—which if I was a guy from Georgia I would feel like I was given a pretty fair hearing to have the highest court in the land review my case.).

Even if you presume, and you have zero knowledge of lawyers if you do, that Troy Davis was innocent of the cop killing based on a very big and high priced law firm managing to stir the pot against some hayseed district attorney’s office without the constraints of evidence rules nor the other side having a way of fighting back since the case has been over for 20 years, you still have to get past the fact that it’s largely uncontested that Davis shot another man in cold blood earlier that evening. But that doesn’t fit the media narrative, so it’s ignored. Troy Davis is a murderer. That’s what he is. He’s not a sweet innocent victim of racism. He’s not this angel the press wants to paint him as.

Frankly, it’s easy to confuse jurors after the fact when you can present all kinds of evidence in public without having to contend with the other side.  Regarding the death penalty, I oppose it, but I strangely don’t remember you decrying the execution on the same night of the white supremacist in Texas who dragged a black man behind his car until he was dead. Did I miss your column about that? If you didn’t write a column about him, you’re being hypocritical to use Troy Davis as an argument against the death penalty. 

Capital Punishment should be opposed on both a practical and philosophical basis. But it should not be linked to the fate of an individual murderer. That cheapens the discussion and makes it actually about racism or a kind of suspicion that southerners shouldn’t be allowed to have courts. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is not in Georgia. Were they racist? Then make that case. If not, then get off this. I don’t oppose the death penalty out of sympathy for individual murderers.

I oppose it because the state does not have that power, it’s counterproductive in terms of bring a deterrent, it denies redress, it sends the message that the state is god and individual life is subservient to it, and it’s a sick spectacle filled with arbitrary rituals perpetuating the blood lust that leads to war.

You guys have managed to completely confuse the issue by making it about the personality of Troy Davis and about racism in the south instead of making it about the flawed ideas behind Capital Punishment.  It’s going to be very easy for the other side to hold up people like Tim McVeigh and win the day.  This was a wild reversal of years of efforts to do away with the death penalty. 

Amy, just like you received praise for being anti-war by (in actuality) supporting the debacle in Libya, I’m sure you will receive Truthdigger of the week, two weeks in a row, for this bad article.

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