I wanted to save a column on the Troy Davis case for Saturday, since it truly is Fail of the Week – nay, Year – material, but by then it may be pointless. The response to this debacle from the family of Mark MacPhail, the off-duty police officer who allegedly died at Davis’s hands, is a perfect illustration of what happens when raw emotion becomes a substitute for sound legal judgment. I am not a fan of attacking victims’ families, but this one needs a serious reality check.
At the time of this writing, Davis has not been lethally injected, and it is unclear when or if it will happen. Hundreds of protesters have gathered to remind anyone who is watching of the presence of reasonable doubt, which may, under logical circumstances, have been enough for the courts and pardons officials involved in this case. His execution has been stopped three times in four years, and despite pleas for federal intervention, because this was a state case, that won’t happen. At least they’re playing by the rules.
Here’s MacPhail’s widow, Joan MacPhail-Harris: “He has had ample time to prove his innocence. And he is not innocent.” MacPhail was killed in 1989. 22 years should have been even more ample time for the prosecutors in this case to prove his guilt, which seems like a much more pertinent effort. After seven out of nine witness recantations and the absence of physical evidence, they have failed.
So what is the motivation behind the justice system’s refusal to acknowledge the hollowness of the accusation? Racism has come up, as Davis is black and MacPhail was white, although I doubt it’s so simple. Perhaps they simply want to satisfy the pleas of the MacPhail family? I can’t imagine they’d be satisfied if it turns out much later that Davis was the wrong man. That would mean two innocent deaths.
Equally bewildering, though, is the lack of an alibi. In the articles I have read about the case, I have yet to find one that mentions where Davis was at the exact time of MacPhail’s murder. As mentioned, seven out of nine people who placed him at the scene have changed their stories. But Davis has not placed himself anywhere else. His sister, Martina Correia, has not been called to testify. More doubt, and very reasonable doubt at that. It’s enough.
The one clear element of this fiasco is that we don’t know. No person should have to die because of failure, on the part of individuals or of a system, to answer some very basic legal questions. To let this happen would be just as unfair and unnecessary as MacPhail’s death, and he, a police officer himself, would be very unlikely to have endorsed that.