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Legal lynching.

Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 13 years ago, in 2011, on the World Wide Web.

R.I.P. Troy Anthony Davis (Oct. 9, 1968 – Sep. 21, 2011)

Troy Davis executed. ABC World News (21 September 2011).

Troy Davis was executed this evening after the U.S. Supreme Court denied a last-minute stay of execution.

Davis died at 11:08 p.m. ET, according to a Georgia Department of Corrections official.

Eyewitnesses described the mood in the execution chamber as “somber” as Davis declared his innocence a final time and relatives of his alleged murder victim looked on.

The execution was delayed more than four hours as the U.S. Supreme Court weighed last-minute arguments from Davis’ legal team and the state of Georgia over whether his execution should be blocked.

The court’s decision to deny the stay came without comment after 10 p.m. ET.

. . . Davis was convicted of the 1989 murder of off-duty Savannah, Ga., policeman Mark MacPhail, and had his execution stayed four times over the course of his 22 years on death row, but multiple legal appeals during that time failed to prove his innocence.

Public support grew for Davis based on the recanted testimony of seven witnesses from his trial and the possible confession of another suspect, which his defense team claimed cast too much doubt on Davis’ guilt to follow through with an execution.

Several witnesses recanted their testimony that Davis fired the shot that killed MacPhail.

Troy Davis was innocent and this was a premeditated murder by the State of Georgia — nothing more and nothing less than a torturous, slow-motion legal lynching. The courts, the governors, and the parole boards knew that there was every reason to doubt his guilt, but they don’t give a damn, because each court formally refused to listen to or consider any substantive new evidence — like the fact that there was no physical evidence to connect Davis to the murder, and more than half the witnesses admitted that they lied on the stand (under intense pressure from Georgia police) during the original trial. Be that as it may the sentence had been passed and the paperwork filed and you can hardly stop to consider substantive evidence of innocence once the procedural question of his trial has been sealed under the authority of the State. You can’t stop the machine of governmental justice from grinding for something so paltry as an innocent man’s life; there’s a principle involved.

And the principle is power. The power of death. That is the Majesty of the Law; that is its morality; that is its justice.

See also

8 replies to Legal lynching. Use a feed to Follow replies to this article · TrackBack URI

  1. dennis

    Capital punishment serves the same purpose now it did hundreds of years ago. It is a ritual through which the state demonstrates its power. I wouldn’t be surprised if a higher percentage of death row inmates are innocent than other convicts. Death penalty cases usually involve the type of incidents where the state needs to act to show how powerful it is, prosecutors can ride corpses to higher office and acclaim, and as some of the comments in Roderick Long’s recent piece on capital punishment showed, the crowd wants blood. There is never a good reason to engage in “redemptive” violence, or retributive violence, the death penalty is an abomination even when one who “deserves it” is subjected to it. The fact that people like Davis or Willingham, or any of the other guiltless victims of the state are systematically murdered only makes it worse.

  2. David Z

    Echoing Solzhenitsyn. It’s every bit as true now as it was then…

  3. Neverfox


    What are your reasons for focusing on Troy Davis’ innocence here, when in the past you’ve talked about how you don’t care, i.e. that executions are wrong no matter if it’s the innocent Davis or the despicable Brewer? This isn’t a criticism but rather something I personally struggled with yesterday, as I listened to so many people seemingly imply, intentionally or not, that their opposition wasn’t to the death penalty itself but to the death penalty for innocent people. I know this isn’t your view, but I think it’s the view of many people. I felt compelled nearly every time to bring up how it’s not about his innocence but his humanity. I’m not sure if I should have struck some other balance. Do you think that his innocence makes it more morally serious (I have this intuition), and how do you reconcile that with how they are equally unjustified, when it comes to what to be vocal about?

    • Rad Geek


      You’re right, of course, that I would have opposed killing Troy Davis, even if he were obviously guilty. (The and in my first sentence is just a conjunction, not an inference. And I do think that the killing of Lawrence Brewer is every bit as much of a murder as the killing of Troy Davis.)

      I don’t know whether or not it is more morally grievous to execute a man for something he didn’t do than it is to execute him for something that he did do. Certainly, it may be that some murders are morally grave than others — even if there is no difference with respect to justice, there may be a difference with respect to some other virtue or vice. (But if so, which? In what respect?) But my own reason for writing about Davis’s innocence here is because there are two issues in this case. One of them is the categorical injustice of the death penalty — which is as true of Brewer as it is of Davis, and as true of Derrick O’Neal Mason (who is due to be killed in Alabama tonight). The other issue, which is peculiar to Troy Davis’s case, is the extraordinarily large role that the State’s demand for legal finality has played in this particular case — over and over again, government prosecutors have insisted, and government judges have agreed (in part due to the requirements of Liberal President Bill Clinton’s Effective Death Penalty Act), that it just doesn’t matter whether or not there is evidence that Davis was innocent because hey, he had his chance 20 years ago, and even if he’s provably innocent, what’s a little thing like justice, let alone a black man’s life, compared to the dignity of judges and the procedural stability of the state’s justice system? By mentioning the second point I don’t mean to take away from the first; but when we are told, over and over again, that it is precisely the professionalization and formality of the state’s legal rituals that makes the difference between civilized law and the lynch mob, then it seems to me like this kind of ceremonious legal lynching is one aspect of the case (and many, many other cases where DAs and judges have conspired to stand on ceremony and block exonerations of the innocent) that is worth talking about.

  4. Neverfox

    Thanks, Charles.

· October 2011 ·

  1. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People's Daily 2011-10-12 – Legal Lynching (cont’d):

    […] GT 2011-09-21: Legal lynching (on the execution of Troy Davis) […]

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