About Me

My photo
I'm a Sociology Professor at the University of Toronto. I write about gun violence, health disparities, and Hip Hop culture. When I'm not doing research, I like pop-locking, swimming, and learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. This is my first blog. I hope you like it.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mark MacPhail: The Forgotten Victim

Troy Davis was executed last night around 11pm EST.  I don't know the ins and outs of the Davis trial, but feel that there is significant doubt surrounding his guilt.  Different accounts have shown that 7 out of 9 key state witnesses have since recanted statements that were used to convict Davis.  Some accounts have said that witnesses felt coerced by police to sign bogus statements.  Others have implicated one of the other key witnesses--"Redd" Coles--as the person who actually killed off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail.   

Troy Davis: Did the state have enough evidence to execute him?
According to a NY Times article, Troy Davis maintained his innocence until the very end.  Moments before he was killed via lethal injection, Davis looked directly at MacPhail's family and said, " I did not personally kill your son, father, brother.  All I can ask is that you look deeper into this case so you really can finally see the truth."  Davis also said to prison personnel, "May God have mercy on your souls; May God bless your souls."

I think capital punishment is an incredibly complicated matter.  There have been times in my life when I was adamantly opposed to the death penalty.  In addition to the larger moral arguments about whether or not governments should decide issues of life and death, I feel that the criminal justice system is far from full-proof, which makes capital punishment a particularly steep outcome for many who are sentenced to death. For example, organizations like the Innocence Project have used DNA and other methods to exonerate wrongfully convicted death row inmates in recent years.  

The Davis case has also got me thinking about other, related issues that are inspired by my fieldwork with families of murder victims in Philadelphia.  During the past couple years, I've learned about the lifelong challenges facing families of murder victims.  I can't do this topic any sense of justice here, but feel that it's important to remember that many families never feel a sense of closure and peace--particularly in cases that go cold after time.  Families who attend hearings, appeals, sentencing, and executions also don't feel entirely resolved; while these methods are intended to bring about a sense of closure, they are a poor substitute for the mother, father, brother, sister, cousin, aunt, uncle, of friend who is no longer with them.  And while some families are able to resume a semblance of their former lives, many live with deep emotional and psychological scars that leave them broken and changed forever.  Not surprisingly, these lingering issues have spillover effects into the working lives, personal relationships, and physical/mental health of victim's families.  

Mark MacPhail was brutally murdered while working a night security job
Mark MacPhail was a husband and father of two small children when he was murdered.  While many of the world's most visible newspapers are using the Davis execution to talk about larger issues of racial injustice and the moral implications of capital punishment, it seems that we have all forgotten about the MacPhail family.  

Indeed, the NY Times article cited above has a few passing quotes about how MacPhail's family has felt in the week leading up to Davis' execution.  To find out more about MacPhail's family, one might have to look in alternative media sources like The Peach Pundit.  Apparently, the pain and suffering that MacPhail's family has endured isn't "newsworthy."

Although the experiences of victim's families may not produce the sound bites and stuff that produces popular headlines, their stories are an important--and often neglected--part of murder cases.  


  1. I don't think that anyone ignored the MacPhail's anguish. However, for a family that is facing death of a loved one without adequate evidence of an alleged crime is newsworthy. It was terrible that one family lost a member but before taking another family's loved one please have an air-tight case because you cannot bring back the accused if later proven he was NOT guilty. So that is why people pushed so hard due to lack of evidence and unreliable eyewitness statements. It's kind of like the phrase "measure twice and cut once" or something to that nature. I lost a loved one but could nor would not imagine roasting anyone without being at least 90% sure of their guilt. Oh that's right, thankfully I don't feel no man nor government has the right to decide when one's life should end.

  2. Jennifer_H: I appreciate your comment and offer my condolences for your loss. I am always amazed at the strength and courage that families show after losing someone.

    Death penalty cases are tough on all families. Maybe it was a product of my own news seeking, but I felt that news coming into Philadelphia and during some of my online searches focused heavily on the innocence or guilt of Troy Davis. I realize that there are many folks who believe that he was innocent, or who disagree whole-heartedly with capital punishment, but I couldn't help but feel sympathy for the MacPhail family who must have suffered a great deal during the years leading up to Davis' execution, and who are surely not totally "at peace" in the wake of it. Indeed, the death of someone else does not bring back a loved one, so it must not be a satisfying result for those who lost someone. And I agree, cases in which there is a great deal of uncertainty (over guilt/innocence) must weight even heavier on the hearts and minds of those who mourn a lost loved one.

    Anyways, I wanted to thank you for your thoughtful comments.