For a couple of reasons, I haven’t been writing much recently for online publication.
First and foremost, I had no internet service at my mother’s house down in Savannah.
But even after I got connected, I still didn’t write much for online consumption.
The truth is that I haven’t wanted to say anything about the execution of Troy Davis, the topic du jour.
Frankly, I thought I might sound a little bloodthirsty or racist if I condoned his execution.
Therefore, I didn’t believe it was necessary for me to voice yet another opinion.
But opponents of capital punishment have refused to let go of the issue. They have also consistently neglected to mention some of the relevant facts beyond some eyewitnesses recanting their testimony.
Those opposed to the death penalty have concentrated their argument on the possibility Davis might have been innocent as an excuse to insist his sentence should have been commuted to life without parole.
His advocates must not appreciate statistical analysis.
Troy Davis admitted being at the scene of two separate shootings the night Officer MacPhail was killed. He even acknowledged being in the parking lot when MacPhail died.
The odds against an innocent person being found at two crime scenes on the same evening are simply astronomical.
The odds against finding blood from the victims on the clothing of a bystander aren’t very good, either. Nor do innocent people normally flee within hours of the murder, either.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I should probably mention that I grew up in Savannah, attended church at Trinity Lutheran Church and personally knew Joan MacPhail, widow of the murdered policeman.
Her older sister was in my confirmation class. Her older brother was confirmed in the same class with my older sister. It would be fair to say that Officer MacPhail’s murder hit pretty close to home. I admit I could be biased about the Davis execution.
I returned to Savannah because my almost centenarian grandmother has home hospice care and my mother needs help.
In addition to helping grandmother get in and out of her hospital bed, I’ve been reading her letters to the editor, Vox Populi (voice of the people) and Dear Abby from the Savannah newspaper.
Occasionally I also read her excerpts from the book God Makes Lemonade. My grandmother is almost blind and can’t see well enough to read or watch television.
One editorial that I read aloud demanded that we abolish the death penalty. The writer suggested that Davis’ sentence should have been commuted to life without parole.
That started a somewhat heated family discussion.
“Life without parole does not mean the murderer will stay in prison!” my mother exclaimed.
“What makes you say that?” I asked her.
In response, Mom told me the story of Estelle Stokes Bragg.
On August 31, 1931, Estelle Bragg had been stalked as she made her way home from work.
Her estranged husband Walter Mims Bragg pulled out a pistol, chasing Estelle into Pinkussohn’s tobacco store at the corner of Broughton and Whittaker streets. She pleaded with bystanders for help.
Walter shot Estelle twice in cold blood as she frantically tried to escape. She fell to the floor, where he calmly stood over her prostrate body and pumped three more bullets into her at point blank range.
Estelle died at the scene.
Arrested and charged with her murder, Walter showed no remorse. He allegedly even told the arresting officer, “Sure, I meant to kill her.”
Pandemonium developed as the sound of gunshots scattered several hundred people on their way home from work. It was probably the most sensational cold-blooded murder ever committed in Savannah up until that point – perpetrated in broad daylight in front of multiple witnesses. Widespread panic erupted in its aftermath.
According to newspaper reports, Bragg’s family was “well known” in the counties surrounding Savannah — implying that he came from wealth.
Somehow, despite the callous nature of the murder and no doubt about his guilt, Bragg avoided the death penalty.
He was sentenced to life in prison without parole, in spite of the fact he threatened to kill other members of Estelle’s family, notably one of her younger sisters.
Yet less than ten years after the murder, Bragg was free as a bird, again walking the streets of downtown Savannah.
Estelle’s family learned of his release from prison the hard way – her former brother-in-law literally bumped into him on the sidewalk in a chance encounter.
Unruffled, Bragg offered a cheerful greeting. He had the audacity to act as if nothing wrong had happened.
Outraged to meet the killer loose on the street, Estelle’s brother-in-law demanded an audience with the judge who presided over the murder trial.
The judge told him that every man the state had ever executed should be dug up and the corpse should receive an apology. He agreed that a travesty of justice had allowed Walter Mims Bragg to walk the streets.
Georgia governor Eurith “Ed” Rivers had pardoned Bragg less than a decade after the murder. After leaving office he faced charges of corruption, but Walter Bragg would remain free.
Estelle’s family remained victims for most of their lives, afraid to even speak her name because they feared Bragg.
For over fifty years, I never knew she existed.
It took reading aloud an editorial suggesting that life without parole should have been a viable alternative for Troy Davis.
Then Mom told me about Estelle Stokes Bragg, the great-aunt I never knew. Estelle’s brother-in-law was my grandfather.
My grandmother had been her sister.
After this news came to light, I decided that I’m okay with the government enforcing the death penalty.