Troy Davis photo

Who Was Troy Davis?

I thought my title could read “Who Is Troy Davis?” while I watched hope interrupt Troy’s execution. But the hope only lasted 4 hours.

Troy Davis photoA man named Troy Davis was executed on Wednesday, September 22, 2011 at 11:08 p.m. in Georgia. He has been on death row for 22 years for shooting and killing a police officer.

In the last few years, evidence had mounted that he may be innocent. No physical evidence ever existed and 7 of 9 witness recanted their testimony.

I have followed the case for many years, and Amnesty International, along with the Pope, Jimmy Carter, a former head of the FBI and others known and unknown, have been calling for a stay in his execution and a retrial, but Troy was denied again and again.

I don’t know what the Supreme Court, Georgia state judges and the parole board did or did not hear to deny Troy. I do not know what is in the hearts of witnesses, police officers, families or even Troy Davis. But I believe that doubt, large or small, is worth a man’s life.

I want to trust our justice system, but it’s not blind enough to sustain the death penalty. The discrepancies of race and sentencing are facts. Every study has found that black males are more likely to be incarcerated and most studies have found that they receive harsh sentences. If sentencing is ever arbitrary and discriminatory, how can we ever take a person’s life? It is not justice if it is not fair-minded.

That being said, I find the death penalty abhorrent even for the guilty. It is neither an American or a Christian or a secular humanist ideal. It is not even logical.

We don’t teach others to not hit by hitting them. We don’t teach others to not speed by racing next to them and forcing the reckless driver into an accident. And we will not teach others to not murder by murdering them.

Now some will say these people should be killed because they cannot be rehabilitated, or they do not deserve to live because of their crime. But if we do not believe all people can change then we have no belief in God and His powers to change us. If we do not believe in the right to life, then we think some morals are flexible and some deeds are not forgivable. When we support the death penalty, we assert that we are smart enough to know who should live and who should die, but we are too stupid to teach anyone how to live or how to give back to the community they scarred with their crime.

For Troy Davis, this wasn’t merely a debate on the death penalty, but the question of the state killing an innocent man. The question of how much doubt is worth a man’s life.

Whether you have always been against the death penalty, have never thought much about the it, or have supported it, mere possibility that Troy Davis was innocent should bring those of us who pray to our knees and those of us who think to our keyboards.

We are all Troy Davis.

Alex Iwashyna

Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM, poet and writer by 30. She spends most of her writing time on LateEnough.com, a humor blog (except when it's serious) about her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, and dancing like everyone is watching. She also has a soft spot for culture, politics, and rude Southern people who offend her Yankee sensibilities. She parents 2 elementary-aged children, 1 foster baby, 3 cats, and 1 puppy, who are all Southern but not rude. Yet.

35 thoughts to “Who Was Troy Davis?”

  1. Thank you for writing this. When there is doubt, esp. when there is no physical evidence and the witnesses recanted, I cannot fathom why judges stayed with their decision. It sickens me. And you are right: it could happen to all of us and our loved ones.

    1. I cannot imagine living with the decisions those in power made. And I believe that we are much more alike than different — even if Troy Davis was guilty, how does one hurt or kill another human being? How does a person get to that point? But innocent? It’s unfathomable, the power the state wields when the death penalty exists.

      PS. This point of view also sucks when annoying people show up — I don’t want to be like them either.

  2. This case just saddens me and hurts my heart that THIS is supposed to be just. THIS was supposed to right a wrong. It doesn’t. I think justice isn’t blind so much as she just has her eyes closed so she can’t see the way she’s been perverted.

  3. I’ve always supported the death penalty, although I’ve felt myself wavering on it these last few years and have to admit that you do make some compelling arguments against it.

    Death penalty stance aide, however, I also believe that doubt – large or small – is worth a man’s life. And I don’t understand how the same reasonable doubt that acquitted Casey Anthony of murdering her own daughter didn’t manage to grant this man a stay of execution.

    Where’s the disconnect?

  4. But there was also an innocent victim. It saddens me that no one seems to be writing or speaking up for him.

    He sat on death row for 22 years long enough to bring more evidence & to answer all that doubt. If there was as much doubt as the media is claiming there is he would still be alive today.

    1. The old adage “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” comes to mind when I think of the death penalty as a whole. How can we make someone pay with their life for a crime when there is any reasonable doubt at all?

      Alexandria stated that there was also an innocent victim. Yes, absolutely, and his family will grieve him forever. But without 100% certainty, how do we know there wasn’t an innocent victim last night? How much more grief do we need in this world?

    2. If you read the innocent project (www.innocenceproject.org), people have been executed who were later proven innocent or have been proven innocent many, many years later so time on death row is not necessarily proof of guilt.

      I agree that there is a “proven” innocent victim in this case. I chose to focus my piece on the problems with the death penalty, which the Mark MacPhail was not apart of the decision to enforce. I also considered including the Texas execution last night of someone who was irrefutably guilty, but I thought it would confuse the post. As someone who disagrees with the death penalty, I would never have put Lawrence
      Russell Brewer to death either.

      PS. I ALWAYS appreciate disagreement– my reply is not meant to be anything but discussion.

      1. Healthy disagreement is always appreciated by me. I love hearing other peoples perspectives on things because growing up as a very close minded Christian I was never allowed to hear other opinions & explore them etc.

        That said I know the system is faulty (look at Casey Anthony) but I also know it has served its purpose. There is no winner in this at all. The victims family will never feel whole & Troy Davis’s family will never feel whole. It’s completely sad. But all I can do is trust that the people who had the power to overrule the decision had information we as the public did not have.

        I just think it’s an issue that will never have a perfect answer.

    3. You’re right. There was. And I feel equally as awful that he lost his life as I do that Davis was executed. But the absence of concrete evidence confirming Davis’ guilt or innocence (that is, forensics or the confession of the shooter) isn’t, itself, evidence, you know? I think there was too much doubt for him to die last night.

  5. I have a really hard time with this ongoing claim that Davis was “possibly” innocent. I just keep coming around to this point…nine people individually gave specific eyewitness accounts of one single event that were consistent and accurate enough to collectively convince a jury without reasonable doubt that Davis was guilty. Nine individual accounts were that consistent.

    Then, after the trial concluded, after Davis was declared guilty (and presumably after the sentence is handed down), THEN you have these witnesses coming forth to say “Oh, no, wait, that’s not really what I meant.” Seriously?

    No. That doesn’t work. That means that either all of those witnesses committed one major preconceived case of perjury, in which case they should have been tried themselves and jailed, or it means that they individually or collectively went “Oh shit, I didn’t mean for THAT to happen.”

    I understand and appreciate wanting to avoid or block the death penalty. By all means, stand up and speak out against it. But do it from a position of disagreement with the penalty, not with the verdict.

    Incidentally, I emailed a defense attorney friend of mine asking about this, and got this reply: “Recanted testimony is not ‘new evidence’ — the evidence is what went in front of the tribunal. Recanted testimony could have been their original testimony, but it wasn’t, and it is only the trial record that can be considered. At each step of the process, the standards for leniency, pardon, etc. (after the courts) are comments on the underlying process, and Governors can’t just decide that they now believe the recanted testimony and throw out a jury’s decision — they’re not judges, after all. So, if the guy was innocent, his blood is on the liars’ hands, not the state’s.”

    1. The idea was that the police coerced the witnesses — not that the witnesses planned it together. Perhaps there is more blood to go around. Maybe once they realized that he would die, the pressure to do the right thing seemed more paramount. Is it human nature to protect yourself first? Is that another reason why the death penalty is dangerous?

      I did hear that recanted testimony is not new evidence. And my understanding is that in Georgia the governor does not have a say on death row pardons — only the parole board. (I not 100% sure though.) I don’t think governors need “new evidence” although courts do, and I’m not sure where the GA parole board would fit in that.

      1. I read that allegation about the coercion as well, but I have my doubts. In my mind, it’d probably be easier to convince the witnesses after the fact to accuse the police of making them testify in order to undermine the conviction than it would be to coerce all of the witnesses into providing a plausible, knitted-together set of detailed accounts that would stand up to defense cross-examination.

  6. Agree, Alex. And what separates Troy Davis from his jurors, judges, and prosecutors? Guilt or innocence aside, are they also not responsible for taking another man’s life?

  7. Well said!! I would not say I am for or against the death penalty… but in this case I don’t think that is what the debate is truly about. It is about the doubt that surrounds this case. All the recent developments have shed some doubts on wether his verdict was the correct one to make. Great post!

  8. Two questions then:
    1) how do you think innocent people are convicted?
    2) if the witnesses recanted because of the death penalty, does that speak to how awful it is? They don’t want to be apart of a man being killed? Why did they recant?

    1. I’m not an attorney or legal scholar, so I can’t really say. Poor defense? For all the sharks there are in the legal system, there’s got to be some flounders too. And as for “why recant,” there are so many potential reasons, from personal guilt to peer pressure to self-preservation to possible gain. Who knows?

  9. I guess it seems just as strange that 7 people recanted.

    Ps. my comments/questions are meant for interesting conversation. I always welcome disagreement here and found your points interesting.

  10. Is there any evidence that the death penalty is a crime deterrent? I’m not a fan of it on the basis that I don’t think killing someone teaches others not to kill, but on the flip side, I’m not a family member of someone who was murdered. I just think as a society we should have evolved beyond this as a form of punishment but maybe I have too much faith in moral absolutes.

  11. Thanks for another insightful article that forces me to think.
    I have wavered over the death penalty before. I am presently against it, but, I have to admit that it is because of the chance of executing a potentially innocent person, and the lack of equal access to legal services that makes me feel that way. I don’t think it is ethically wrong to execute a person who is guilty, as long as it is done humanely- I think it is hard to determine absolute guilt, though, in a system with so many flaws, including access flaws.
    One thought I have, and I know that this is beyond the scope of this article, but along with wondering about the humanity of the death penalty, I often worry more about the humanity of prison systems themselves in this country. People convicted of murder (as well as many other types of crimes, big and small- and people who aren’t even convicted yet, but who can’t afford bail) are very likely to face repeated abuse, rape, mistreatment, assault, battery, theft, and other crimes at the hands of fellow prisoners and guards. They often do not have adequate access to medical care-to the point that they often don’t receive needed medication or emergency services at all. Sometimes I wonder whether receiving a lethal injection is, in all reality, a much more humane outcome for a person then being sentenced to jail or prison- and that’s really sad!! The conditions at many local and regional jail facilities in our area really alarm people I talk to when they are made aware of them. I wish more attention was brought to the idea of full-scale prison and jail reform. I hope that well-written, inspiring articles like this on capital punishment will get people moving in that direction.

  12. I was so sad this morning when I heard that Troy’s execution had taken place. I think there are so many things wrong with the death penalty- from the logic behind it, to the discrimination in sentencing, to the fallibility of eyewitness testimony, to the impossibility of ever being 100% sure of someone’s guilt. I, too, hope this helps turn public opinion against the death penalty.

  13. Well said! I echo your thoughts on the death penalty; I believe every person is redeemable. People can change – and though not all do, it’s not up to a society or a legal system to decide who will.
    Coupled with the possibility of doubt, I’m not sure how we can consider moving forward with such action. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  14. I agree. Doubt, and faith, are the two things that make the death penalty abhorrent to me.
    In college, I read two things that made me think more about my knee jerk- liberal-born reaction. First, I read discipline and punish by Faucoult. The horror of public punishments has long been in our history as a means to control not just those who ‘acted out’ but the whole of society. It sends shivers down my spine.
    Then later, in a class focused on Native Americans and the Law, I learned about the uproar at a tribal solution to murder. There was an exchange, there were traditional rites to set things right, but there was no ‘eye for an eye’. The reaction from the surrounding white community lead to the Indian Major Crimes Act, which essentially makes certain types of crimes federal offenses.
    Not only do we continue to live with the idea that severe punishments deter crime, but we throw our hands up in despair at a solution that helps all parties, even the criminal, find their way back into society.
    The whole system is flawed. Our goal should be to find solutions and remedies, to rebuilt the rent fabric of community. There’s my two cents.

  15. I have not followed the story of Troy Davis so I can not really comment on it. But I can say this: If they can release the three men in Arkansas who were “found guilty” of killing 3 young boys 18 years ago, one who was on death row, then they could’ve took Troy Davis off of death row until they were 100% sure he was either guilty or innocent.

  16. I have always been pro death penalty. When being told I’m hypocritical due to also being against abortion I think the baby has no way to make a choice for it’s life and has to depend on others to do it. The criminal in the death penalty case has made his/her choice and is aware of a possible consequence of death. This case, however, has made me really contemplate the death penalty. I’ve never really cared about the money aspect, if it takes more money to “keep an inmate alive” or not. I always thought about morally…odd isn’t it? I guess it’s the Old Testament me coming out. But this case has rocked me and really caused me to re-evaluate what I think. I’ve prayed for his family, for him, for those that pushed against him being executed. How awful to realize one day you were wrong. The guilt to live with and through. I can only hope that Troy was welcomed with the grace from a relationship in Christ that we on earth could not give him. But I am so sad for his family and for his legacy. I pray and hope that if he was innocent that it will be proven so for their sake. And as for me and my view point on the death penalty, I would be an idiot to not reconsider it. I am hoping this will be a wake up call to take a look at a system that has issues and realize there are other alternatives. I’m also wondering if I’d feel the same way if it was my daughter or son that was hurt. I’m hoping I would find the grace necessary to forgive them and have faith in a system that would punish them justly…but I have no idea what that would be now. What would appease me as a grieving mother. But if I am a Christ follower, I guess it’s not about vengeance or retribution of my own right? It’s about earthly consequences. And no matter what the consequence I doubt having a person killed would make me feel any better.

  17. Here’s the thing about the death penalty (for me): punishment serves two purposes in a society; 1) to deter and 2) to rehabilitate. And the death penalty does neither. Nobody who commits a crime that will warrant the death penalty stops to think that they might get it. They are, by nature, heinous crimes or crimes of passion or madness and the people committing them don’t think about getting caught. And death certainly doesn’t rehabilitate. One could make an argument that the death penalty helps heal the wounds of the victim’s family, but society as a whole rarely benefits from this.

  18. my husband has represented death row defendants for his entire 10-year career, so i know a thing or two about this issue. i could go on and on about why the death penalty needs to be abolished, but there are plenty of people making that argument cogently and eloquently, so i won’t bother adding my voice to that chorus. and in my experience, most people who support the death penalty are committed to supporting it; arguments against it tend not to go very far.

    what i can add is this: over the course of his career, my husband–who is one of the very best there is at what he does–has seen numerous clients executed. a couple of these men committed truly monstrous crimes, but the majority of their crimes were not different in any meaningful way from those of their peers serving life, or less. nobody cares about these men, and nobody cares about their lawyers, but i can tell you this: it takes a totally unique kind of human being to do what the attorneys, investigators, and mitigation specialists who work with these defendants do. it is emotionally wrenching work that takes everything out of you, infiltrates everything you do, and gives you practically nothing back. these people do their jobs because they believe absolutely in the right of every human being to the best possible defense; their compassion is bottomless. none of us can imagine what it’s like to cultivate a relationship with a person over the course of years, do everything in your power to save their life, and then sit with them through their final day on this earth, talk to them–and to their mothers, and their children–and then, at the appointed hour, watch them be murdered. it is barbaric, sickening, and cruel in every sense of the word. whatever you think about the crimes these men committed, if you know anything at all about how it works you must concede that the death penalty is inhuman. if what you really want is for the guilty to suffer, lock them up and throw away the key. leave them to their ignominy and move on with your life.

    1. Thank you for adding your experience to this post. I can’t imagine what it would be like for your husband because in just following Troy Davis’ case and sending letters and appeals for the last few years, I was shocked by Wednesday night’s execution. Jaw-dropping shocked.

      I have received comments of people who are very much questioning their stance on the death penalty. I hope those who have more sway and connections in that fight are able to seize upon it more than I can from my small space.

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