Workers Vanguard No. 965

24 September 2010


Abolish the Racist Death Penalty!

Troy Davis Appeal Turned Down

On August 24, Georgia federal judge William T. Moore rejected black inmate Troy Davis’ efforts to overturn his death sentence, declaring the substantial evidence of Davis’ innocence to be “smoke and mirrors.” This decision gives a green light to Georgia’s governor to sign a new execution warrant for Davis, who has faced three execution dates so far, coming within 90 minutes of execution in 2008.

Sentenced to death in 1991 for the killing of off-duty Savannah policeman Mark MacPhail, Davis was convicted based on questionable “eyewitness” identifications, dubious accounts that Davis confessed to the killing and testimony coerced by the cops. Seven of the prosecution’s nine witnesses have since recanted. The only holdouts are one man who may be the actual killer and another who initially denied being able to identify the shooter only to pin it on Davis at trial two years later. For over a decade, state and federal courts refused to hear evidence that Davis was innocent. Last year, in response to an international campaign that included thousands of protests, with statements from the Pope and former FBI director William Sessions, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered Judge Moore to hold an evidentiary hearing.

Despite the limitations Moore placed on the defense at the two-day hearing, which took place in June, Davis was able to rip the prosecution’s case to shreds. Testimony of three witnesses and an affidavit from a fourth repudiated their previous testimony implicating Davis as the shooter. Dorothy Ferrell swore that she never saw who shot MacPhail, stating that since she was on parole at the time of the trial, “I was scared that if I didn’t do what the police wanted me to do, then they would try to lock me up again.” Kevin McQueen, a jailhouse snitch whose story that Davis confessed to him was a key part of the prosecution’s case, testified that his original statement was a lie—revenge for a jailhouse altercation with Davis. Jeffrey Sapp also recanted his trial testimony that Davis confessed to shooting the cop in self-defense, stating that it was a product of police coercion.

Moore’s 172-page decision upholds as sacrosanct the stories given by the cops as against the witnesses whom they compelled to give false testimony. Moore sneered that the accounts of police/prosecution coercion, a regular feature of the capitalist justice system, were not credible…because the cops said so! Moore dismissed McQueen’s recantation with the Kafkaesque rationale that his original trial testimony—the same testimony that helped send Davis to death row— wasn’t credible. Moore also refused to consider the testimony and affidavits of four witnesses that another man, Sylvester “Red” Coles, had confessed to the killing on the grounds that such evidence was merely hearsay unless Coles himself were brought into court to testify. Davis’ sister, Martina Correia, noted that the lawyers had a subpoena for Coles but did not have the police powers necessary to serve the subpoena on private property. Yet the judge did not assign any police to serve the subpoena.

While dismissing key evidence that exonerates Davis, Moore sanctimoniously declared that it would violate the Eighth Amendment proscription against cruel and unusual punishment to execute someone who was innocent. The public generally accepts this as a truism. But in fact, Moore’s announcement was a precedent for state and federal courts and counter to earlier pronouncements by Supreme Court justices. For example, when the Supreme Court turned down an appeal of death row inmate Leonel Herrera in 1993, Chief Justice William Rehnquist declared that the execution of an innocent man did not violate the Constitution. Here was a clear illustration of the depravity of American capitalist “justice,” with all its “democratic” trappings.

As Marxists, we stand for the abolition of the death penalty on principle—for the guilty as well as the innocent—and everywhere, which means the U.S., China, Iran, Japan and all other countries. We do not accord the state the right to determine who lives and who dies. Capital punishment is a barbaric legacy of medieval torture, a system of legal murder that reinforces the brutalization of society in all respects.

In his lengthy ruling, Moore cites the plethora of state laws authorizing DNA testing of evidence, which were adopted after numerous exonerations of death row inmates who had been convicted on the basis of evidence similar to that in the Davis case. For some three decades, state legislatures, Congress and successive occupants of the White House had acted to curtail the ability of death row inmates to challenge their sentences. Their measures drastically limited the ability of those awaiting execution to present to the courts evidence of innocence as well as proof of cop and prosecutorial misconduct. This culminated in the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act championed by Democratic president Bill Clinton, which gutted the right of habeas corpus for such prisoners.

The lynching of black men—by racist mobs and by the august courts—is deeply embedded in this country’s history, particularly but by no means exclusively in Southern states like Georgia. In the U.S., capital punishment is rooted in black chattel slavery. It is the lynch rope made legal, with black people making up over 40 percent of the death row population. The death penalty stands at the apex of the machinery of repression wielded by the capitalist rulers to contain the potentially explosive contradictions between the handful of filthy rich at the top and the many at the bottom.

Troy Davis’ evidentiary hearing illustrated the smoke and mirrors that is the racist American injustice system. Barely a week goes by without yet another news story about a middle-aged black man proven innocent after decades in prison, released with fanfare about how “the system works,” a pat on the back and a bit of “re-entry” money. For the poor, for fighters against racial oppression, for labor militants, there is no justice in the capitalist courts.

Among the innocent on death row is Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther Party spokesman, a supporter of the Philadelphia MOVE group and an award-winning journalist. Mumia was framed up on false charges of killing Police Officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981 and sentenced to death based on his political views. Court after court has refused to consider the mountain of evidence of Mumia’s innocence, including the confession of Arnold Beverly that he, not Mumia, killed Faulkner (see the Partisan Defense Committee pamphlet, The Fight to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal—Mumia Is Innocent!).

The labor movement and all fighters against racist injustice should join in demanding freedom for Troy Davis and Mumia Abu-Jamal and abolition of the racist death penalty. An injury to one is an injury to all! To put a final halt to the grisly workings of the U.S. rulers’ machinery of death—from the judicial guardians of death row to the cops who operate as judge, jury and executioner in gunning down minority youth on the streets—requires sweeping away the racist capitalist system through proletarian socialist revolution.