One Year Later: Remembering Mark MacPhail

There are moments in life that define us. Moments in time that are imprinted in our minds and souls forever. These passages of time help to mold us in our ever evolving lives and shape perspective, views, and character. These moments can be many or few, but everyone has one or two that stand out.

September 21, 2011 is a day I will never forget as long as I live. The weeks before and after it made their marks as well.

It was August when we got word that an appeal date had been set by the Davis legal team. We began making phone calls and sending emails and Facebook messages to everyone we knew, making the case for justice in the death of Savannah Police officer Mark MacPhail.

And then the media began calling. It started with local stations. Randy and would meet Mark’s mother, Ann, and she and Randy would appeal to the public. I was fascinated watching Randy work with Ann on simply stating the facts. We would spend our evenings reading the case files, reviewing trial transcripts, and Randy’s notes from all the previous appeals to the Board of Pardons and Parole.

Two weeks before the execution date, we began burning the candle at both ends. More phone calls, more emails and petitions. CNN, Fox News, NPR, and others began calling. Each day was spent with the MacPhails. The Fraternal Order of Police was set into motion on a State and National level. Hundreds of thousands of people began petitioning the Board for both sides.

The Saturday before the execution date, Randy and I spent the morning with Ann as she talked to CNN. We both-Randy especially-felt incredibly protective and knew how the media could twist words and fluster the person being interviewed. Afterwards we made our way across the state to Savannah to meet with the assistant district attorney of Chatham County. We gathered more trial transcripts and copies of evidence. I knew Mark’s story better than my own. Randy told it over and over again as he pled with friends, family, and total strangers to stand with the MacPhail family. We got back to Columbus from Savannah well after midnight and Randy was back on the road by 5:30am to be in Atlanta to debate Amnesty International on Atlanta Alive. And then we were back with the MacPhails.

Monday was the appeal hearing in Atlanta before the Board of Pardons and Parole. The FOP obtained a van and carried the MacPhails to Atlanta. It was a long day of waiting and we didn’t get an answer until Tuesday morning that the execution was still happening. But the fight wasn’t over.

Davis’ legal team began their appeal process to the United States Supreme Court. Mark’s widow and children traveled to Jackson, GA the night before and the Henry County FOP did what we do and took care of our own.

The following day crawled by as we all waited. Randy and other Columbus FOP members escorted the MacPhail family to Jackson from Columbus and I stayed with Ann at her house. By 5:30 the media descended upon us. All nerves and feeling scattered, Ann directed me to direct the media. We set them up on the front lawn and Ann made statements as the night continued.

Randy and the family members present in the prison couldn’t take their phones in with them, so we relied on updates from the Attorney General’s liaison. I allowed a few newspaper reporters in the house and every time the phone rang everyone jumped into action to film or photograph “THE moment.” We couldn’t have gotten more than a dozen phone calls that night, most from the AG’s office, several from a Savannah paper, a few dissenters, and a handful of family members not present. But, it felt like the phone rang all night with none of them being the call we were waiting for.

Ann walked around the house, attempting to avoid watching national news and failing miserably. She drank coffee like it was going out of style and smoked more than a few cigarets. She talked about Mark, about the last 22 years, and yelled at the TV when reporters didn’t tell the whole story.

It was after 11pm when we got the actual call. Ann remained calm. I didn’t see a huge burden lifted from her shoulders, I didn’t see joy in her eyes or even peace. I saw resignation. It was over. The fight was over. Justice had been served. A few more statements to the press and then as quickly as they arrived, they left. And then we waited for the rest of the family to get home. It was almost 3am before we were all settled in our homes.

The following day was long and much of it is a blur. I think I was back in bed by 5pm.

In the past year, I have watched Ann MacPhail deal with nasty letters and phone calls. I have seen her sit at the same kitchen table, drinking coffee out of the same coffee cup. But she is not the same woman she was a year ago. She still talks about her son as if he was with her yesterday, she still smokes an occasional cigaret, she still drinks coffee with her neighbor every morning, and she is still disgusted with the media’s lack of knowledge but willingness to talk about the case. But her fight is over. There are no more letters to write or appeal hearings to go to. A new normal has set in. A new normal where keeping Mark close is more about sharing memories and not at all about her son’s killer.

Peace is a relative term. Does any mother who has lost a child ever regain a sense of peace? I’m not sure. But I am sure that Mark MacPhail has the best and strongest mother any son could ask for. Ann MacPhail has earned mother of the century, if you as me. All sons should be as blessed as Mark MacPhail, may he rest in peace.