Last week Wednesday, Troy Davis was subjected to death via lethal injection despite substantial evidence suggesting his innocence and desperate protests from thousands across the United States and throughout Europe. Mr Davis’s family and hundreds of supporters gathered outside of the maximum security Georgia, Jackson Prison in which Davis was being held with banners and posters reading “too much doubt” conveying their belief that there was not enough proof to execute him.
At 7pm local time as Davis was scheduled to be killed, the US Supreme Court intervened and delayed the execution. The news spread quickly, supporters burst into Jubilation in the hope that Davis would be granted a stay of execution but in a sad twist of fate, the Supreme Court decided to proceed and at 11:08pm he was pronounced dead.
In 1989 a then 21 year old Troy Davis was sentenced for the murder of Mark MacPhail, an off duty police officer. On that fateful day, he and a friend had met up with Sylvester Coles who was arguing with home- less man, Larry Young over a beer. Shortly afterwards MacPhail found Young being assaulted and tried to intervene. He was shot twice, through the heart and in the face. This murder caused great anger throughout the local community and particularly the police as Journalist Patrick Rodgers explains;
“ Drenched in swirling red and blue siren light, and overwhelmed by emotion at the sight of a violently-executed colleague, police combed the area for witnesses and evidence. But as the sun slowly rose from the depths of the Atlantic to illuminate the west side of Oglethorpe Avenue, there were no concrete leads—just a pool of blood and a vague description of a black man in his early 20s, last seen running toward Yamacraw Village.”
The morning after the murder, Coles told police officers that he had witnessed Troy Davis murder MacPhail triggering a man-hunt. Newspaper began printing Davis’s face on their front pages, some using the head- line “Cop Killer” despite the fact that he had not yet been convicted and should have been treated as a suspect. Having been out of town Davis was unaware of the manhunt but once his mother had explained the situation, he promptly turned himself into the police in order to clear his name but would never receive a fair trial.
According to his sister, Martina Correia the only question Police asked him was “Where is your gun? In their eyes he was guilty even before his trial. The Media had demonised and condemned him before he had given his side of the story and it didn’t help that MacPhail’s funeral, which was attended by hundreds of mourners was held the day before he was taken into custody.
Davis claimed that he had seen Coles intimidating Mr Young (the homeless man) and had tried to reason with him. However he left the scene when Coles threatened him and did not witness the murder. Nonetheless following the testimonies of 9 witnesses, the Jury found him guilty of murder and unanimously recommended the death penalty.
While Davis had always maintained his innocence, seven of the nine witnesses have since recanted their evidence. Dorothy Ferrell who picked out Davis’ photo as the killer said in a 2000 affidavit bearing her signature;
“I don’t know which of the guys did the shooting because I didn’t see that part. . . . When the police were talking to me, it was like they wanted me to say I saw the shooting and to sign a statement.
“I was still scared that if I didn’t cooperate with the detective, then he might find a way to have me locked up again,” Ferrell, who was on parole in 1989, said in the affidavit.
Several people were pressured by Police into giving false testimonies includ- ing Jeffrey Sapp who testified that Davis had admitted to him in private that he had murdered MacPhail;
“When it came time for Troy’s trial, the police made it clear to me that I needed to stick to my original statement, that is, what they wanted me to say” Jeffrey Sapp, one of these two men, said in an affidavit. In a later interview Sapp admitted that “None of that [testimony] was true.”
Of the two men who have not taken back their testimonies; one has refused to speak to the media since and the other is Sylvester Coles, who many believe framed Davis. Coles was seen arguing with Young shortly before the officer was shot and it was soon revealed that he had withheld the fact that he had owned a 38 calibre pistol; the same weapon used to kill MacPhails.
Martina Correia believes that the police were aware that her brother was innocent but they already had “the wheels in motion”. Following an interview with Davis’ current lawyer Jason Ewart, Patrick Rodgers wrote in an article;
“At some point there was an ‘Oh No!’ moment, when the police discovered that the person who may have fingered Davis had a calibre gun that had killed Officer MacPhail the night of the shooting, [something] that was withheld from them [by Coles],” but that “At that point, it was too late: Davis was the suspect. To go back and investigate someone else would have been politically tough to do…and there was no investigating any other suspect”
In the years following her brother’s incarnation, Martina and her family battled tirelessly to raise awareness and gather evidence in order to get a new trial for her brother. A number of members of the jury who convicted Davis say that they would not have done so had they have known that the witnesses were pressured into giving testimonies. In addition as many as nine people came forward and claimed that Coles was the real murderer.
In 2009, Quiana Glover told authorities she had overheard a drunk Coles confess to the murder of MacPhail.
Last week Wednesday marked the fourth time, Davis had been scheduled for execution. On the previous occasions he had been granted a temporary stay by US Supreme council following a number of protests and appeals from the likes of Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former president Jimmy Carter and even Pope Benedict XVI.
William S. Sessions, former FBI Director and federal judge, called on authorities to halt the execution process in 2007, writing that “it would be intolerable to execute a man without his claims of innocence ever being considered by the courts or by the executive”.
Nonetheless, Davis was never granted a new trial and at a final hearing with the Georgia Supreme court in 2009, the court ruled 4-3 in favour of keeping him on death row. The majority wrote that the recanting witnesses “have merely stated they now do not feel able to identify the shooter” and as a result it did notdisqualify their previous testimonies. Despite this, his lawyers, supporters and family continued to battle for justice up until the final moment. On the internet, hundreds of thousands signed petitions and protested via social networking site twitter.
According to the associated press, before he was put to death, Troy Davis lifted his head from the gurney to which he was strapped and looked the family of Mark MacPhail, the police officer for whose murder he was convicted, directly in the eyes.
“I want to talk to the MacPhail family,” he said. “I was not responsible for what happened that night. I did not have a gun. I was not the one who took the life of your father, son, and brother.”
He then appealed to his own family and friends to “keep the faith”, said to the medical personnel who were about to kill him “may God have mercy on your souls”, and laid his head down again.
At 11:08pm, Troy Davis was pronounced dead. As the tragic conclusion of Davis’s life was an- nounced many burst into tears while his family huddled in an area of the prison grounds, sur- rounded by well-wishers.
After the execution, Davis’s lawyers lamented what one described as a “legal lynching”. Thomas Ruffin, part of his defence team said that the execution was “racially bigoted”.
“In the state of Georgia 48.4% of people on death row this morning are black males, and in Georgia they make up no more than 15% of the population.”
According to John Lewis, a local radio reporter, MacPhail’s family were the satisfied with some even crack- ing a smile. However Davis’s family intend to continue to battle against the death penalty in order ensure that no other family suffers as they have.
The Troy Davis case demonstrates a failure in the American Government and its judicial system. For so long this country in particular has been allowed to pose as “do-gooders” and liberators of the oppressed on oil rich foreign soil but they were unable or unwilling to give Troy Davis,their own citizen the just hearing he deserved.
His father who died a heartbroken man, 12 weeks after his son’s conviction served his country in the Vietnam war and then as a sheriff for a number of years.
His mother worked in a hospital, his sister served the military and he too had intended to serve his country by joining the Marine Corps.
For all that this family had given and intended to give to America surely they deserved better in the so- called “land of the free”. In 2006 Sean Bell was shot dead the day before his wedding by police officers who claimed that they had heard him say he was going to get a gun. No officers were convicted despite the fact that they fired 50 times at an unarmed young man and his two friends.
This year 22 year old Casey Anthony received a mere four year sentence after driving around with the body of her deceased two year old daughter, Caylee in the boot for an entire month. The Prosecution were deemed not have had enough proof to convict her of murder and yet Troy Davis was sentenced to death.
It also reflected badly on Hip-Hop artists, as many noted that the likes of Jay-Z, Lil Wayne and even Georgia natives Ludacris and Young Jeezy remained silent on the matter while Kim Kardashian spoke out.
Rather than utilising their twitter accounts to spread the word and raise awareness as Russell Simmons, OutKast member Big Boi and a few others had done, the genre’s biggest stars continued to use the social network to promote their music and make trivial comments. The days when Hip-Hop was the voice of people seem to be long gone.
Nonetheless the unity and solidarity shown by Troy’s family and supporters across the globe was a sign that while the American Government may be devoid of any moral fibre, humanity and compassion can still be found among the masses of the people.
Perhaps this case will inspire people to rise up against the constant injustice and start actively working to bring about real changes. It’s one thing to complain but unless we unite the sickening injustices that are carried out in our names will continue.
The following is an excerpt from Troy Davis’s letter to supporters which was released the day before his execution;
I am in a place where execution can only destroy your physical form but because of my faith in God, my family and all of you I have been spiritually free for some time and 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 Davis’.
This fight to end the death penalty is not won or lost through me but through our strength to move forward and save every innocent person in captivity around the globe. We need to dismantle this unjust system city by city, state by state and country by country.
I can’t wait to Stand with you, no matter if that is in physical or spiritual form, I will one day be announcing, I AM TROY DAVIS, and I AM FREE!”
Never Stop Fighting for Justice and We will Win!