August 19, 1989 was a typically hot night in Savannah, Georgia. Mark MacPhail was an off duty police officer working security for a bus station. He was alerted to a disturbance going on in the parking lot of a nearby Burger King. When he arrived at the scene he saw two young, tall black men arguing with a homeless man. One of the young men wore a “white Batman shirt” and he was with his friend, Sylvester, who was wearing a yellow shirt. The vagrant, Larry Young, was being pistol whipped by the man wearing the white shirt who would later be identified as Troy Davis.
As many as thirty-four witnesses observed the disturbance. When Troy Davis and Sylvester saw the officer approaching them they fled. Sylvester ceased fleeing and MacPhail continued to pursue Troy across the parking lot. Troy stopped, turned on the officer and shot him under his vest. He then approached him and shot him point blank in the face. He had affectively snuffed out the life of the husband of a young wife, the father of a one year old daughter and a new born son. Mark MacPhail lost his life that night in the line of duty, trying to protect the residents of Savannah. Sadly, twenty years later the question of why MacPhail had died so senselessly would become a nonissue. The primary question would become, “Why are we not going to spare the life of a cold-blooded cop killer?”
The debate over justification for the execution of Troy Davis would spread world-wide. Pope Benedict XVI would weigh in as a defender of Troy Davis as would Georgia’s favorite son, Jimmy Carter. A spokesman for the European Union stepped forward to back slap Americans for their barbaric ways. As Davis’ execution drew nearer the crescendo of voices in his defense reached a decibel level nearly unbearable. Few paid any attention to the quiet voice of Mark MacPhail, Jr., now 22 years old, who attends Armstrong Atlantic State University where he is studying criminal justice and preparing to become a police officer like the father he never knew. “He gave his life for his community…”
It would be a horrible tragedy if the judicial system failed Troy Davis. Christians are very much aware of how painful is the death of an innocent. We remind ourselves and our brothers that our Savior, Jesus Christ, was subjected to the mockery of a trial and he was put to death by a brutal Roman guard while His own people cheered and jeered. Two thousand years later we still grieve over his death but we also rejoice because he resurrected and he purchased eternal salvation with the shedding of his innocent blood.
Millions of innocent people have lost their lives but those who identify themselves as Christian readily grasp the meaning of the privilege of sharing their suffering. “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.” – (Philippians 1:9)
For those who took any time at all to study the details in the case of Troy Davis, the facts seem to vindicate the system that condemned him. His defense claimed there were only 9 witnesses when in fact there were 34 who witnessed the brutal murder that night. The defense claimed seven of those witnesses recanted when in fact only two offered recantations of any substance. When the defense was offered the opportunity to bring them into an appeals court to testify they refused to do so and one can only assume that the Davis team realized that their changed testimony wouldn’t hold up in court.
Three of the thirty-four witnesses were Air Force personnel who were sitting in a bus that night. When asked if they would recant they replied that they would not! One never forgets, not even after 20 years when one man stands over another and shoots him in the face.
The defense also claimed there was no physical evidence even though the shell casings picked up in the parking lot that night matched shell casings that Troy Davis had used in a previous shooting that very evening. Jurors obviously were not told of the bloody shorts found in Troy Davis’ laundry by investigators.
After multiple appeals over a twenty year period, every court and every judge along the way declared the guilt of Troy Davis. When this information reached the highest court in the land they could find no reason to overturn what had been decided again and again by the lower courts.
I was astonished to see protestors wearing signs that declared, “I am Troy Davis.” Troy Davis had been declared a cold blooded murderer. Why would anyone want to be Troy Davis?
What happened in the parking lot of Burger King 22 years ago was a violation of one of the Ten Commandments of God. Surely Troy Davis is guilty of murder. But if the sin belongs to Sylvester or to some other unknown perpetrator it is still sin. Violating God’s laws brings unspeakable pain. The Davis family and the MacPhail family have both endured the painful consequences of a meaningless sinful act of murder. May God have mercy on the soul of Troy Davis and may God provide sustaining grace for the innocent members of these families who must carry the pain throughout their earthly lives.
Guilty or not, Troy Davis went to his death feeling like a hero. He was world famous. His name was attached to a cause. Were he to confess to the murder it would ruin the agenda of those who oppose the death penalty. Great caution was taken in the judicial system to make sure that an innocent man was not executed. Should not such caution also have been taken to assure that a cold blooded murderer whose crime was witnessed by 34 people not go to meet his Maker thinking he is a hero?
Read more articles by Kevin Probst or search for articles on the same topic or others.