Death Penalty Case in Georgia – updated

UPDATED BELOW

Prayer Request

This evening, the fate of Troy Davis, convicted of killing officer Mark MacPhail in Savannah in 1989, is in the hands of the United States Supreme Court.

The bishops of the Catholic Church in Georgia sent a letter this past Monday to the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles asking that the death sentence be reconsidered.

This week saw final appeals for clemency rejected by authorities in Georgia.

Although the case has been upheld at every legal turn, there is also what can only be described as significant doubt outside the courts as to the guilt of Mr. Davis. This includes the recanting of testimony by many key witnesses. In addition to the Georgia bishops, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported, “Calls for Davis to be spared execution have been made by numerous dignitaries, including former President Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI, former FBI Director William Sessions, former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Norman Fletcher and Larry Thompson, the former deputy U.S. attorney general.”

Please pray that this execution set aside. And in your mercy, pray for all parties involved on both sides including Officer MacPhail and his family and Troy Davis and his family.

UPDATED 10:18pm ET

It is reported that the US Supreme Court has rejected the final appeal to stay the execution.

UPDATED 11:30pm ET

Troy Davis declared dead at 11:08pm ET

It is difficult for me to understand how the judicial system did not conclude that there was sufficient evidence to look further into this case, particularly with the death sentence involved. No, I am not a lawyer and am not skilled or knowledgeable in these matters. However, I am a human being and this just does not sit right. Even if there were insufficient evidence to overturn the conviction, surely there was sufficient cause to set aside the execution. I would feel the same even if I were not opposed to capital punishment.

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About the Author

Deacon Michael Bickerstaff is the Editor in chief and co-founder of the The Integrated Catholic Life.™ A Catholic Deacon of the Roman Rite for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Deacon Bickerstaff is assigned to St. Peter Chanel Catholic Church where he is the Director of Adult Education and Evangelization.

He is a co-founder of the successful annual Atlanta Catholic Business Conference; the Chaplain of the Atlanta Chapter of the Woodstock Theological Center’s Business Conference; and Chaplain of the St. Peter Chanel Faith at Work Business Association and co-founder and Chaplain of the Marriages Are Covenants Ministry, both of which serve as models for similar parish-based ministries.

He and his wife have two adult children, one daughter-in-law and three grandchildren.

NB: The views I express on this site are my own. I am not an official spokesman for either my parish or diocese.

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5 Comments

  1. It is difficult for me to understand how the judicial system did not conclude that there was sufficient evidence to look further into this case, particularly with the death sentence involved.

    Deacon Mike, I agree. It is heartbreaking. Executing Mr. Davis will not bring back Mark MacPhail, and it is particularly troubling that Mr. Davis’s innocence is a possibility. My sincere sorrow and prayers go out to the Davis and MacPhail families today.

    In days of old, society may not have been able to contain hardened criminals and executed some of the most dangerous for the protection of individuals and society at large. However, today, with modern top-security prisons, instances necessitating the death of a criminal for the protection of the innocent are rare. Retribution is just not a good reason to execute.

    In this particular case, with the guilt of the condemned questioned, it seems particularly unconscionable to carry out an execution. As the dissenting judge, Rosemary Barkett, in Mr. Davis’s 2009 case dissented, ” “To execute Davis, in the face of a significant amount of proffered evidence that may establish his actual innocence, is unconscionable and unconstitutional,” ( http://www.ajc.com/news/content/metro/stories/2009/04/16/troy_davis_appeal.html )

    We can only pray, that as Mr. Davis faced this final earthly challenge, that he was able to get his soul in order, as we all should as we prepare to meet our Maker. I also pray for the MacPhail family who is challenged to mercy and forgiveness of whomever it was that took the life of their beloved brother/son/father. It sounds like that is going to be a struggle: http://www.ajc.com/news/atlanta/a-mothers-vigil-1186182.html

  2. Deacon Mike – I am also not a lawyer, and I am opposed to capital punishment. I find it inconsistent with belief in a Savior who was innocently executed. I grieve the death of both gentlemen who were executed last night.

    But a couple hours’ reviewing the Federal Judge’s opinion and review of the evidence is all it takes to conclude that there is no real doubt as to Troy Davis’ guilt. While the media falsely claim that 7 of 9 of the State’s witnesses have recanted, the truth is that at trial, the State presented testimony of 34 individuals, including a number of eyewitnesses whose credible testimony the defense did not impeach, and a number of witnesses who affirmatively identified Troy Davis as the shooter, also not addressed by the defense. And the judge found that the recent “recantations” either were not credible, were out-and-out fabrications, or were from individuals whose trial testimony was obviously fabricated and had to have been disregarded by the jury.

    The standard of guilt applied by the Federal Judge was this: whether a reasonable juror, in light of the new evidence presented, would find Davis not guilty. The judge concluded that no reasonable juror would have changed their mind based on the new evidence presented and weighed against the overwhelming evidence presented at trial. The Supreme Court and the Georgia Board of Pardons reviewed the evidence, as have all other avenues of appeal over the past 20 years, and all have concluded the same thing.

    Hold up Troy Davis and the man executed in Texas as victims of capital punishment, by all means. Oppose capital punishment as indicative of a culture of death, to be sure. But before questioning our system of justice (i.e. imply an innocent man may have been executed), let’s all research the facts, shall we?

  3. Theresa, it should be noted that the Supreme Court agreed with Judge Burkett, and ordered a Federal Judge to admit and review the new proferred evidence and review all of the evidence in Mr. Davis’ record. That review happened in 2010, and the Judge issued his opinion in August 2010, in which he concluded that the trial jury correctly found Mr. Davis guilty. That review has been subject to appeals since then, but was not overturned.

    That said, I fully agree that “retribution is just not a good reason to execute.” I believe our society would do well to do away with the death penalty entirely.

  4. Hi Eddie,

    I agree that the case has made its way through the system and judges have ruled as you say. I am comfortable, given the makeup of the courts involved, with their decision that there was insufficient evidence to overturn the conviction (in that regards, they are the experts, not me).

    I have never thought, given the above, that Troy Davis should be freed. However, the level of doubt introduced and the stature of those who called for the stay of execution should have been sufficient to have set aside the death penalty.

    Deacon Mike

  5. I’m grateful we live in a country where we can freely discuss this and even question the judicial system and results. Thank goodness for that! Of course the only one who really knows for sure of the guilt or innocence is the man who has been executed. Continued prayers for all involved in this sad case and for the pro-life cause.

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