COLUMBUS — “It might be over this time.”
Those six words from Anneliese MacPhail, scribbled by a friend and left lying on the kitchen table, held 22 years of grief and anger.
“I’m a nervous wreck,” MacPhail announced at 6:35 p.m., as the clock ticked down toward the scheduled execution of the man convicted of killing her youngest son.
As 7 p.m. came and went with no execution, the mother, long a widow, waited a wait she had endured three times before. At 77, she waited with a steel-spined determination to see justice — justice by her own lights — done no matter how long the wait.
Surrounded by family, friends and dozens of framed family photos, she smoked, in her own words, “like a steam engine” and sat by the phone. It rang incessantly, but not with the news she wanted, the news from the prison that would put the waiting behind her.
Instead, some of the calls were from people who wanted to berate her for being party to the killing of Troy Davis, a man they believed to have been wrongly convicted. She didn’t shrink from answering them back.
Let them tell her she had blood on her hands, she said defiantly. Let them challenge her any way at all. “I know what I’m doing,” she said.
“They’re trying to intimidate me. I don’t go that route.”
The phone was her umbilical cord to the outside world, her only source of news. The TV was off; the local station was not covering the execution vigil live.
Earlier in the evening, when the protests over Davis’ impending execution dominated the national news, she had watched and talked right back at the talking heads.
“That’s what you think,” she barked at the Rev. Al Sharpton when he proclaimed that killing Davis would be a miscarriage of justice.
All around her, the house spoke tales of a family devoted to military and police service. In a bedroom was a blanket emblazoned with the words: “Freedom is not free.” In the living room, amidst the photos — Mark graduating from high school, Mark in his Army Ranger uniform — sat a shadowbox containing a gold police shield, a gift from an admirer.
Mark’s real shield she carries in her purse: Savannah Police Department, Officer 212.
Outside, TV camera crews camped on the front lawn. In the living room, MacPhail fingered the photos of Mark as her 11-month-old great-grandson, Grayson, crawled about on the rug.
His mother, Mandy Winningham, was 7 when her uncle Mark was killed. After all these years of struggle and controversy, it’s hard she said, to remember the good times.
In the kitchen, 82-year-old Helen Edwards sat knitting dish towels. Edwards, who also lost a son to murder, met MacPhail through a support group for crime victims. She has little use for Davis’ supporters, she said, even the Pope or former President Jimmy Carter.
If she met them on the street, she said, “I would make a
As Edwards knitted, MacPhail went outside to stand stoically in the front yard with a crew from CNN. Sheltered by an umbrella from the pouring rain, she waited for Anderson Cooper to be ready to do a remote interview. “Dear,” she called him, when the interview finally commenced.
Off camera, as the clock ticked past 8, past 8:30, past 9, she waited.
“I don’t hate him,” she said of Davis. “The hate is gone. He disgusts me.”
9:30 … 9:45 … 10:00 … the wait stretched on. But soldiers know how to wait. “I want my justice,” she said. “I just want it done.”
10:19, the phone rang. “Thank you,” MacPhail said to the voice on the other end.
Turning to Edwards and Winningham, she thrust her fists into the air. “It’s going ahead,” she said.
11:08, the phone rang again. She picked it up and listened. Putting it down, she said slowly and with emphasis: “It is over.”
I don’t live in Columbus, Georgia. But I know that some upright, righteous Black Folks do live in Columbus, Georgia.
What would you do if you were just walking down the street in Columbus, GA and happened to cross the path of an Anneliese MacPhail?