How certain of someone’s guilt do we need to be before we put them to death?
In eight days, the state of Georgia is slated to execute Troy Davis, convicted of killing Mark Allen MacPhail, a Savannah police officer. It’s the fourth time Davis has been slated to die. Each of the prior three times, legal issues have resulted in stays or delays. The Supreme Court has repeatedly heard – and declined to hear – arguments on the case. In the fall of 2008, Davis came within two hours of being put to death.
On August 19, 1989, officer MacPhail, while off-duty, was shot and killed while trying to break up a fight in a Burger King parking lot. A number of witnesses told the jury at trial that Davis had confessed; Davis himself admitted being at the scene.
But after his conviction, seven of the nine witnesses recanted their statements, some saying it came under duress. There was a lack of physical evidence linking Davis to the gun that fired the fatal shot. A juror expressed remorse at the death sentence; a number of prominent individuals wrote letters demanding parole or commutation.