Students, faculty react to execution of Troy Davis

All eyes were on Georgia last week as Troy Davis was put to death for the 1989 murder of an off-duty policeman in Savannah, Ga. Activists around the nation and the world rallied for Davis and protested against what they viewed as murky circumstances of his conviction and the use of capital punishment.

Davis’ execution was stayed four times while on death row, according to court documents. Each appeal resulted in failure to prove his innocence in the murder of Mark MacPhail.

MacPhail was working as a security guard at a Burger King when he defended a man being assaulted in a nearby parking lot, allegedly by Davis. According to witnesses, Davis shot and killed the officer in retaliation.

Davis, 42, was given a lethal injection at 11:08 p.m. on Sept. 21, according to a Georgia Department of Corrections official, after a last minute appeal was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately declined to grant clemency.

The decision to follow through with the ruling was a battle for 22 years.

The most recent appeal consisted of seven recanted testimonies from trial witnesses and the possible confession of another suspect. Seven of the nine witnesses said police pressured them in 1989, according to interviews with the Associated Press.

John McAdams, an associate professor of political science at Marquette and a published author on the death penalty, said the defense’s assertion that seven out of nine testimonies were recanted is nonsense.

“You can’t look at the recantations and say they are accurate,” McAdams said. “The people told authorities they ‘didn’t remember saying that,’ not ‘I didn’t say that.’”

A number of politicians, celebrities and public voices called for the delay of the execution because there was “too much doubt” present in the case after the recanted testimonies.

Davis supporters included Pope Benedict XVI, former President Jimmy Carter, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, former FBI Chief William S. Sessions, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs and Amnesty International.

Thousands of Davis supporters worldwide took up the anti-death penalty cause during Davis’ final days. Vigils were held in the U.S. and Europe, where people chanted, “I am Troy Davis” and wrote the phrase on signs and T-shirts.

More than 500 people stood outside the Jackson, Ga. prison where Davis was held, as well as the White House last Thursday, while approximately 150 demonstrators carried signs with Davis face on them at a rally in Paris.

“Everyone who looks a little bit at the case knows that there is too much doubt to execute him,” Nicolas Krameyer of Amnesty International said at the protest in Paris.

McAdams claimed very few of these activists read enough of the transcript and case to understand it in its entirety.

“One in 1,000 activists read the transcript,” McAdams said. “They also get superficial media coverage with only one side getting attention. No one is asking what the real facts of the case are.”

McAdams didn’t discount the people who are passionate about the case and signed petitions.

“Those who signed petitions are sincere and want to see a change,” McAdams said. “It’s people like the Pope and Jimmy Carter who have not looked at the evidence and want to have a say.” 

Davis’ execution also elicited reaction from campus.

Colleen Ross, a sophomore in the College of Arts & Science and member of JUSTICE, a social justice organization on campus that strictly opposes the death penalty, said what Davis went through was unjust and hailed the support he received from high places.

“The work continuously done by people such as Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter contributes tremendously to the campaign for social justice,” Ross said. “Lending their voices against the Troy Davis execution is a positive step that helps reach beyond the usual audience to spread awareness of this injustice.”