I have been praying about a situation, and I hope you’ll join me. A man named Troy Davis has been on death row in Georgia since 1991, facing execution for a crime he may not have committed: The 1989 murder of Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail.
In the interest of clarity, I want to state my unwavering support for the death penalty. God Himself ordained it in Genesis 9:6, endowing human government with the authority to execute murderers: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” In the New Testament as well, God’s inerrant Word indicates that human government is under a divine mandate: Romans 13:7 states that the ruler “beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” And Jesus Christ Himself, though falsely accused and wrongly convicted, nonetheless acknowledged that human government is empowered by God to carry out capital punishment. In John 19:10 Pilate asks, “Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?” In verse 11, Jesus responds, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above.”
Furthermore, I have nothing but the highest respect and gratitude for the men and women who daily put their lives on the line as police officers. Few indeed are the callings that are as thankless, as dangerous, and as unfairly criticized as law enforcement. “Heroic” is too small an adjective to describe them.
The victim in this case, Officer Mark MacPhail, is a perfect example: On August 19, 1989, he was moonlighting as a security guard at a Savannah bus station. Hearing cries for help, he valiantly came to the aid of a homeless man who was being pistol-whipped by three assailants in a nearby parking lot. Tragically, one of those men shot Officer MacPhail to death, leaving his wife a widow and robbing their daughter and their infant son of their daddy. I pray for them as well. Truly, if the perpetrator of this heinous killing is not deserving of the death penalty, then no one is.
Though convicted of the crime, Troy Davis, it would seem, might not be the perpetrator. There was no physical evidence brought against Davis, and the murder weapon has never been recovered. The prosecution’s case relied largely on witness testimony, and during the trial, the State presented nine non-police witness testimonies that implicated Davis as Officer MacPhail’s slayer. But even before and during the trial, those witness testimonies began to unravel. To date, six of those nine testimonies have been recanted by the witnesses, with some claiming they were coerced by overzealous investigators. A seventh, while not recanted, was contradicted by the witness herself.
Of the two witnesses who have not recanted or contradicted their testimony against Davis, one of them is the likely alternative suspect, Sylvester “Redd” Coles. In the years since Davis’ conviction, not only have prosecution witnesses come forward to state that their testimony was wrong, but nine witnesses have issued statements and sworn affidavits indicating that Sylvester Coles is, in fact the killer. At least one, Joseph Washington, says he saw Coles kill MacPhail. Several others insist that Coles confessed his guilt to them.
Is Troy Davis innocent? I don’t know. But I am convinced that there is enough doubt about his guilt to at least justify a look at the new evidence. The United States Supreme Court apparently agrees: Last week they ordered the District Court to consider and rule upon “whether evidence that could not have been obtained at the time of trial clearly established petitioner’s innocence.”
I am not praying specifically for the exoneration of Troy Davis. If he is guilty, his wrongful acquittal would be a miscarriage of justice, no better or worse than the execution of an innocent man. I am simply beseeching God for the revelation of truth in this matter.
I am, however, praying for his family. I wrote to Davis and he had his mother, Virginia, call me. I interviewed her on my radio program; she told me the harrowing story of the three separate occasions when she has had to say goodbye to her son as he was led away to the death chamber. Troy was spared each time by a last-minute stay of execution.
But it was her parting words to me that left me stunned. “If God Himself can withstand the unjust execution of His own precious Son for me,” she said, “who am I to say I shouldn’t endure the same?”