In 1991 Troy Davis was convicted of murdering a Georgia police officer in a parking lot. Nearly 20 years later, Troy remains shackled on death row — even though the case against him has fallen apart. On Wednesday the State of Georgia will strap him down, inject a lethal cocktail of drugs and after minutes of harrowing pain, he will be dead! By Martin Hodgson
In 2001 I opened my Hotmail account to find an email from the NAACP, Davis had filed a habeas corpus writ in the United States District Court and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People were urging its members to lobby their congressmen to support the case. Being an Australian citizen there wasn’t much I could do, but I’d grown up with a long-standing interest in the death penalty system in the USA. As a teenager in 1995 I’d seen the film “Dead Man Walking” based on the advocacy work of Sister Helen Prejean who supported a prisoner, guilty, who would later be executed. Based on a true story I knew at the time I was never comfortable with execution even of a guilty man, by the time the email arrived in 2001 I had a well-rounded belief to oppose all capital punishment. I’d spend the next decade of my life studying the death penalty, becoming the Anti Death Penalty Coordinator for FPSS and working on many Death Penalty cases. But I am still Troy Davis…
In 1989 a Police Officer, Mark MacPhail, working as a security guard was brutally shot to death when he intervened in an argument in a restaurant parking lot. A man at the scene, Sylvester “Redd” Coles went to the police and gave them a statement to the effect that Troy had been the killer. Davis was arrested a few days later and was put on trial for the murder of MacPhail. The prosecution relied heavily on witness testimony, many claimed they had seen Davis pull the trigger, while others testified Davis had also confessed to the murder. There was no physical evidence or DNA linking Davis to the murder and no weapon ever found. But the evidence of the witnesses was deemed so strong that in 1991 he was found guilty and sentenced to die. During the trial Davis maintain his innocence, something that has not changed for 20 years.
As anyone familiar with the US death penalty system can attest, appeals are many and varied, the process drags on for years and just as with the execution itself the road to the end is long and painful. There has been State appeals and Federal appeals, hearings by the United States Supreme Court and three previous execution dates set. Complex legal battles have been waged and the judges across all the hearings have never been united in their rulings. The system has evolved to mean that no man or woman alone shoulders the responsibility of an execution. Each and every step allows those who would prevent the execution of an innocent man to pass the buck, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. But if so many testified to the guilt of Davis, how do we know he is innocent and what has left courts struggling to agree on his fate?
While legal complexities only allow certain courts to decide certain aspects of the case the facts themselves do not change. The man who reported Davis to the police was the previously mentioned “Redd” Coles. He had been hanging out with Davis in the parking lot and had started the argument that resulted in Officer MacPhail intervening. Redd had demanded Beer from a homeless man in the car park, Larry Young. Young refused Redd and as he walked off was pistol whipped from behind, in responding the Young’s calls for help MacPhail was shot dead. Immediately anyone with an ounce of common sense would point the finger at the man who had argued with and assault Young, Redd Coles. But it was Redd who would beat all to the punch informing the police it was Davis who had in fact murdered the officer. Redd was never treated as a suspect in the case and acted as a witness in the trial against Davis.
Fast Forward to today and since the initial trial every witness apart from two have gone on the record to say that they had either lied under oath, been compelled to give evidence against Davis or actually believed that Coles was the shooter. The only two people to maintain Davis was guilty is a witness who told police at the time of the murder ” I wouldn’t know the shooter again if I saw him” and was only able to identify Davis in court when he was pointed out. The other to maintain their story that it was Davis and not Redd who had killed MacPhail, Redd Coles.
Further compounding the errors jurors in the initial trial of Troy Davis say if they knew the evidence that is now available to all they would have found him not guilty. Over the years many law experts and Internationally known individuals have called for Clemency for Troy. Former President Jimmy Carter, Members of the European Parliament, Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Congressmen/Women, Multiple District Attorneys, Martin Luther King III and Former Director of the FBI under three Presidents William S. Sessions. Over the years hundreds of thousands of individuals have petitioned the State of Georgia to grant Davis clemency, with one petition alone having the names of 600,000 individuals. The support for Davis is unprecedented since Capital Punishment was reinstated in the US in 1976 after it had been abandoned for four years from 1972 after significant controversies.
Now the life of Troy Davis rests in the hands of the Board of Pardons and Paroles who set out a standard for clemency: “[The Board] will not allow an execution to proceed in this State unless and until its members are convinced that there is no doubt as to the guilt of the accused.” They will make that decision today and it is hard to see based on the evidence that there is not serious doubt. No murder weapon, no physical or DNA evidence and only the testimony of two people, one the probable killer. But the morality of life and death has been so lost in the complex maze of courts and higher courts, the buck passing from one official to another and the sheer strength of the US Prison Industrial Complex so overpowering that I am not confident of the outcome.
In a decade of studying the death penalty and working on endless cases I have never been so sure that an innocent man could be himself killed for a murder he did not commit. I have seen both innocent and guilty executed not because of the crime they committed but because of the colour of their skin, the failings of their lawyers and the inability of a system to overturn wrong decisions. I have studied the execution reports of Angel Diaz who took an hour to die from lethal injection, a man convicted on the evidence of a jailhouse snitch looking to cut a deal. I have heard Winnie Mandela, Jamie Foxx and Snoop Dogg appeal for clemency over the highly controversial execution of Stanley “Tookie” Williams only to be denied by Governor Schwarzenegger. And I have seen innocent men walk free, one after another, having served 20 or more years on death row only to be saved at the last moment by DNA evidence.
But nothing will be so gut wrenching as to see Troy Davis slowly and painfully executed for a crime the people and the powers know he did not commit. A system so unjust that its rules prevent it from making the wrong decision right and where only those without the capital get the punishment. Not much more can be done, the last papers are being filed and everyone, especially Troy and his family will hold their breath. For a decade I have been Troy Davis, a man, any man in a parking lot. But if they kill him on Wednesday, he, that part of me and of us, is dead! I am Troy Davis!
UPDATE:- Having heard evidence from both sides the Georgia Parole Board has delayed their decision until today (20/09/2011)
If you are in the USA please call the GEORGIA BOARD OF PARDONS & PAROLE
TODAY Between 8:15am – 4:30pm. and DEMAND CLEMENCY FOR TROY DAVIS! (404-656-5651, #0 then #5)