I'm pretty sure I knew it was going to happen all along.
Actually, I think a number of those who gathered at the Georgia Capitol a year ago this past Friday to protest the impending execution of convicted murderer and death row inmate Troy Davis knew that, after years of stays and delays, Davis' death was a likelihood. Still, hundreds of people spent several hours waving signs, singing songs, and waiting for a miracle, one they hoped would be performed by the U.S. Supreme Court in the form of a last-minute stay. It was dark by the time it was announced that a stay had been denied and the execution would move forward. Most people reacted with restrained devastation; hung their heads, hugged their loved ones. Others vocalized their outrage at a system that would kill a man when any shred of doubt surrounded his guilt.
I was mostly just tired and hungry and ready to go home. I heated up some leftovers and sat on my couch to pound out a blog post about the evening's events. Shortly after I posted it, whichever local news station I was watching at the time confirmed that the execution had taken place and Davis had been pronounced dead at 11:08 p.m. I texted my boyfriend, "They killed him." And I cried.
I'd covered Davis' plight with some frequency during the year or so leading up to his death — the 2010 evidentiary hearing that might've exonerated him, but turned out to be a total sham designed to placate a higher court; the claims that another man had confessed in prison to shooting Savannah Police Officer Mark MacPhail; the multiple witness recantations and amendments to testimony; the pleas from foreign and national dignitaries to spare Davis' life amid the abundance of doubt many said surrounded his guilt; the Georgia Supreme Court's and the Board of Pardons and Paroles' final refusals to grant clemency — and simultaneously developed my own opinions about the situation, which were irrelevant. Even now and even though this is an opinion piece, I'm not terribly interested in belaboring my feelings about the capital punishment as an institution or even about Davis' execution in particular. In hindsight, what I think affected me most about the Davis case was the sad, gross side of humanity it revealed.
There were basically three vocal factions watching Davis' case, the families and friends of the accused and the victim, aside. There were people who opposed his execution because they were so staunchly anti-death penalty that, really, his guilt or innocence became irrelevant. There were people who supported his execution because they were so pro-"justice" that the system that convicted Davis was correct and without fallibility, they believed it, and that settled it. And then there were the pragmatists. Maybe they believed in the death penalty, maybe they didn't, but they mostly believed there was just too much doubt surrounding Davis' guilt for the state to put him to death in good conscience. What's right is right, and this was not right.
In case you need a refresher, Davis was convicted of Savannah Police Officer MacPhail's 1989 shooting despite the absence of physical evidence. In the years that followed, seven of the nine people who'd initially identified Davis as the shooter changed or completely recanted their testimony, claiming they'd been pressured by police to finger Davis. And when Davis was finally granted the opportunity to go back to court, it wasn't so the prosecution could prove his guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt now that new information had come to light, it was so Davis could prove his innocence beyond a shadow of a doubt, an almost insurmountable burden of proof.
CL's comment boards were a particularly grim place to gauge public sentiment about Davis' case. The pragmatists did their best to offer measured input to the tune of, "Hey, guys. If there's doubt — even a little bit — maybe we shouldn't kill the guy." The anti-death penalty folks had their say, as well. Then there was the "justice league," a bloodthirsty lot champing at the bit to see Davis fry (actually, to be injected with deadly drugs). "Time for the True Death Mr. Davis. The reaper is a waiting," one commenter wrote, sounding very much like a villain in a bad horror story set in the 19th century. Another begged, "KILL HIM ALREADY."
Even if these guys were confident Davis was guilty of murder — if they possessed some inside information that hadn't been revealed to the rest of us — I found it difficult to imagine taking that much satisfaction from a person's death. But what if Mark MacPhail had been your husband or father? How would you feel then? Similar questions were often asked of people who spoke out against Davis' execution. I've asked myself the same things, but we don't how we'd react toward the person who might've killed a loved one unless, God forbid, they've been confronted with the opportunity. Presumably, these commenters were not MacPhail family members (although, the MacPhail family made clear they weren't exactly sad to see Davis go); they were observers, just like the rest of us.
Anyway, when I wrote that blog post on the final night of Troy Davis' life, I knew it would invite some degree of morbid celebration from certain readers. Maybe that's why I cried.