It was just a few weeks ago that we witnessed the execution of Troy Davis, the African-American man from Savannah, Georgia who was accused of the murder of a police officer in 1989. In 1991, he convicted of the alleged crime, and twenty years later Davis came face-to-face with a sentencing that fostered the end of his life.
I came across his story during a train ride to work, catching the glimpse of an orange poster that displayed a written demonstration from the International Action Center: “Stop the Execution of Troy Davis.” I didn’t know who Troy Davis was, but I felt the need to take down the information and find out more about a man who, in this day and age, was going to be ‘legally’ executed.
From The New York Times, I learned the details of the case. On the night of Aug. 19, 1989, Officer Mark MacPhail was coming to the aid of a man who was being beaten. As Mr. MacPhail walked towards Davis and two other men, he was shot and killed. A year later, he faced trial where witnessed testified that Davis had pulled the trigger, but according to The Times, “there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime.” So where is the proof that Davis had actually done it? In addition to lack of evidence, there are reports that the some witnesses recanted. In fact, Amnesty International reported that many of these witnesses have stated in sworn affidavits that they were “pressured or coerced by police into testifying or signing statements against Troy Davis.” How can we as a society take credibility for a legal system that influences false testimony?
This case brought my mind back to a criminal law class that I took over the summer. The professor discussed the case of Ronald Cotton, one that was entirely intriguing and inspirational all at the same time. Cotton was also an African American man who was accused of sexually assaulting Jennifer Thompson in 1984, and was charged with rape and two counts of burglary. I found this case to be fascinating because, as the eyewitness, Thompson had misidentified Cotton to be her rapist even though she recalls a vivid detail of that night. On top of that the prosecution has introduced what was considered to be inconsistent and improper evidence. Cotton found refuge from his lifelong sentence when he asked his lawyer to motion for DNA testing; a defense that proved that he did not rape Thompson, nor was he even in her presence during the evening of her assault.
He was simply mistaken for another man.
I think we can say the same for Davis.
As an aspiring lawyer, it is a disappointment to see that although the legal system credos the idea of innocent until proven guilty, the prosecution of the innocent is not always redeemed. I hope that Davis can be the spark for reform.