On Sept. 21, Troy Davis, 42, was executed for the murder of officer Mark MacPhail after being on death row for 20 years. Over the course of those 20 years, Davis embarked on a legal odyssey to prove his innocence.
Davis collected evidence throughout his imprisonment, enough that reasonable doubt for his conviction was pertinent: his sentence was not based on DNA evidence; the supposed murder weapon was never found; and seven of the nine witnesses that originally implicated him, recanted their claims, stating that they were pressured or coerced by police into testifying or signing statements against Davis.
These new revelations hardly fell on deaf ears. They sparked an unprecedented level of global outcry and support. A large crowd gathered outside of the Georgia courthouse where Davis was being held bearing signs that read, “I am Troy Davis” and “Too much doubt.”
Former president Jimmy Carter, Reverend Al Sharpton and Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu were vocal in their support of reviewing the case against Davis.
Unfortunately, those in charge of Davis’ prosecution dismissed the new developments as “smoke and mirrors” and refused to review his case.
While the question of Davis’ innocence remains unanswered, this ordeal has raised questions that go beyond the notion of guilt or innocence.
Our country prides itself on having a transparent, blind system of justice. We’d like to believe that bias does not exist within the court and that judicial decisions are made objectively, with the facts being the ultimate factor. The Davis case proves otherwise.
Federal judges were presented multiple pieces of evidence that should have warranted a retrial. The new evidence did not completely prove the innocence of Davis, however, it did expose enough uncertainty to encourage a review of the situation. Federal judges chose to ignore it.
Perhaps most bizarrely was that a federal judge acknowledged the original prosecution had not been conclusive, but denied Davis the right to a retrial unless his attorneys could produce proof of his claims to innocence. In other words, he was guilty until proven innocent. Wherever one stands on the death penalty, the importance of ensuring their guilt prior to execution cannot be argued.
The innocence or guilt of Davis may not have been proven last week, but one thing was: Americans have begun to lose faith in the judicial institutions that supposedly serve justice. Here, in the home of democracy, our judicial system is riddled with doubt and distrust.
The American legal system has poorly served the very fundamental ideals of this country that we hold so dear: Ideals of equality, opportunity and blind justice.
These problems stem not only from the continuation of the death penalty prosecutions, cases which cost states that pursue them more than $1 million a piece, but also from a broader series of failures within the system that those in charge have refused to recognize.
As the case of Davis has shown, sometimes justice is too blind.