"No matter what happens in the days, weeks to come, this movement to end the death penalty, to seek true justice, to expose a system that fails to protect the innocent, must be accelerated. There are so many more Troy Davises."
Troy Anthony Davis
Every morning for the last 18 years my friend, Troy Davis, has woken up on death row, despite the stark absence of any physical or forensic evidence implicating him in a crime. I've always felt that Troy's plight is a flagship case for why the death penalty is wrong. It serves to remind us all why we must continue to advocate for its abolition.
On August 28, 1991, Troy was convicted for murdering police officer Mark Allen MacPhail. This conviction was based entirely on witness testimony, and, to this day, no murder weapon has been found. Since the trial, seven out of nine non-police witnesses have either recanted or contradicted their original testimony, many claiming they were pressured or coerced by the police. Of the two remaining witnesses, one is the principal alternative suspect. Despite the clear injustices in Troy's case, no federal appeals court has examined new witness testimony. After nearly two decades, Troy still has not received due process and a fair trial.
Chad Stokes' "State of Georgia" for Amnesty International's awareness campaign for Troy's case:
There are no statistics that prove capital punishment deters crime. History shows that race and poverty all too often determine who is sentenced to death. Because humans are fallible there is an inherent risk that innocent people are wasted by our justice system and the culture of violence is perpetuated. Since 1973, an average of four prisoners have been released each year from death row across the United States on the grounds of innocence. During the same period, states have executed over 1,150 people and given the circumstance of Troy's case, it seems a fair assumption that some of those executed may have been innocent as well.
Over the last few years, I've had the pleasure to get to know Troy's sister, Martina Correia, who has led Troy's cause to an international audience of activists. We talked about the three times Troy has been slated to be executed and the living funerals of his last moments - the agony, frustration and despair of saying goodbye to a beloved brother, wrongly incarcerated for half of his life. Three times the courts have stayed the execution; three times deciding the evidence convicting him was deficient. Over the past 20 years, the courts in Georgia have proven that they'd rather kill a man than admit they'd made a mistake. It's truly sad that false pride and paperwork come before life.
In Boston this year, I was able to speak to Troy's mom, Virginia Davis, on the phone. She thanked me profusely for making Troy's case a priority as the band toured the country and said she enjoyed the song "State of Georgia". She told me how she prayed everyday morning and night for her sweet and gentle boy.
In the beginning of the 1900's, only three countries had permanently abolished the death penalty. Now, two-thirds of those have either abolished or stopped using the death penalty. The question that America needs to ask is whether we'd like to be considered on par with countries like China, Pakistan and Iran when it comes to human rights. The United States is the only democratic nation in the western world that believes a sound law enforcement strategy consists of killing people to teach that killing is wrong.
A few days later, Martina called and tasked me to hold the line. A few seconds later, a deep and lively voice came on the phone -- Troy. We talked about music, growing up, even how we used to dance with our older sisters in the living rooms of our houses as we watched the Friday night dance show on TV. He said if he ever got out of prison he was going to go straight to the nearest State Radio show and get a seat in the front row. He was soft spoken -- amazingly grateful and humble.
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a hearing in the federal district court to review evidence of Troy's innocence. It's a glimmer of hope for Troy who could face his fourth execution date as early as this fall. More than ever, public opinion is turning against the death penalty and towards a universal acceptance of human rights. Troy's life has been tragic, but it's over. It's up to us to make enough noise so that another innocent person is not killed by our crude system. I stand with Martina and Troy and demand a complete abolition of the death penalty.