Attorneys for death row inmate have made a final request for the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to commute the death sentence of Troy Davis. Davis is scheduled to be executed today, September 23, 2008, at 7pm. Last year, the board granted Davis a temporary reprieve less than 24 hours before his scheduled execution, when serious questions were raised about his case.
Davis’ case, like many others its predecessor, too, implicates the fairness and objectivity of our criminal justice system, particularly in relation to sentencing black defendants for murdering white victims. But, beyond the black/white paradigm, Davis’ fight for justice is worsened because his victim was an off-duty police officer – a fact that produces certain legal anxieties in relation to issues surrounding a fair police investigation of the case.
Beyond the fact that Davis’ is an African American has been on death row for seventeen years for a crime that he possibly did not commit, several other legal ironies exist. First, I cannot help but mention that Davis’ sentencing occurred in a state known for its progressive legal precedents on the death penalty. From, Coker v. Georgia, through Furman v. Georgia, to McKlesky v. Kemp, the Georgia judiciary has a long record of taking notice of racial disparities in death sentencing, particularly in relation to the black/white punishment dialectic. Second, Davis’ fight for justice presents serious questions about innocence and the legal futility of relying solely on witnesses in capital murder cases. A case built largely on witness testimony, seven of the nine non-police witnesses said they were coerced and have recanted their testimony. Of the remaining two, one identified a left-handed assailant, while Davis is right-handed. And the final witness against Davis is the man that others claim actually committed the murder. Third, Davis’ case reveals the speed and manner in which the black body is captured, dispossessed, and then disposed through the criminal justice system. There exists no direct physical evidence linking Davis to the crime, no murder weapon was ever found, and there’s no DNA or fingerprint evidence that establishes his guilt – yet the board is so convinced of his guilt that they are willing to let his death sentence stand.
As I prepare to attend the 10 Annual Critical Resistance Conference in Oakland, California, to abolish the ever expanding prison industrial complex, I am reminded of the importance of my work as a lawyer, activist, scholar, and critical voice to serve the cause of justice -- particularly on problems associated with our wholesale reliance on punishment/death as cure for our social ills.