Today marks the one year anniversary of the state of Georgia deciding that it was in the best interests of the people of Georgia to put Troy Davis to death.
This strikes home for me in many ways. Two years ago, both Troy and I were in prison for murder, even though the case against both of us had fallen completely apart. Six witnesses against me had recanted their testimony, and seven of the nine witnesses against him had recanted their testimony.
But one year ago, I had been set free, and Troy had been put to death.
The only real difference between me and Troy is that I had a fair judge who listened to the evidence and saw that my conviction was based on false eyewitness testimony; in Georgia, Troy did not have that.
My experience has taught me that one of the real problems with the criminal justice system is that it's so arbitrary. For me, there were good lawyers, good luck and good timing. In Georgia, Troy was not so lucky.
It's heartbreaking to know that our judicial system didn't allow for a correction in Troy's case. I can attest that the human voice has a powerful impact in the courtroom.
Watching witnesses stand there, swear an oath to God, and then condemn me for a murder I didn't commit was more than painful and devastating -- it was unfathomable. I was sixteen years old. I could not understand what was happening. Some days, I still can't.
So I know how Troy felt when that happened to him.
Years later, seeing those same people take an oath, and say they were mistaken, was more than healing for me. I believe it was healing for the witnesses as well -- to finally have the chance to tell the truth. And for our judicial system. It felt as though I was resurrected that day but I wasn't the only one. The truth was also resurrected.
Troy and the witnesses against him never got to know how we felt that day.
I worry about those witnesses; people who now have to live with the knowledge that they might have helped send an innocent person to die, and who will never get the chance to correct their mistake. When my conviction was overturned, the recantations from witnesses were crucial. It is hard to believe that those who had recanted in Troy's case were never given full opportunity to be heard.
I know that during the time Troy spent in prison, he lost his mother. During the twenty years I spent in prison, I lost my father.
So I know how Troy felt.
When I was released I was able to embrace my siblings, my son, my remaining family.
Troy never got to know how we felt that day.
Last April, I had the chance to meet Troy's sister Kim at a dinner here in Los Angeles. I felt her pain, and it broke my heart. I wish that his family's love and commitment, supported by millions of people all over the world, could have brought Troy home.
But I do know that Troy's family, like mine, never gave up on him. When you're unjustly imprisoned it is unbearably hard to know that the safeguards designed to keep the innocent from harm have all let you down. So I want Troy's family to understand how comforting and empowering it is to know that your family has not forsaken you. I want to thank them for standing firm by Troy's side.
Which brings me to how Troy must have felt to see so many people rally to his cause. I spent twenty years in prison, and for almost all of that time I was largely invisible to anyone outside of my cell. I can't possibly explain how it feels when free people take note of your circumstances, and stand up for you.
But finally, people noticed, and I know how Troy felt.
That is why I hope that the people who loved and supported Troy hear what I am about to say.
When you are in prison for murder, it is extremely difficult to be remembered even by the people who once knew you. It is extremely difficult to be taken seriously, especially when you are proclaiming your innocence and saying that the judicial system, a process our country is founded on, was mistaken. You are alone in a cell and you are challenging not the principles we rely on, but the implementation of those principles by our government. Your challenge is hard for most Americans to believe, let alone support.
The odds of having someone on the outside accompany you during your incarceration are small. The fact that so many people came to Troy's side speaks volumes about the kind of man he was and doubt surrounding his case. And speaks volumes about the kind of people his supporters are.
So let none of us forget that Troy Davis' legacy can live on with Proposition 34. It is a ballot initiative here in California which would replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole. By replacing the death penalty with life in prison without parole, we can eliminate the risk of ever executing an innocent person. We can save lives and we can save the state of California tens of millions of dollars a year. That's money that can be spent on investigating unsolved homicides across the state, money that can be spent on education, on services for victims, and on crime prevention.
There is so much room for improvement. Right now, 46 percent of homicides are unsolved in California. That's around 1,000 unsolved homicides a year. If we vote for and pass Proposition 34, $100 million a year can go to investigating unsolved crimes. With better investigations, who knows? Maybe someone like me wouldn't end up wrongfully imprisoned.
So please support Prop 34. Please remember that there are many, many more Troys and Frankys behind bars in this nation. Please do not give up the fight to save them. Because you save us all.