Did We Just Kill an Innocent Man?

The U.S. justice system was shaken to its core as Georgia executed a person who may well be innocent. Killing a man under this enormous cloud of doubt is horrific and amounts to a catastrophic failure of the justice system. While many courts examined this case, the march to the death chamber only slowed, but never stopped. Justice may be blind; but in this case, the justice system was blind to the facts.
Amnesty International

Protesters against the execution of Troy Davis
Protesters against the execution of Troy Davis

We recently watched as the State of Georgia executed Troy Davis  even while serious doubts remained about his guilt.  It was a sad day for our justice system and our country.

Davis was implicated in the 1989 murder of  Office Mark MacPhail.  The killing of Officer MacPhail is a human tragedy. It is a horrible and cowardly act by someone. Davis, by all accounts, was convicted largely based on witness identification as no gun was recovered in his possession, there was no physical evidence such as fingerprints or DNA to link him to the crime. There is even reports that a viable alternative suspect confessed to the killing. Eyewitness evidence scientifically has been proven to be a leading cause of false convictions. In this case, 7 out of the 9 folks who testified at the trial that convicted Davis who served as eyewitnesses in one form or fashion later at one point or another recanted their stories with some of them even saying that this viable alternative suspect who purported confessed to the killing had threatened them at the time of their original trial and investigation not to implicate him.

According to The Innocence Project:

Misidentification was a factor in 75% of the 273 DNA exonerations. In 38% of these mistaken identification cases, multiple eyewitnesses misidentified the same person.

Here are some of the facts that cast doubt upon Davis’ guilt:

  • Seven of the nine original witnesses have since recanted their testimony and some cited police coercion as the reason for their misidentification or the alternative suspect threatening them. Out of the two remaining witnesses, one is widely believed to be the actual killer.
  • No DNA evidence has been found linking Davis to the crime.
  • No physical evidence has been found linking Davis to the crime.
  • The police used unethical tactics to taint witnesses and get them to identify Davis.
  • Another man Sylvester Coles admitted to another person that he committed the murder but that witness was ignored.

In light of all of this, I ask was Davis’ guilt proven beyond a reasonable doubt? If we were not sure (and I mean objectively and empirically certain), then why did we execute him?

However, this tragedy has lit a light in the hearts of many people.  Now the average person is aware of what we who toil in the soil of the criminal justice system see everyday: the justice system is broken.  There are corrupt prosecutors and reckless agenda-driven police officers who can torture the facts and slant the evidence on occasion to convict innocent people everyday, all across America.  Whether it’s a speeding ticket, a DUI or a homicide, the police and prosecutors often times have only one goal- to get a conviction, regardless of whether it’s the objectively correct result.

And this is why we lawyers play such an important role in society, by fighting to keep the justice system from committing injustices.  I ask all of you to unite against these injustices.


Justin McShane

PA DUI attorney Justin J. McShane is the President/CEO of The McShane Firm, LLC - Pennsylvania's top criminal law and DUI law firm. He is the highest rated DUI attorney in PA as rated by Avvo.com. Justin McShane is a double Board certified attorney. He is the first and so far the only Pennsylvania attorney to achieve American Bar Association recognized board certification in DUI defense from the National College for DUI Defense, Inc. He is also a Board Certified Criminal Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy, a Pennsylvania Supreme Court Approved Agency.

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