Posts Tagged ‘death penalty’

A chance conversation today on the ghoulish nature of people’s interest in public executions in years gone by reminded me of the case of Michael Barrett, the last man hanged in public in Britain. If for no other reason that he was very likely innocent.

Michael Barrett (1841 – 26 May 1868) was born in Drumnagreshial in the Ederney area of County Fermanagh.

The ruins of the prison after the bomb blast

The ruins of the prison after the bomb blast

He was the last man to be publicly hanged in England, for his alleged role in the Clerkenwell bombing in December 1867. The bombing killed 12 bystanders and severely injured many more.

Barrett had positioned the bomb in a wheelbarrow outside the external wall of Coldbath Fields Prison in the belief that it would bring down the prison wall and allow Fenian prisoners to escape.

Michael Barrett was 27 when he joined the Fenians, which, in the 1860s, was a political movement that dominated Irish politics and defied the Catholic Church and middle-class nationalists who advocated milder approaches. Thousands of Irishmen in both Ireland and Britain were recruited into its ranks.

The Clerkenwell bombing was the most infamous action carried out by the Fenians in Britain. It resulted in a long-lived backlash that fomented much hostility against the Irish community in Britain.

The events that led up to the bombing started with the arrest, in November 1867, of Richard O’Sullivan-Burke, a senior Fenian arms agent who planned the “prison-van escape” in Manchester a few months earlier. O’Sullivan-Burke was subsequently imprisoned on remand in the Middlesex House of Detention, Clerkenwell. On 13 December an attempt to rescue him was made by blowing a hole in the prison wall. The explosion was seriously misjudged; it demolished not only a large section of the wall, but also a number of tenement houses opposite in Corporation Lane (now Row) resulting in 12 people being killed and over 50 suffering a range of injuries.

Public opinion, which had been sympathetic to the Fenians, soon turned against them.

Public opinion, which had been sympathetic to the Fenians, soon turned against them.

The bombing had a traumatic effect on British working-class opinion. Karl Marx, then living in London, observed:

“The London masses, who have shown great sympathy towards Ireland, will be made wild and driven into the arms of a reactionary government. One cannot expect the London proletarians to allow themselves to be blown up in honour of Fenian emissaries.”

The Radical, Charles Bradlaugh, condemned the incident in his newspaper The National Reformer as an act:

“calculated to destroy all sympathy, and to evoke the opposition of all classes”.

The day before the explosion, the Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, had banned all political demonstrations in London in an attempt to put a stop to the weekly meetings and marches that were being held in support of the Fenians. He had feared that the ban might be challenged, but the explosion had the effect of turning public opinion in his favour.

Months earlier, Barrett had been arrested in Glasgow for illegally discharging a firearm and allegedly false evidence was used to implicate him in the Clerkenwell Prison explosion which occurred the previous December.

In court, he produced witnesses who testified that he had been in Scotland on the date of the incident. The main case against him rested on the evidence of co-accused Patrick Mullany (a Dubliner who had given false testimony before and whose price was a free passage to Australia) who told the court that Barrett had informed him that he had carried out the explosion with an accomplice by the name of Murphy. Of the other 6 defendants, another was discharged as a police spy. After two hours of deliberation the jury pronounced Barrett guilty.

One of the trial lawyers, Montagu Williams, wrote:

“On looking at the dock, one’s attention was attracted by the appearance of Barrett, for whom I must confess I felt great commiseration. He was a square-built fellow, scarcely five feet eight in height and dressed like a well-to-do farmer. This resemblance was increased by the frank, open, expression on his face. A less murderous countenance than Barrett’s I have not seen. Good humour was latent in his every feature and he took the greatest interest in the proceedings.”

On being asked if he had anything to say before sentence was passed, Barrett delivered an emotional speech from the dock, which ended:

“I am far from denying, nor will the force of circumstances compel me to deny my love of my native land. I love my country and if it is murderous to love Ireland dearer than I love my life, then it is true, I am a murderer. If my life were ten times dearer than it is and if I could by any means, redress the wrongs of that persecuted land by the sacrifice of my life, I would willingly and gladly do so”.

The next day the Daily Telegraph reported that Barrett had:

“… delivered a most remarkable speech, criticising with great acuteness the evidence against him, protesting that he had been condemned on insufficient grounds, and eloquently asserting his innocence.”

Many people, including a number of Radical MPs, pressed for clemency. In Fermanagh, Barrett’s aged mother walked several miles in the snow to appeal to the local Unionist MP, Captain Archdale, a staunch Orangeman who rejected her.

Barrett was executed outside the walls of Newgate Prison on 26 May 1868 before a crowd of two thousand who booed, jeered and sang Rule Britannia and Champagne Charlie as his body dropped. The night before both within the prison and without there had been jeering and mock-hymns, and jeering accompanied Barrett as he made his way to the gallows, the bells of Newgate and a nearby church tolling in the background. More police than was usual were in attendance, armed very visibly with cutlasses and revolvers because of the fear of Fenian action.

Newspaper reports of the hanging vary according to their political standpoint. Some have Barrett dying without a struggle, others tell of his convulsions, protruding tongue and distorted features. The crowd was said to have been silent as his end came, respectfully removing hats at the moment of execution. After his death, as was customary, the hangman was also abused by the onlookers.

The description of the crowd at the hanging in The Times the next day yields an unflinching and fascinating glimpse into the attitudes of the general public to such spectacles. It certainly seemed like a grim and tasteless affair.

Huge crowds would gather for executions: a fact which caused considerable anguished hand-wringing in the educated classes

Huge crowds would gather for executions: a fact which caused considerable anguished hand-wringing in the educated classes who felt the spectacle undignified.

The execution differed little from other similar exhibitions. On Monday the barriers were put up, and on Monday night a fringe of eager sightseers assembled, mostly sitting beneath the beams, but ready on a moment’s notice to rise and cling to the front places they had so long waited for. There were the usual cat-calls, comic choruses, dances, and even mock hymns, till towards 2 o’clock, when the gaiety inspired by alcohol faded away as the public houses closed, and popular excitement was not revived till the blackened deal frame which forms the base of the scaffold was drawn out in the dawn, and placed in front of the door from which Barrett was to issue. Its arrival was accompanied with a great cheer, which at once woke up those who had been huddled in doorsteps and under barricades, and who joined in the general acclamation. The arrival of the scaffold did much to increase the interest, and through the dawn people began to flock in, the greater portion of the newcomers being young women and little children. Never were there more numerous than on this occasion, and blue velvet hats and huge white feathers lined the great beams which kept the mass from crushing each other in their eagerness to see a man put to death. The crowd was most unusually orderly, but it was not a crowd in which one would like to trust. It is said that one sees on the road to the Derby such animals as are never seen elsewhere; so on an execution morning one see faces that are never seen save round the gallows or near a great fire. Some laughed, some fought, some preached, some gave tracts, and some sang hymns; but what may be called the general good-humoured disorder of the crowd remained the same, and there was laughter at the preacher or silence when an open robbery was going on. None could look on the scene, with all its exceptional quietness, without a thankful feeling that this was to be the last public execution in England. Towards 7 o’clock the mass of people was immense. A very wide open space was kept round the gallows by the police, but beyond this the concourse was dense, stretching up beyond St. Sepulchre’s Church, and far back almost, into Smithfield—a great surging mass of people which, in spite of the barriers, kept swaying to and from like waving corn. Now and then there was a great laughter as a girl fainted, and was passed out hand over hand above the heads of the mob, and then there came a scuffle and a fight, and then a hymn, and then a sermon, and then a comic song, and so on from hour to hour, the crowd thickening as the day brightened, and the sun shone out with such a glare as to extinguish the very feeble light which showed itself faintly through the glass roof above where the culprit lay. It was a wild, rough crowd, not so numerous nor nearly so violent as that which thronged to see Muller or the pirates die. In one way they showed their feeling by loudly hooting a magnificently-attired woman, who, accompanied by two gentlemen, swept down the avenue kept open by the police, and occupied a window afterwards right in front of the gallows. This temporary exhibition of feeling was, however, soon allayed by coppers being thrown from the window for the roughs to scramble for. It is not right, perhaps, that a murderer’s death should be surrounded by all the pious and tender accessories which accompany the departure of a good man to a better world, but most assuredly the sight of public executions to those who have to witness them is as disgusting as it must be demoralising even to all the hordes of thieves and prostitutes it draws together. Yesterday the assembly was of its kind an orderly one, yet it was such as we feel grateful to think will under the new law never be drawn together again in England.

On 27 May, following the execution, Reynold’s News commented:

“Millions will continue to doubt that a guilty man has been hanged at all; and the future historian of the Fenian panic may declare that Michael Barrett was sacrificed to the exigencies of the police, and the vindication of the good Tory principle, that there is nothing like blood.”

Barrett’s execution was the last public hanging to take place in England. Until their transfer to the City of London Cemetery, Michael Barrett’s remains lay for 35 years in a lime grave inside the walls of Newgate Prison. When the prison was demolished in 1903 it was taken to its present resting place. Today the grave is a place of Irish pilgrimage and is marked by a small plaque.

After the explosion the Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli advocated the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act in Britain, as was already the case in Ireland. Greater security measures were quickly introduced. Thousands of special constables were enrolled to aid the police and at Scotland Yard a special secret service department was established to meet the Fenian threat. Although a number of people were arrested and brought to trial, Michael Barrett was the only one to receive the death sentence.

gladstoneWithin days of the explosion, the Liberal leader, William Ewart Gladstone, then in opposition, announced his concern about Irish grievances and said that it was the duty of the British people to remove them. Later, he said that it was the Fenian action at Clerkenwell that turned his mind towards Home Rule. When Gladstone discovered at Hawarden later that year that Queen Victoria had invited him to form a government he famously stated, “my mission is to pacify Ireland.”

He can hardly have imagined that the task would take another 150 years or so.

Activists in the US are trying to get a new trial for a 14 year-old boy who was executed in 1944.

George Stinney has been dead since 1944, when as a 14-year-old he became the youngest person executed in the United States in the past century, for killing two white girls.

Now his supporters are taking the unheard-of step of asking for a new trial.

Stinney’s case brings together two of the longest-running disputes in the American legal system – the death penalty and race.

Stinney was convicted on a shaky confession in a segregated society that wanted revenge for the beating deaths of two girls, aged 11 and 7, according to a lawsuit filed last month on Stinney’s behalf in South Carolina.

He was electrocuted just 84 days after the girls were killed. Newspaper stories reported that witnesses said the straps to keep him in the electric chair didn’t fit around his small frame.

The request for a new trial is largely symbolic, but Stinney’s supporters say they would prefer exoneration to a pardon – which they’ve asked for as well.

The judge may refuse to hear the request for a new trial, since the punishment has already been carried out.

The two girls were last seen looking for wildflowers in the racially divided mill town of Alcolu. Stinney’s sister, who was 7 at the time, says in her new affidavit for the lawsuit that she and her brother were letting their cow graze when the girls asked them where they could find flowers called maypops. The sister, Amie Ruffner, said her brother told them he didn’t know, and the girls left.

“It was strange to see them in our area, because white people stayed on their side of Alcolu and we knew our place,” Ruffner wrote.

The girls never came home. They were found the next morning in a water-filled ditch, their heads beaten with a hard object, likely a railroad spike.

The request for a new trial includes sworn statements from two of Stinney’s siblings who say he was with them the entire day the girls were killed.

Notes from Stinney’s confession and most other information used to convict him in a one-day trial have disappeared, along with any transcript of the proceedings. Only a few pages of cryptic, hand-written notes remain, according to the motion.

“Why was George Stinney electrocuted? The state can’t produce any paperwork to justify why he was,” said George Frierson, a local school board member who grew up in Stinney’s hometown hearing stories about the case and decided six years ago to start studying it and pushing for exoneration.

The request for a new trial points out that at just 43 kilograms it’s unlikely Stinney could have killed the girls and dragged them to the ditch.

The motion also hints at community rumours of a deathbed confession from a white man several years ago and the possibility Stinney confessed because his family was threatened.

(From AP)

What a movie this would make …

Troy Davis & his family

Troy Davis and his family in a picture taken before the prison cut off “contact visits.”

Two days ago – incredibly, really, as it seems like just yesterday – it was two years since The State of Georgia, and America, put an innocent man to death.

Two years that Troy Davis and his family have had robbed from them. Two years of mourning.

Two years since the largest ever worldwide campaign for an innocent man to be freed when his conviction was obviously flawed was completely ignored by the parole institutions in Georgia, the Georgia Governor, the Supreme Court of the USA, and ultimately, President Obama. Two years when the State of Georgia knew better than a former head of the FBI, former president Jimmy Carter, 35 members of Congress, and even the Pope.

Not to mention petitions with literally millions of signatures on them.

That’s how obdurate the desire to kill an innocent man was.

Two years in which the anger has not dimmed.

In Troy’s memory – if you signed a petition, if you stood with a placard, if you wrote letters or emails, if you called your representative, if you commented on Facebook, if you stood vigil, if you cried – now you can continue your personal witness and purchase I Am Troy Davis, published this week and written by Jen Marlowe and Troy’s sister, Martina Correia-Davis, who died of breast cancer soon after her brother was killed.

It’s the story of Troy, his remarkable family, and the on-going struggle to end the death penalty.

Can’t say it better than Susan Sarandon: “I Am Troy Davis is a painful yet very important book” — unless it’s Maya Angelou: “Here is a shout for human rights and for the abolition of the death penalty. This book, I Am Troy Davis,should be read and cherished.”

The book tells the intimate story of an ordinary man caught up in an inexorable tragedy. From his childhood in racially-charged Savannah; to the confused events that led to the 1989 shooting of a police officer; to Davis’ sudden arrest, conviction, and two-decade fight to prove his innocence; I Am Troy Davis takes us inside a broken legal system where life and death hangs in the balance. It is also an inspiring testament to the unbreakable bond of family, to the resilience of love, and that even when you reach the end of justice, voices from across the world will rise together in chorus and proclaim, “I am Troy Davis”, I stand with you.

eve

“This book will devastate you …” Eve Ensler

If you make your purchase through the non-profit publisher, Haymarket Books, it’ll cost you just $18 to commemorate one man’s courageous yet ultimately tragic fight for justice.

And, by doing so, to make your personal stand against a justice system which is laughingly labyrinthine and slow, where process regularly overpowers any consideration of issues of right or wrong, where the application of the death penalty is obviously biased heavily against racial minorities, and which regularly has executed, and still does execute, innocent people.

A place, in other words, where “And justice for all” is clearly a sick joke. If that’s not what you want America to be, then buy the book. Buy it for friends. Buy it and donate it to your local library, or school. Buy it.

I am still Troy Davis.

(AP, Clarion Ledger, and others)

The Mississippi Supreme Court on Tuesday afternoon issued a stay of execution until further notice for Willie Jerome Manning, who had been set to be executed at 6 p.m.

Previously having voted 5-4 in favour of execution as recently as last week, the high court voted eight to one to defer, possibly until new evidence can be examined, with Justice Mike Randolph objecting.

Attorney General Jim Hood had opposed the request for a stay, saying it is just a delay tactic and that there was a “mountain of evidence” against Manning, including a confession to his cousin. (Note, that cousin has since retracted that testimony and specifically said he was lying to curry favour with police.) On Tuesday, he apologized to the victims’ families.

“I am sorry that the victims’ families will have to continue to live with this 20-plus year nightmare,” Hood said. “Out of an abundance of caution, our Court stayed the sentence until it had time to review this flurry of last minute filings.”

(Presumably Mr Hood thinks it would be better to judicially murder the wrong man than try and find the real perpetrator if the DNA and other evidence exonerates Manning? Perhaps he thinks the victim’s families would rather an innocent man was executed than no-one?)

Manning was given two death sentences for the 1992 slayings of Jon Steckler and Tiffany Miller, two college students. His attorneys had asked the state Supreme Court on Monday to stop his execution and allow him to seek DNA testing of evidence.

The U.S. Justice Department had sent letters saying FBI testimony on testing of bullet and hair evidence in the case had been over-reaching for technology at the time.

Manning’s attorney, David Voisin, said: “The order demonstrates that the court is taking our pleading seriously and giving serious consideration to giving us (DNA) testing or a new trial.”

Judge Randolph, in his lonely written objection to the stay, said Manning’s defense has had years to deal with hair and ballistics evidence and that the issues were dealt with “in a long string of litigation in state and federal courts.”

(This, of course, ignores the fact that he had been denied to right to new DNA testing. What’s more, this particular judge then proceeded to make a series of astonishing remarks regarding the Department of Justice.)

Randolph also strongly criticized the DOJ for working with the Innocence Project and National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in their evaluations.

“I should not be surprised,” Randolph wrote, “given that the families of victims of the clandestine ‘Fast and Furious’ gun running operation can’t get the Department of Justice to identify the decision makers (whose actions resulted in the death of a border agent and many others) after years of inquiry, and that this is the same Department of Justice that grants and enforces Miranda warnings to foreign enemy combatants.”

(It seems like “hang ‘em high” as a solution to all the world’s problems is still alive and well in some people’s minds. But credit must be given to the court, it has to be said, in reversing its previous decision so emphatically. Still, Manning is not out of the woods yet …)

Mississippi Department of Corrections spokeswoman Tara Booth said the agency is “standing down until we hear from the court.”

Booth said it is unclear at this point how temporary the stay might be. Manning will be immediately moved from the execution unit, where he was placed Sunday, back to death row.

Manning had not requested a last meal Tuesday. Too, none of his family members had planned to attend the execution at Manning’s request. Manning’s brother, Marshon Manning, however, was visiting with Manning Tuesday.

Family members of one of the victims were on route to view the 6 p.m. scheduled execution at Parchman, Miss., where the Mississippi State Penitentiary is located, when victims advocated made them aware Manning had been granted a stay, Booth said.

In a written statement, Hood said: “Yesterday evening our office filed a report with the Court, which I obtained from the district attorney’s office around 6 yesterday afternoon.

The report states that there was no serological evidence from the victims’ fingernail scrapings or semen on the vaginal swabs from the rape test kit for a DNA test to identify.

After having an opportunity to consider this new evidence, the senior attorneys in this office believe our Court will dissolve the stay and the sentence will be carried out. If, however, our Court orders that these items be re-tested, then we will carry out that order.”

Hood continued: “I am in conversations with the DOJ and FBI to determine how these last minute letters came about. After conversing with expert witnesses at our Crime Lab, it is clear that FBI experts and experts in all states used more conclusive language in their testimony up until around the time the 2009 National Academy of Science report was issued on forensics. Since then the policy of many experts has been to qualify their testimony by using the magic words ‘to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty.’

“The FBI agents in this case were simply following the standards used in their fields at the time. The letters sent from the forensic taskforce chairman at DOJ, merely state that the science was not that exact in 1993, not that these agents were not following the standard followed by all of their colleagues at the time, both state and federal, in testifying to the degree of certainty.”

(So if they made a mistake back then, the fact that they didn’t know they were making a mistake means it’s OK to execute someone incorrectly? I smell bullshit and arse covering.)

Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps said Manning was being taken from a holding cell back to Building 29, where death row is located.

Epps said Manning had expressed optimism to him earlier that the execution would be stopped.

“He said he had faith in God and all was in His hands,” Epps said.

Epps said the prison was being taken off lockdown — a usual procedure on an execution day and that Tiffany Miller’s family was alerted about the stay. Family members who had planned to witness Tuesday’s scheduled execution were already en route.

(What is certain is that this whole death penalty system is ridiculously cruel on both inmates and victim’s families. The anti death movement in the USA is gaining strength – especially because there is now clear evidence that many people are being executed on inconclusive or blatantly fraudulent evidence. If a country must impose the ultimate penalty, then certainty as regards guilt – and only certainty – must surely be the standard.)

Troy Davis, Amanda Knox, Mark McPhail, and Meredith Kercher

Troy Davis, Amanda Knox, Mark McPhail, and Meredith Kercher

Sunday saw the burial of Troy Davis, the man who millions believed was falsely convicted of murder and who was then, in turn, killed by the State of Georgia despite a massive groundswell of support, including from some of the finest political and legal minds in America and around the world.

Today sees the freeing of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito after their appeal against conviction for killing British student Meredith Kercher was upheld, primarily because the DNA evidence that had originally played such a large part in their conviction was effectively discredited.

The similarities and contrasts in the cases are striking.

In America and Italy, the credibility of the prosecuting police and legal establishment has been comprehensively called into question, and in both cases the fervour with which the appeals process was opposed speaks to the desire of law enforcement agencies to avoid having convictions overturned and, as a result, their competence inevitably called into question.

In one case, though, the burden of evidence seemed to be impossibly flawed, and certainly inadequate to sustain the ultimate penalty for fear of a mistake being made, and yet the state went ahead and carried out the execution anyway.

In the other, an element of doubt must still remain in many people’s minds as to whether Knox and Sollecito are, in fact, innocent, because their testimony and behaviour after the murder seemed confused and contradictory, and yet the court set them free, because the high standard needed to sustain a very long period of imprisonment was not met.

In one case, the family of off-duty policeman Mark MacPhail believe justice was served, but many hundreds of thousands of people who have informed themselves on the case believe the true killer is still walking free.

In the other, Meredith Kercher’s family are now left bitterly resentful of the fact that the defendants seem to have garnered all the publicity, and now, of course, wonder who else, if anyone, was involved in the violent death of their beloved daughter. (Local small-time drug dealer and petty thief Rudy Guede has also been convicted on the same charges as Knox and Sollecito but was tried separately and is serving a 16-year sentence after exhausting his appeals.)

In both cases, the passion with which the families of the accused fought for their children was brave, heartfelt, and touching. As was the desire for justice of the families of the dead.

It seems to me that, whatever private suspicions people might have about the guilt or innocence of Knox and her co-accused, one thing is clear. If the burden of evidence was inadequate, freeing them was the right decision. They are, unquestionably, innocent, because our system of laws demand that a person is either entirely innocent or entirely guilty. If we ever lose this unbreachable, unquenchable standard within our legal system then it seems to me we revert to the dark ages.

Reflecting on the Knox trial, it is also easy to imagine how a 20 year old American girl, living the high life in Italy, could become confused, scared and browbeaten when captured in the maw of a malevolent legal system, subjected to intense enquiry in an alien environment.

Certainly that is the popular feeling about the case in America.

Perhaps this explains how in her first interrogation, Knox said she was in the house at the time of the murder and she falsely identified the owner of a bar where she worked as a waitress as the killer. He was arrested but quickly exonerated.

In court last week, Knox apologised to him. Knox now says that she was with Sollecito at his house all night and that her initial comments were misunderstood and only given after heavy questioning. She admitted she was wrong, the court had to decide whether she was actually misunderstood or lying, and why she would lie, if guiltless. Perhaps Knox was indeed guilty and casting around in her confusion for a way out? Or perhaps she merely acted foolishly, in terror at the situation she found herself in, or as she says, perhaps she was simply misunderstood?

In short, we will never know for certain, and we offer up a silent prayer of thanks that it was not our child caught in such a situation. The judges and jurors in the appeal court agreed that the prosecution had failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, and as such, Knox must walk free, and without a stain on her character.

One can only imagine how the family of Troy Davis must feel when, as is surely inevitable, they review the news coverage of this case. In one jurisdiction, an appeals process established without question that the evidence originally submitted was highly questionable. In the other, the appeals process positively discriminated against hearing such evidence, preferring to focus on procedural niceties that seemed designed to keep the guilty man headed for the death chamber, no matter what. Remember: there was no DNA evidence linking Davis to the crime, and the murder weapon was never found. And yet the appeals process remained stony-faced.

And it must be said: in one case, the defendants were a pair of attractive middle-class lovers, young, beautiful  – and white. In the other, he was a black man in a southern state of the USA.

Last but by no means least, let us reflect at length that Knox and her co-accused, in a different jurisdiction, could have been executed before they were exonerated. Yet within days, she will be walking the streets of her home town, considering, no doubt, book and movie deals, seeking to get her life back on track.

As you read this, hundreds of other death sentence appeals grind their way through the American legal system. Men and women sit on death row, under unimaginable strain, and sometimes for decades. Can anyone say with certainty that an indefinable number of those slated for execution are not, in fact, entirely innocent, when we know for sure that many posthumous pardons have had to be issued for innocent people who have been executed, in America and elsewhere?

One fact in these sad stories is indisputable. Troy Anthony Davis was buried in the cold ground of Savannah, Georgia on Sunday. I am Troy Davis.

Where will it end? Will the outrage simply peter out over time? Or are we seeing the beginning of a mass movement to end the death penalty in America once more? I would very much appreciate your opinions.

http://newamericamedia.org/2011/09/troy-davis-protesters-occupy-wall-street.php

How sad to see the police in NY reacting with typical brutishness. Has anything changed since 1968?

Remember, what happened to Troy Davis could happen to anyone.

Remember, what happened to Troy Davis could happen to anyone.

In the bleak hours since Troy Davis was killed for a crime he did not commit, more facts continue to emerge about the farcical state of the legal processes that condemned him to death. Apart from the fact that courts repeatedly refused to allow new evidence to be submitted on Davis’s behalf – in other words, the truth does not matter, merely the upholding of whatever legal morass is in power at the time – more evidence of the unreliability of the witnesses that were originally produced is coming out.

A member of Davis’ legal team from the Washington law firm Arnold & Porter said there was too much doubt about the eyewitness testimony at the 1991 trial to let Davis be convicted.

In a telephone interview the lawyer confirmed that the eyewitnesses included an man who initially said he could not recognize the shooter except for the clothes he was wearing; a woman who initially said she could not put a face with the shooter; a woman who said she recognized Davis in the dark from more than 120 feet away; and a man who was looking through his car’s tinted windows and said he was only 60 percent sure he could identify Davis.

“You can’t execute someone based on that kind of testimony,” the defnece team member said. “It’s unconscionable.” Nevertheless, just before 11pm on Wednesday night, the state, in our name, injected Davis with poison and killed him. His last words were to again plead his innocence directly to the family of the police officer he was wrongly accused of killing, and to pray for the souls of those about to end his life. It may strike you that these were hardly the actions of a callous murderer with nothing left to lose.

But even worse, Jennifer Dysart, an expert on the problems associated with eyewitness testimony, said she had planned to testify at Monday’s clemency hearing, but the parole board ended Davis’ presentation before she could give her presentation.

In an interview today, Dysart said numerous studies show that eyewitness testimony is unreliable and the procedures used by Savannah police in the Davis investigation would not be allowed today.

“Even if the parole board didn’t believe the recantations, there were significant problems with all the eyewitness testimony,” she said “Nothing reliable should come from that testimony. I wish the board had heard my presentation.”

Let’s just make that clear. The Parole Board simply refused to hear expert testimony, when a man’s life was at stake, and after over a million signatures requesting clemency had been collected.

I would like to suggest my readers also visit Emily Hauser’s blog, which initially alerted me to this case. Her musings after the sentence was carried out, and her suggestions for how people can maintain their rage and make a difference, are touching and well worth reading. Head to http://emilylhauserinmyhead.wordpress.com/2011/09/22/dear-readers-veteran-and-new/

It is also worth considering, I believe, how the efforts of warm-hearted people like Emily turned this case into a cause celebre that has swept the world in recent weeks. It is both a reflection of the new power associated with the Internet, and the importance of the little people, the ordinary individuals, who are prepared to stand up, perhaps for the first time, and say “Not In My Name”. In this case, it proved to be fruitless, but in other cases it will not. In the long term, we may trace major changes to the sad date of 21st Septemeber. In any event, the sheer outpouring of compassion and understanding in itself gives Troy’s dreadful sacrifice meaning. He has left the world a better place, bitter though the price was which he had to pay.

This will, except in terms of the most dramatic news coming to light, be my last post on this case. I am grateful for the very many messages of support sent to me personally, and much more grateful for those who weighed in to campaign on Troy’s behalf. It is clear to anyone except those with an emotional, legal or practical investment in seeing Troy Davis killed that a terrible, terrible wrong has been done. All we can do know is work, uncreasingly, to prevent more injustices from occuring, in America and elsewhere. In Iran a couple of days ago a 17 year old was hanged publicly for stabbing to death a much larger man who he had claimed attacked him over a raod rage incident. In China there is ample evidence that people are executed for minor crimes in order to harvest their body parts.

Until the cancer of the death penalty is removed, everywhere, the anger endures, and the fight goes on.

And last but not least: remember that if they can kill Troy Davis when the evidence against him was clearly totally flawed, when more than one million people including law enforcement officers, Presidents, politicians, churchmen and many more pleaded with them not to, then they can frame and kill you, too.

Yes, you. Or your mother, or your father. Or your husband, wife, brother or sister. Or your child.

Many people have asked me for the full details of why Troy Davis should not be executed next week. Rather than express a purely personal view, I think it would be more helpful if people could read the full story from an independent source, in this case the NAACP, who yesterday delivered more than 660,000 signatures to the Georgia Paroles Board arguing that Davis’s case does not allow the death penalty to be fairly applied. You can watch the delivery of the petition here:

And there is still time – urgently – for you and your friends to sign the Amnesty International petititon here:

http://takeaction.amnestyusa.org/siteapps/advocacy/ActionItem.aspx?c=6oJCLQPAJiJUG&b=6645049&aid=12970

American residents can email the Governor of Georgia directly here:

http://gov.georgia.gov/00/gov/contact_us/0,2657,165937316_166563415,00.html

(There is a link for overseas residents to email him at the top of the form.)

Meanwhile, here are the detailed facts of the case. They reveal the iniquity of suggesting Troy Davis should be legally murdered. They are also an utter indictment of the judicial system that would allow such a thing to happen.

In its public order granting a stay of execution to Troy Davis in 2007, the Board of Pardons and Paroles set out a standard for clemency: “[The Board] will not allow an execution to proceed in this State unless and until its members are convinced that there is no doubt as to the guilt of the accused.”

Case Background

In the early morning hours of August 19, 1989, several people including Troy Davis and Sylvester “Redd” Coles were hanging out near a Burger King parking lot adjoined to a Greyhound bus station in Savannah, Georgia.  Coles started arguing with a homeless man named Larry Young, demanding that Young give him a beer.  As Young walked away, he was pistol-whipped in the head.  Police officer Mark MacPhail, serving off-duty as a security guard at the bus station, responded to a call for help.  As he came running to Young’s aid he was shot and killed by the same man who had attacked Young.  The day after the shooting, Coles went to the police station with his lawyer and said that Troy Davis was the shooter.

Major Issues in the Case

1) Witnesses Implicate a Different Man as the Shooter

Since the Board last examined Davis’ case, two additional witnesses have implicated Sylvester Coles.  First is Benjamin Gordon, who clearly testified at the 2010 federal evidentiary hearing that he saw Coles shoot Officer MacPhail.  Gordon recounted specific details of the shooting that have not been publicized and police reports hours after the shooting put him across the street from the crime scene at the moment of the shooting.  Gordon is related to Coles, has known him all his life, has been ostracized by his family for testifying and has said that he kept quiet all these years for fear of Coles retaliating against him.

Second is Quiana Glover, who, like Gordon, has no connection to Davis or his family and has known Coles most of her life.  She has sworn that she heard a flustered Coles confess in 2009 to the MacPhail murder.  Unfortunately, her testimony was excluded at the 2010 evidentiary hearing.  Several witnesses have implicated Coles in sworn statements, including two others who stated he confessed to the murder.

2) Investigation Excluded Important Figure as a Suspect

In the investigation, Coles was never treated as a suspect, despite the fact that he indisputably was the one who began the altercation with Young that led to the shooting of Officer MacPhail.  Several witnesses indicated that only one person was arguing with Young and this person was also the shooter.  Coles admitted at trial that he was arguing with Young.  Further, Coles admitted to having had a .38 caliber revolver that night, the exact type of gun used to shoot MacPhail.  There was never a search for his gun nor did he ever produce it, claiming it was lost; therefore, it could never be tested.

Of the eyewitnesses to the murder, only Coles and Darrell Collins (who tried to recant before and after trial) knew Davis.  It is critical to note how most of the eyewitnesses first identified Davis as the shooter.  Within a week of the murder, they were gathered together by the police for a reenactment of the crime at the crime scene.  By then, witnesses would have likely been exposed to Davis’ image, which was all over the local news and he was in jail as the prime suspect.  In a photographic spread of five men, Davis was the only one pictured who had been at the crime scene close to the time of the shooting.  Not only was Coles not pictured, but he was treated as the principle witness, invited to the reenactment, and treated as an innocent bystander standing alongside the other witnesses.

3) Most of State’s Witnesses Contradicted Their Testimony

Don't kill Troy Davis - there is too much doubt

Too much doubt to kill a man

Since trial in 1991, seven of the nine state trial witnesses have contradicted their testimony or admitted their testimony was false.  Additionally, several informants who testified at trial also recanted.  All of the state trial witnesses who recanted that are still alive have testified to the Board or the federal district court:

  • Kevin McQueen told the Board in 2007 that he was a jailhouse snitch and that his testimony that Troy Davis confessed to him was a complete fabrication.
  • Larry Young told the Board in 2007 that Coles, not Davis, most likely attacked and pistol-whipped him.  The record shows that the shooter attacked Young before shooting MacPhail.
  • Antoine Williams told the Board in 2008 that he had serious doubts about his identification of Davis.  Also, he told the board the shooter was the same man arguing with Young.
  • Darrell Collins recanted his police statement at trial and at the 2010 federal evidentiary hearing, testifying that the police had threatened him as an accessory if he did not implicate Troy Davis.
  • Jeffrey Sapp told the Board in 2007 that his trial testimony that Troy Davis confessed to him was a fabrication that was a result of police suggestion and intimidation.
  • Dorothy Ferrell told the Board in 2008 that she lied at trial when she confidently implicated Davis.  The shooter’s light colored skin led her to conclude before trial that Coles was the likely shooter (Coles’ complexion is lighter than Davis’, hence the nick name “Redd”).  Ferrell testified at trial that she could identify Davis, despite being positioned across a four-lane tree-lined boulevard with poor lighting conditions at 1:00am.
  • Harriet Murray (died in 2006) signed an affidavit in 2002 reaffirming her initial statements that the shooter was the same person who argued and followed Young.  She could not initially “put a face” on anyone in the lot and identified Davis only after the problematic crime reenactment.

Of the two witnesses who have not contradicted their trial testimony, one (Steven Sanders) could only identify Troy Davis at trial, two years after he told police that he “wouldn’t know the shooter again if I saw him.”  The other is Sylvester Coles, whose recantation would implicate himself.

4) New Analysis of Physical Evidence Contradicts the State’s Case

In 2008, the State submitted to the Board a report by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) that purportedly showed the presence of blood on a pair of shorts recovered from Davis’ home in the days after the murder.  Davis’ attorneys were unaware of the existence of this report.  Following the Board’s denial of clemency in 2008, a DNA and serology expert reviewed the full GBI report.  The federal court in 2010, after reviewing the new expert analysis, concluded that “the shorts in no way linked Mr. Davis to the murder of Officer MacPhail,” and found that “it is not even clear that the substance was blood.”  The court concluded that even if the substance was blood, it “could have belonged to Mr. Davis, Mr. Larry Young, Officer MacPhail, or even [could] have gotten onto the shorts entirely apart from the events of that night.”  Therefore, the value of this item as evidence has been thoroughly challenged.

Justifications for Clemency

In 2004, Willie James Hall was granted clemency partly because former jurors said they would have voted for life without parole had it been an option.  Davis’ 1991 jury took ample time to deliberate on the sentence and asked the judge whether life without parole was an option, but it was not.  In 2007, before Davis’ first execution date, four jurors signed affidavits expressing concerns and a desire that the execution not proceed.  Juror Brenda Forest said in a TV interview, “If I knew then what I know now, Troy Davis would not be on death row…the verdict would be ‘not guilty.”

Because executive clemency exists to provide a final failsafe it is not bound by the same strict rules and procedures as the courts.  The Board is able to intervene in cases like Mr. Davis’ where the evidence is circumstantial and contradictory.  Davis’ task in federal court was to prove his innocence.  While the court felt he did not meet this admittedly “extraordinarily high” burden, serious and unresolved doubts persist.  These doubts put Georgia at risk of an irreversible and monumental mistake which could weaken public confidence in the justice system.  By following the “no doubt” standard made by the Board in 2007 and commuting Davis’ sentence to life imprisonment, today’s Board could eliminate this risk altogether by choosing to mercifully err on the side of life.

PLEASE ACT NOW. THIS MAN HAS LESS THAN ONE WEEK TO LIVE – AND GEORGIA POLICE, PROSECUTORS, GOVENOR AND PEOPLE SHOULD THINK ABOUT THIS: THE REAL MURDERER IS STILL AT LARGE.

Troy Davis is going to die if we do nothing.

Troy Davis is going to die if we do nothing.

Troy Davis is almost certainly innocent on the crime for which he is about to be executed. At the very least, his sentence should be commuted while new evidence is properly examined, because the laws of his state, Georgia, insist that no execution can proceed when there is doubt about the conviction. Read this fine article, and weep:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/09/explaining-the-death-penalty-to-my-children/245020/

If you haven’t done so already, please sign the Amnesty International petition here:

http://takeaction.amnestyusa.org/siteapps/advocacy/ActionItem.aspx?c=6oJCLQPAJiJUG&b=6645049&aid=12970

Imagine walking into the execution chamber, to have your life snuffed out for something you – and tens of thousands of other people – know you didn’t do. Imagine how that feels. Imagine how it feels for your family, watching you walk to your certain death.

And then sign the petition. And ask your friends to do the same. At least then, if they do murder Troy Davis, you can say as you look around at your own family eating dinner or watching TV, or you lie down to sleep at night, “Well, at least I tried”.

Troy Davis faces the death penalty

Troy Davis in the Chatham County Superior Court during his trail in the shooting death of off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail. (AP Photo/Savannah Morning News)

At the very least, the doubts about his conviction should make imposing the death penalty – planned for just a few short days from now – unthinkable. (By its own rules, Georgia is obliged to set aside the death penalty where reasonable doubt exists.)

Please take action. As a first step, read Emily Hauser’s blog. (The link is below.) Then either sign the Amnesty International petition, or contact the Georgia authorities, or both. His life is, quite literally, in your hands.

Troy Davis given execution date. « Emily L. Hauser – In My Head.

Listen to details of the case here: