In Georgia, a man named Troy Davis sits on Death Row despite unassailable evidence pointing to his innocence. It is the most compelling case of innocence in decades.
Davis was convicted in 1991 of the murder of Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail despite the fact that no physical evidence exists linking Davis to the crime and no murder weapons were ever found. Since Davis’ trial, seven of nine eyewitnesses have recanted or contradicted their testimony yet the courts have refused to allow an evidentiary hearing that would examine the evidence.
Tomorrow the Supreme Court will decide whether to review his original writ of habeas corpus, a motion they have not granted since 1925. I hope the court will do the right thing. If it refuses to hear the writ, then the countdown to Troy’s death will begin within days. What kind of civilized nation considers innocence irrelevant when a man is about to be killed?
The travesty of Troy’s conviction takes place in Chatham County, a jurisdiction with large plantation-era homes for the wealthy and a justice system tainted with the legacy of the antebellum south. It is one of 159 counties in Georgia, home to only 250,000 of Georgia’s nearly 9.7 million residents, yet it has produced 1/3 of Georgia’s exonerations and 40 percent of its death row exonerations.
The Georgia Department of Corrections has prohibited all television media from speaking to Davis. 60 Minutes, Dateline NBC, and the Associated Press have requested and been denied the right to speak with Troy. Despite the attempts to silence his voice, the egregiousness of Troy’s case has caused even proponents of the death penalty to speak out. Former FBI Director Williams Sessions and Conservative Congressman Bob Barr have joined with former President Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI and Bishop Desmond Tutu to call for a new trial.
I met with Troy a few weeks ago. I watched the eyes of the guards who are clearly touched by Troy’s plight. The stony masks that guards are supposed to wear cracked as Troy told his story. I met a woman in the parking lot who said her next door neighbor, a former guard, quit rather than have to oversee Troy’s march to the death chamber.
I was moved talking with his sister, diagnosed with breast cancer and given months to live in 2001. I had a chance to hug her son – who I had met almost a decade ago as a NAACP youth member – who visits Troy once a week and looks to him as a mentor. For 18 years Troy’s sister Martina has tirelessly fought for her brother’s exoneration in what was once a lonely fight in a hostile town. Much of the town is still hostile.
This week hundreds of Savannah residents – pastors and parishioners, young and old — joined me as we called for the newly elected African American district attorney Larry Chisolm to reopen the case. But so far he has refused to do so. And much of the town are joining the Fraternal Order of Police in painting the case as black vs. white calling the NAACP “reverse racists” because of our passionate opposition to executing a man who was wrongfully convinced and likely innocent.
I, like so many in NAACP, Amnesty International and other organizations cannot rest easy when a man is being condemned to die simply because he was poor with inadequate counsel, and African American in a system that does not acknowledge his humanity because of his race.
It is ironic that some would prefer to leave the real killer loose in an emotional embrace of revenge. Yet Officer MacPhail’s family deserves to have the real murderer caught and punished. The community deserves to not have a killer on the streets.
If the Supreme Court fails in protecting the innocent, then we must intensify our appeals to the DA and to the governor to right the wrong.
Join us at IAMTROY.com. I appeal to you to lend your voice to ours in a clarion call for justice.