I had been back in the United States for two years when 27-year-old police officer Mark Allen MacPhail was murdered in 1989, and then 20-year-old Troy Anthony Davis was later convicted and sentenced to death for the crime. I have from that time-frame a vague memory of a newspaper headline that screamed in huge bold letters: DEATH PENALTY.
I remember thinking, like the editor I had been in the U.S. Air Force, the size of the font was that usually reserved for declarations of war and other large-scale catastrophes impacting the lives of millions. In this case, it seemed the editor’s or publisher’s choice may have been at least partially motivated by the fact that the slain officer had been white and the man convicted for the murder black. I thought to myself: Wow, that is too tragic and too scary on too many levels.
The headline looked like the pronouncement of something indisputably final and I accepted it as such. Only it turned out to be anything but final. August 18, 2009, will mark the twentieth anniversary of Mark Allen MacPhail’s death and also the second decade that now 40-year-old Troy Anthony Davis has managed to elude capital punishment for it. Davis, who along with thousands of supporters worldwide maintains he is innocent, has filed a number of appeals for a retrial and it is possible the U.S. Supreme Court will grant him one during its next term (have no doubt, many will watching for newly-appointed Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s response to it). Other observers of the case, based on evidence that at best is inconclusive, believe Davis guilty and are calling for his execution.
Now imagine this: even though I stayed for the most part in Savannah after separating from the Air Force, I somehow remained ignorant of Davis’ case after that huge unruly headline up until last year, 2008. That was when once again, with the help of dedicated family and allies, Davis managed to preserve his life. At that point, I was dealing with post traumatic stress issues of my own and would treat the idea of writing about Davis and MacPhail much like an annoying fly that I would swat away, but it then would come back even stronger and swat me right back.
There have been many loud cries of guilt and innocence, and of death and life, in the case of Troy Anthony Davis and Officer Mark Allen MacPhail–but far too few discussions perhaps regarding truth or justice. At this point, I haven’t been granted the kind of useful access to information or individuals that might help establish some much-needed clarity, but my Savannah Talks Troy Anthony Davis series (of which this blog is a part) is a determined step in that direction. My only hope is that for all those concerned-including both families and their supporters involved this case– it’s not too little offered too late.