There is a whole rogues’ gallery of charlatans, cowards, racists and liars involved in the 22-year lynching of Troy Davis, the black man who whose life was summarily terminated by the state of Georgia and by the United States of America last night, but one of them, the horribly ironically named Chatham County Superior Court Judge Penny Freesman, will have a special place of honor in the growing pantheon of criminal jurists who have overseen the execution of innocent men in the course of America’s bloody legal history.
Judge Freesman was the superior court judge who assumed responsibility for Davis’ case at the state level in 2011, signing the new and final execution order despite knowing that seven out of the nine prosecution witnesses used to convict him for the 1989 shooting death of an off-duty white police officer in Savannah had recanted, and then, last night, refusing to lift the execution order, despite pleas to spare his life and grant him a new trial from former FBI Director William Sessions, the Pope, former conservative Republican Georgia Congressman Bob Barr (a former Georgia prosecutor), and over 600,000 people worldwide who sent in petitions.
Freesman now joins the likes of Judge Webster Thayer, who oversaw the politically motivated conviction and execution of anarchists Ferdinando Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti on a trumped-up murder charge, Judge Morris Ritchie, who oversaw the equally politically motivated conviction and execution of Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) labor leader Joe Hill on another trumped-up murder charge, and Judge Irving Kaufman, who oversaw the conviction and execution of Ethel Rosenberg, clearly the victim of a politically motivated and truly sick federal government effort to get her husband Julius to admit to spying for the Russians (whatever the truth may be about whether Julius was a spy, his wife was not guilty of the the crime of treason and did not deserve execution).
Songs will surely be written condemning Freesman for her craven participation in this lynching of a man who had alread spent 22 years on Georgia’s death row, and who repeatedly faced execution for a crime which he most likely did not commit (once coming within 2 hours of death)–a crime which he denied committing with his dying breath while strapped to a gurney in a state execution chamber as deadly poison was pumped into his veins before the watching eyes of his stoic family, just as songs have been written about Sacco and Vanzetti, Joe Hill and the Rosenbergs.
With the state killing of Troy Davis, another grotesque chapter has been added to the nightmare encyclopedia recounting America’s bloodthirsty system of “justice,” a system in which black murder victims’ lives count less than white victims‘ lives, and in which accused blacks are more likely to face capital charges, are more likely to be convicted, are more likely to be found guilty, and are more likely to be executed than whites.
There will someday be a reckoning. Someday these state killings will look as pathetic and wrong-headed as do the killings of the “witches” of Salem, Massachusetts. And when that day comes, the Thayers, Ritchies, Kaufmans and now Freesmans will be seen for what they are and were — judicial lynchers, political cowards and killers.
Dave Lindorff is author of the book Killing Time: An Investigation into the Death Penalty Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal (Common Courage Press, 2004).