Crime International Affairs Society

Between Life and Execution: The Troy Davis Story

His name is Troy Anthony Davis and he is a Black man from Savannah Georgia on death row for close to 20 years. I’m neither pro nor anti-death penalty. I believe it should be decided on the case by case basis. And this is one case where I believe that this man doeI’m neither pro s not deserve to die.

This is a story of what can possibly happen to you and me if we were to end up in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Add a screwed up legal system, and a dash of racism, and it could be a life in a maximum security prison, with years of no redemption.

But, don’t go by his name and the color of the skin. Read this story also because it could be that one time, your activism may be the difference between life and death.

Before their life began to unravel in 1989, the Davis family lived their American dream in a middle class neighborhood, in Savannah Georgia. Troy was a good student, a caring brother who nursed a paralyzed sister back to health after dropping out of day school but graduating with Honors after attending night school.

Troy was always the peace maker, says Martina his sister, the problem solver in a conflict when people were fighting.

19 August 1989-Bill Clinton was celebrating a birthday but that night, in Savannah, near the Greyhound Bus station, events were unfolding that would forever change the lives of two families.

The sequence of events remain murky and sticky like that night, and stories have changed several times since then, as years and continuous media reports add to new twists and turns. But what has not changed is the fact that a young 27 year old Police Officer, Mark Allen MacPhail, lost his life in a senseless, brutal murder and Troy Davis was the young man who supposedly did it.

Macphail’s senseless murder angered the police officers to such an extent that they had “Shoot to kill” orders as pictures of Troy, now rechristened the cop killer, and already condemned to being guilty even before he had been questioned flashed across the airwaves.

No murder weapon was found and there is no DNA or any other physical evidence linking Troy Davis to the murder or to an earlier shoot out that night which injured another young man Michael Cooper. Davis’s conviction came because of the testimony of nine so called eye witnesses. Leading the eye witness Parade was Sylvester “Redd” Coles. Coles has been described by many who know him as a fearsome neighborhood thug. Other eye witnesses were either those who claimed to be present at the shooting or near the crime scene and those who claimed Troy had confessed to them that he had killed Mark Macphail. What came to light soon after was the fact that Sylvester Coles supposedly had a similar .38 caliber gun, which had killed the police officer. Affidavits submitted much later from 3 people who did not testify at the Davis trial also claim that Coles, confessed to killing the officer after Davis was convicted.

Martina says she is convinced that the Police knew Troy was innocent, “but they had already turned the wheels in motion. Our family was never allowed inside the courtroom during the trial. They were able to be there only on the day he had been convicted and the prosecutors said they would seek the death penalty.” She also believes Coles is the one the Police should be questioning. “I talked to some body who knows Coles and who calls me to tell me where he is and I was told that when he is drunk he brags about the murder and no body does anything about it.”

Seven of the 9 eye witnesses have recanted their testimony since then citing police coercion. Several members of the jury who had sentenced Troy to death, have sent sworn statements saying the jury’s decision was based on incomplete and unreliable evidence. The murky timeline of the events of that night, the recanted eye witness statements, have ensured there is nothing black and white about this case. Add to that accusations of Police being blind sided by the intense pressure to find the killer of a fellow officer, and police coercion, and the plot thickens even more.

Martina says that there is no reason for these eye witnesses to come forward now. They are not related to each other, they don’t cross paths, and they don’t work together. Why would they stick their necks out now and deal with all the hassles that go with it?

By now most people would think that there was enough in the case for it to be granted a retrial, but Troy Davis’s life is caught up in legal knots that has many wondering about an urgent need for reforming Georgia’s judicial system.

This lack of diligence combined with the anti terrorism and death penalty act signed by Clinton in 1996, and the Georgia Resource center, (that provides lawyers to death row inmates) crumbling under massive budget cuts resulted in the inability to investigate Troy’s case until after the expiration of the statute of limitations on new evidence.

Most people who have followed the case, or researched it say the evidence, the way the case was handled, the recanting, and the legal jargon, makes it all very confusing and unclear

One thing however stands out very clearly for most people aware of the case. If Troy Davis is executed, the justice system would have failed.

Troy Davis will die on the 23rd of September if the Georgia State Parole Board does not change its mind and commute his sentence. They are the sole body vested with the powers to deny or decide to execute a death row inmate.

Martina thinks that the internet, the international interest and the intervention of Amnesty International has managed to make everyone take a second look at the case, or Troy would have been put to death long ago.

What has been interesting to see is that many prominent personalities who are pro death penalty have pleaded on Troy’s behalf. The reason for that is the question that every one has begun to ask-is the justice system in Georgia functioning as it should? This case has raised issues that affect far more people than Troy Davis.

The execution date has again been set for September 23rd.

Update: 9/13/2008

In an exclusive interview Martina Correia said that the rally held to show support for Troy Davis on 9/11/2008 was a huge success. Sahil Khatod says that this was in spite of the fact that this rally had been planned a day after the US Supreme court was to look at the case, on the 29th of this month. The fact that the execution date was suddenly announced to be the 23rd was to upset the preparations, but every one chipped in and hundreds of people showed up for the rally in spite of only a few days available to get it organized. Sahil who went to several events to raise awareness and distribute thousands of flyers for the event that was to have thousands of supporters, says this was still an amazing event.

Martina adds “We had representatives from many organizations present-from Amnesty International, NAACP, ACLU and others, and we had people honking their cars asking that we put posters on their windows. We ran out of T-shirts for Troy.” Troy spoke about his innocence on Martina’s cell phone, during the rally.

The next morning when Martina, her lawyers and witnesses appeared before the Parole Board, she says the only thing she found a bit strange was the fact that the new Chair person Gale Buckner was being nice unlike the last time when she came across as hostile. Witness after witness came forward to talk about police and prosecutorial coercion and misconduct. At one point when one of the witnesses said how she was asked not to change her story then by the Prosecutors for fear of perjury, Martina says Gale Buckner got very agitated and said to the witness, are you telling me you lied then?” The witness said, “Yes I was lying and I told the prosecutors it wasn’t Troy.

Martina adds, “The Board had enough information the first time to know that this case was full of inconsistencies and this time around compounded with all that they heard, it was more than enough not just to commute his sentence but to pardon Troy. Buckner also told me that the Board will not be making any decision for the next 3-4 days because they have so much information to go through. It was shocking for me then to be called in barely 30 minutes after the Prosecutors had come out after presenting their case, to find out that they had a typed statement ready and had called a press conference to say that they were denying clemency to Troy.

My lawyers told me it was obviously a premeditated decision and the statement had already been typed in advance. So they just went through this fake motion of having a clemency hearing. I think they cut some backdoor deal with the Prosecutors before hand and since the Board is not accountable for its decisions they can do whatever they want. This is the election year and they want this case out of the way, but they don’t realize what they have done. They have lit the fire under themselves. All the organizations are in conference this weekend and we are also requesting all the people to please write letters/emails and faxes to the US Supreme Court, the Attorney General’s office and the President, to ask for this case to be reopened and re-tried. We want to shame Georgia and the Parole Board into realizing this kind of ingrained racism cannot go on. Even if they thought Troy was guilty before, they have enough evidence to know this is not a case beyond a reasonable doubt to execute him. It is unprecedented, ever in criminal history that 7 out of the 9 witnesses would recant their testimony, and they still think that is not enough to give him clemency? We want to bring to light how the Parole Board works. They have to explain how they arrived at this decision. I want the grass roots community and the national press to give their support. We are not giving up. So far the justice system has failed us and we cannot let this go unnoticed.”

Martina went to see Troy today and said he was reading his Bible and said he will pray harder and not let anything deter him from his faith in God. “ He does not want to be a martyr, he does not want to die for something he didn’t do, but he knows there is a possibility they will go ahead and he said-what can they do? They can only take my physical body away from me-nothing beyond that. He was more concerned about us, and the people all over the world who have supported him.”

Troy’s lawyers are looking at all options at this time. The Parole Board can re open this case and re review their decision. It is really important for everyone to continue writing to the Board condemning this decision. Please support this effort. Contact your local political and social organizations and leaders. Injustice is color blind and the more apathy we show, the more we make ourselves vulnerable to something similar happening to us, if we happened to be in the wrong place-at the wrong time.

Kavita Chibber has written this article and requested me to give place to this important issue on Pakistan Times.
Kavita has added:

I took on this case last wednesday when a young Amnesty International volunteer came to me with it, on the condition that if this didnt have any merit I would not write about it. All I can say is I have not slept much since the first day when it was obvious to me that there were too many holes in this case and this man has been on death row for almost 20 years awaiting justice. He is now scheduled to die on 23rd September unless the US Supreme Court agrees to an emergency stay. It doesn’t matter which part of the world you live in-I want as many people to read this story and email/fax/write to the White House/US Supreme Court/ the Parole Board and the US Department of justice. Injustice as I said is color blind, and it could happen to any one of us.

About the author

Rubab Saleem

Rubab Saleem is Editor of Pakistan Times

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