Injustice for Troy Davis: Why the Death Penalty Must be Abolished

When More than Reasonable Doubt Exists, Guilt Can no Longer be Assumed

 Troy Davis sister Martina Correia, seen here, fought for justice for her brother up until the very end. (Slp1/WikiMedia Commons)

Troy Davis’ sister Martina Correia, seen here, fought for justice for her brother up until the very end. (Slp1/WikiMedia Commons)


Troy Davis’ sister Martina Correia, seen here, fought for justice for her brother up until the very end. (Slp1/WikiMedia Commons)

Years from now when my four-year old brother is in high school, he’ll come home from his civics class and recount how they learned about the death penalty. Then he’ll ask if I know about Troy Davis—one of the main cases for why people support the abolishment of the death penalty. By then, I hope the death penalty will be abolished.

Mr. Davis’ execution at 11:08 p.m. on Wednesday night, Sept. 22, 2011, made me cry—cry for Mr. Davis and his 22 years in prison, cry for the more than substantial doubt about his guilt, cry for his family, cry for the victim’s family who finds peace in the death of an innocent suspect and cry for my country.

Before that night, I was a supporter of the death penalty in America. After Troy Davis’ execution and after all these years, I have gone to protests, signed petitions and voted for candidates who would abolish the death penalty. “Why did you change your mind?” my brother will ask, and I will respond, “Because that night, America’s criminal justice system proved that you’re not really innocent before you’re proven guilty.”

I came across the Troy Davis case through Amnesty International, a well-respected human rights organization which famously circulated petitions and spread awareness about the substantial amount of doubt regarding Davis’ supposed guilt. At first, I assumed that Mr. Davis’ case was another shameful example of racism permeating and perverting our justice system. Some activists have even called Mr. Davis’ execution a “legal lynching.” However, Troy Davis’ sentencing was much more than that.

This controversy is not just another case of a racist white society holding its black members down. Instead, this case is a sign of America’s flawed system of justice and why, if a case falls apart after 20 years and the decision made previously no longer holds water, the death penalty needs to be abolished. Apparently the justice system has an inability to admit when it’s wrong.

In 1991 Mr. Davis was declared guilty and sentenced to death for the 1989 shooting and death of white cop Mark MacPhail at a Georgia Burger King. Throughout the 22 years of his incarceration, Mr. Davis maintained his innocence. Soon afterwards, controversial news surfaced about the absence of physical evidence and the reliability of the cases’ civilian witnesses. Seven of the nine witnesses recanted their testimony. One of them was illiterate and unknowingly signed his name to a document confirming Mr. Davis’ guilt. According to Democracy Now!, an independent news program, one of the case’s witnesses has even been accused of being the real killer.

With all this information readily accessible to me on television, in newspapers and online, I wondered how America’s justice system could simply ignore it. After that Wednesday night I asked this same question repeatedly with a tone of shock and disbelief: “How can someone be executed when there was more than reasonable doubt?” It’s an unanswerable question that tirelessly gnaws at my perception of America’s criminal justice system.

Throughout the world from Mali to France, people protested outside of United States embassies wearing the t-shirt that says, “I am Troy Davis.” More than a million people have signed petitions asking for Davis’ sentence to be changed to life in prison. A former warden of Mr. Davis’ prison even pleaded for the execution to be stayed. Opponents of his execution have gained the support of Pope Benedict XVI, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Desmond Tutu and former FBI director and judge William S. Sessions. An executioner told a journalist standing next to him, “Please be able to hold it together, because I am barely holding it together.”

I am not completely sure of Mr. Davis’ innocence. I am, however, very well aware that I was taught in my American Government class that an execution cannot take place when there is reasonable doubt. I am very well aware of the copious amount of doubt regarding Mr. Davis’ guilt. In his last moments Mr. Davis asserted that “the fight” is “bigger” than him and that it “must go on.” I am passionate about, in Mr. Davis’ words, “keeping the faith” and working towards ensuring that in my state and in my country this shameful act will not be repeated or forgotten.

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