Sunday, 26 October 2014

Morality 22: Case Studies

Higher RMPS Podcast
Capital Punishment - Case Studies

This is available as an MP3 or to download as a podcast through iTunes
for Desktop and Apple devices, as well as PodcastHD for Android Devices.

Troy Davis

Davis was the eldest child of Korean War veteran Joseph Davis and hospital worker Virginia Davis.  The couple divorced when Davis was very young, and Davis grew up with four siblings in the predominantly black, middle-class neighbourhood of Cloverdale, Savannah.  He attended Windsor Forest High School, where one teacher described him as a poor student.  He dropped out in his junior year so he could drive his disabled younger sister to her rehabilitation.  A teacher noted that he attended school regularly but seemed to lack discipline.  Davis' nickname at the time was "RaH" or "Rough as Hell", but neighbours reported that it did not reflect his behaviour; they described him as a "straight up fella" who acted as a big brother to local children.

On the evening of August 18, 1989, Davis briefly attended a pool party hosted by a friend.  As he left with his friend Darrell Collins and later met Sylvester "Redd" Coles, who was arguing with a homeless man, Larry Young, over a beer.  Off-duty policeman Mark MacPhail was working as a security guard at a Burger King.  MacPhail, age 27, the son of a U.S.  Army colonel, was married with a 2-year old daughter and an infant son.  He had joined the Savannah Police Department in 1986 following six years of military service as an army ranger.  MacPhail had worked for three years as a regular patrol officer and in the summer of 1989 had applied to train as a mounted policeman.  At about 1:15 am, seeking to help Young who was being attacked in a nearby parking lot, MacPhail was killed.  He had been shot twice, once through the heart and once in the face, without drawing his gun.  No physical evidence from the crime was retrieved, apart from the bullets and shell casings, which were determined to have come from a .38-caliber pistol.  Witnesses to the shooting agreed that a man in a white shirt had struck Young and then shot MacPhail.  On the evening of August 19, Redd Coles went to the police.  He told them that he had seen Davis with a .38-caliber gun, and that Davis had assaulted Young.

In the early morning of August 20, 1989, the Savannah police, suspecting Davis and seeking a murder weapon, converged on the Davis home.  On August 23, 1989, Davis surrendered to police and he was charged with MacPhail's murder.  Davis pled not guilty in April 1990.  At the trial in August 1991, the district attorney sought the death penalty.  According to the prosecution, Davis had met up with Redd Coles at a pool hall, pistol-whipped the homeless man Larry Young, and then killed Mark MacPhail.

Trial witnesses Harriet Murray, Redd Coles, Dorothy Ferrell and Antoine Williams testified that Davis, wearing a white shirt, had struck Young and then shot MacPhail.  Coles admitted arguing with Young but stated that Davis had hit him with a pistol.  On cross-examination, Coles admitted that he also had a .38 pistol, but stated that he had given it to another man earlier that night.  A neighbour of the Davis family, Jeffrey Sapp, testified that soon after the murder Davis had confessed to him.    Kevin McQueen, a former fellow prisoner, testified that Davis had confessed to shooting MacPhail. 

Darrell Collins, who had made a statement that he had seen Davis shoot at people in a car in Cloverdale and approaching MacPhail, recanted his statement under cross-examination by the defence, saying that he made the statement after threats by police with prison if he did not cooperate.  He said in court that he had not seen Davis in possession of a gun or fire one.  No murder weapon was recovered.  Davis denied shooting MacPhail, saying he had observed Coles striking Young after a quarrel about beer, but that he had fled before any shots were fired and did not know who had shot the officer.

On August 28, 1991, the jury, composed of seven blacks and five whites, took under two hours to find Davis guilty on one count of murder and the other offenses.  Davis and three of his family members testified during the sentencing phase.  In a final address to the jury, Davis pleaded, "Spare my life.  Just give me a second chance.  That's all I ask."  He told jurors he was convicted for "offenses I didn't commit."  As the death penalty was being requested by the prosecutors, MacPhail's family members and friends were not allowed to testify.  On August 30, 1991, after seven hours of deliberation, the jury recommended the death penalty and Davis was sentenced to death.

Since the death penalty was imposed, both the conviction and sentence were automatically appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court.  Davis and his lawyers requested a new trial, citing problems with the selection of the trial site and the jury and a failure of defence lawyers to provide effective counsel.  In 1995, the federal funding of the Georgia Resource Centre, which helped represent Davis, was cut by 70%, leading to the departures of most of the centre’s lawyers and investigators.  According to a later affidavit by the Executive Director the "work conducted on Mr.  Davis' case was akin to triage...  There were numerous witnesses that we knew should have been interviewed, but lacked the resources to do so."

The appeal stated that the testimony of the prosecution witnesses had been coerced by police.  The petition was denied in September 1997, with the court ruling that claims of improper law enforcement approaches should have been raised earlier in the appeal process, and the court could not usurp the jury's role to evaluate the evidence offered during the trial.  From 1996 onwards, seven of the nine prosecution witnesses recanted all or part of their trial testimony.  Dorothy Ferrell, for example, stated in a 2000 affidavit that she felt under pressure from police to identify Davis as the shooter because she was on parole for a shoplifting conviction.  In her affidavit, she wrote: "I told the detective that Troy Davis was the shooter, even though the truth was that I didn't know who shot the officer."

In a 2002 affidavit, Darrell Collins wrote that the police had scared him into falsely testifying by threatening to charge him as an accessory to the crime, and asserted that "I never saw Troy do anything to the man (Larry Young)."  Antoine Williams, Larry Young and Monty Holmes also stated in affidavits that their earlier testimony implicating Davis had been coerced by strong-arm police tactics.  In addition, three witnesses signed affidavits stating that Redd Coles had confessed to the murder to them.  The State of Georgia argued that the evidence had been procedurally defaulted since it should have been introduced earlier, and this position was accepted by the judge in May 2004, who stated that as the "submitted affidavits are insufficient to raise doubts as to the constitutionality of the result at trial, there is no danger of a miscarriage of justice in declining to consider the claim." 

On September 7, 2011, Georgia set Davis's execution date for two weeks later, September 21.  On the morning of September 21, the Butts County Superior Court denied Davis's request to halt his execution.  The Georgia Supreme Court also denied his appeal.  Davis was due to be executed at 7pm.  The same night, Jay Carney, the White House Press Secretary, announced that President Obama would not intervene in the case (while the president could not have pardoned Davis, he did have the authority to order a federal investigation that might have led to a delay in the execution).

Davis filed a request with the U.S.  Supreme Court to stay his execution.  Almost an hour after Davis's scheduled execution time, the Supreme Court announced they would review his petition, thereby postponing the execution.  The Supreme Court, however, denied Davis's petition, after deliberating for several hours’ whist Davis was waiting in the execution chamber.  The execution by lethal injection began at 10:53 pm.  In his final words, Davis maintained his innocence, saying:

Well, first of all I'd like to address the MacPhail family.  I'd like to let you all know, despite the situation – I know all of you are still convinced that I'm the person that killed your father, your son and your brother, but I am innocent.  The incident that happened that night was not my fault.  I did not have a gun that night.  I did not shoot your family member.  But I am so sorry for your loss.  I really am – sincerely.  All I can ask is that each of you look deeper into this case, so that you really will finally see the truth.  I ask my family and friends that you all continue to pray, that you all continue to forgive.  Continue to fight this fight.  For those about to take my life, may God have mercy on all of your souls.  God bless you all.

He was declared dead at 11:08pm.  Twitter recorded 7671 tweets per second in the moments before word of Davis’s execution, making his death the second most active Twitter event in 2011.  His funeral was attended by more than 1,000 people in Savannah, Georgia, on October 1.  The case draw international attention for the sheer amount of evidence showing that the tiral that convicted David was fundamentally flawed and judges seemed more concerned with the process of trial than the actual content.  We cannot prove that Troy Davis was innocent; however, there is overwhelming evidence to bring his guilt into question.

Ruth Ellis

Ruth Ellis was hanged in 1955.  She was the last woman to be executed in the UK.  She was found Guilty of the murder of her lover David Blakely.   The execution of Ruth Ellis turned many people in Britain against Capital Punishment as they felt the punishment was far too harsh.   She shot Blakely 6 times with a handgun.  When asked in court what she intended to do when she shot him she replied:  “I intended to kill him”.   This ensured that she was convicted of Murder.  At that time the only sentence for murder was Death.  She was found guilty after the jury deliberated for just 14 minutes.

Many people have criticised Ellis’ trial and sentence.  The court was not told that she had been raped by her father; that she was addicted to antidepressants or that David Blakely had made her miscarry by punching her in the stomach.  Her defence team deliberately glammed up her image and many people felt this made her seem less defenceless and more calculating.  When Ruth Ellis was hanged more than 1000 people stood outside of the gates of the prison as a protest against her execution.

Derek Bentley

Derek Bentley was hanged in 1953 for the murder of PC Sidney Miles.  Bentley did not actually directly kill Miles however he was found guilty of murder under the law of Joint enterprise because at the time Miles was killed Bentley and Chris Craig (who actually did the killing) were committing a crime together.  Derek Bentley was 19 at the time the crime was committed, he had a long history of epilepsy was illiterate and of very low intelligence.  He had exceptionally poor self-esteem and Chris Craig was one of his very few friends.  Chris Craig came from a family of criminals and had been involved in petty crime for years.
He and Derek Bentley agreed to rob a warehouse together.  Chris Craig was carrying a gun and gave Bentley a knuckle duster and a knife.  The pair climbed onto the roof of the warehouse.  The police were called by a member of the public who saw Craig and Bentley.  As the first police officer arrived on the roof of the warehouse Craig shot him through the head.  After a protracted standoff both Bentley and Craig were arrested and later tried.  Both were found guilty of Miles killing.  Because Craig was only 15 he could not be hanged so he was jailed.  However because Bentley was over 18 the court had to sentence him to death.  Both the Judge and the Jury recommended to the home secretary that the sentence was reduced to life in prison however the home secretary refused to change the sentence and Bentley was hanged.   He was pardoned by the queen in1993 and his guilty sentence was overturned by the court of appeal in 1996. 

No comments:

Post a Comment