Two weeks to stop the murder of Troy Davis

September 8, 2011

Nicole Colson reports on the state of Georgia's setting of an execution date for death row prisoner Troy Davis--and how activists are gearing up to stop it.

THE STATE of Georgia is attempting to execute an innocent man--again.

Troy Davis has come close to death three times before, but the signing of a new death warrant on September 6 means he could have less than two weeks left to live if Georgia officials get their way. Troy's legal appeals have been exhausted, so his last hope is the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, which is holding a clemency hearing on September 19.

Troy's case has long stood as one of the worst examples of the bias and flaws inherent in the death penalty system. He was convicted of murdering off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail in 1989, but there has long been compelling evidence of his innocence. Even so, Georgia officials are pushing to kill Troy--and have scheduled his execution for 7 p.m. on September 21.

In response, activists in the U.S. and around the globe are gearing up to send one message to Georgia officials: Don't allow an innocent man to be executed!

A coalition of anti-death penalty organizations has reportedly selected Friday, September 16 for a global day of action to support Troy. In Georgia's capital of Atlanta, Troy's supporters will gather at Woodruff Park downtown and march to the famous Ebenezer Baptist Church for a service at 7 p.m. Activists in other cities are planning demonstrations in solidarity, plus tablings and petitionings to put pressure on the pardons board.

What you can do

Troy Davis needs your help--today more than ever before.

Come to Atlanta for a demonstration on the Global Day of Solidarity for Troy--supporters will meet at Woodruff Park downtown at 6 p.m. Or organize an action in your own city--find out what's going on locally at the Campaign to End the Death Penalty website.

Get everyone you can to contact the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles and voice their support for Troy. Call 404-656-5651, e-mail [email protected] and fax 404-651-8502.

Devote time at a meeting of your union or organization to spread the word about Troy and get people to show their support. Consider whether you and fellow activists can hold a speakout for Troy--and try to write an article for your school newspaper or church bulletin, and contact local radio stations and other news outlets to urge them to cover this case.

Hold a petitioning event in your community for Troy. Think through meetings, events, church services, farmers' markets, bus stops, busy intersections, etc., that might be good places to collect signatures for Troy. Fact sheets, petitions, and clemency letters are available at the CEDP website.

THE CASE against Troy Davis is built on sand.

He was convicted largely based on the testimony of eyewitnesses, but seven of the nine witnesses who testified against Troy at his original trial have since recanted, with several saying they were coerced by police into falsely identifying Troy as the man who shot MacPhail.

Witness Dorothy Ferrell, for example, signed an affidavit in 2000 admitting she had felt pressure from police to identify Troy as the killer because she was on parole at the time. "I don't know which of the guys did the shooting, because I didn't see that part," she said in her statement. Of the two witnesses who haven't recanted, one is Sylvester "Red" Coles--the man who has since been identified by several witnesses as the actual shooter.

Likewise, no murder weapon was ever uncovered, nor was there ever any physical evidence connecting Troy to the shooting.

The courts, however, have continually refused to consider this compelling evidence. Last year, in a review ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. District Judge William T. Moore Jr. claimed that a reasonable jury would still find Troy Davis guilty today. Moore dismissed the testimony of witnesses who said that they lied when they originally identified Troy as the shooter as "smoke and mirrors."

Troy Davis
Troy Davis

But the real "smoke and mirrors" is the state's claim that executing Troy Davis has anything to do with "justice."

As Marlene Martin, national director of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, said:

The case against Troy has fallen apart--nearly all of the witnesses have recanted their original testimony, no DNA connects him to the crime, and another man has admitted to committing the crime, according to several witnesses. At the very least, Troy should have been granted a new trial. But instead, we see the state of Georgia is set to kill him.

What is the definition of cold-blooded murder? I would have to say this is it.

THIS IS the fourth time since 2007 that state officials have scheduled Troy's execution. In the past, the courts have stepped in--sometimes at the last minute--to stay the order. In March of this year, however, the Supreme Court refused to hear Troy's appeal of Moore's decision, opening the door to this latest execution order and clearing some of the last legal hurdles for the state on its mission to kill Troy.

As Troy's sister and advocate Martina Correia told earlier this year when the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of Moore's ruling:

I cannot imagine facing three execution dates and the possibility of a fourth...In this fight, Troy is no longer voiceless and my family is no longer invisible, yet the court still refuses to hear what we have to say. Innocence does matter and beyond a reasonable doubt should be of utmost.

One thing for certain is that the global concern about this case is growing and yet the highest court in the United States is not willing to address the issue of innocence and new evidence. We live in country that is supposed to promote democracy and human rights for other countries, yet it is not unconstitutional for us to execute innocent people in the U.S. if the courts feel they received a fair trial...

No matter the final outcome of this case, my war against the death penalty is far from over. I will no longer be a victimized by this system in the United States, where justice depends on your ability to pay for it.

A clemency hearing before the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles has been set for September 19, but activists can't wait for the board to do the right thing. Every day between today and the date of Troy's scheduled execution is a day to organize to stop the killing of an innocent man. As Martina Correia told Atlanta's WSAV News on Wednesday:

I'm very disappointed in Georgia, because there's still doubt, but I'm holding the parole board to their standard that when there's doubt that they won't execute...We believe in Troy's innocence, and we're going to fight to prove that until the very end--and no matter what the outcome when we get the clemency hearing, we're still going to fight until we clear Troy's name.

The death penalty represents the worst aspects of a "justice" system that is fundamentally biased against minorities and the poor, where actual innocence matters less than scoring easy convictions. As Marlene Martin said:

Troy's case, like so many others on death row, has everything to do with race and class. When I asked Troy if he thought he would have gotten the death penalty had he been the son of a white senator, he said that not only would he not have been sentenced to death, he never would have been arrested in the first place.

This fight to save Troy is going to be tough, but we can do it. Kenneth Foster Jr. won a commutation from Texas Gov. Rick Perry in 2007, not because the governor felt anything toward Kenny, but because of the grassroots fight that Kenny's family and activists built to push his case into the forefront of the news.

Troy's case has a much broader level of support, both nationally and internationally, and that means these next two weeks will be critical in mobilizing actions that can pressure the parole board to do the right thing and grant Troy clemency.

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