The NAACP on Wednesday announced its next steps in the civil rights organization’s drive to stop the execution of Troy Davis, a Georgia man sentenced to death for the 1989 killing of a police officer, Mark MacPhail.
In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court order the trial court to re-hear the case, after seven of the nine original witnesses who testified against Davis recounted their stories. The conviction was upheld last August.
“This is a case of the utmost importance,” said NAACP president Benjamin Todd Jealous during a conference call with African-American media on Wednesday. “In the absence of any physical evidence, the prosecution put forward nine voices, seven of whom who have recanted their stories.”
“Troy Davis was put on death row because nine so-called eyewitnesses, seven of those we now know lied, and three of those [who have] said they were coerced by the cops. Others said they were afraid of the actual killer, who many say is a man named Sylvester Cole,” Jealous said.
Jealous said the case has “lingered on death row for more than two decades because this case stinks.”
He said the Supreme Court hadn’t granted a new hearing in a death penalty case in which a defendant had exhausted his appeals, as the court did in the Davis case in 2009, in more than 50 years.
But he added that the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia made it nearly impossible for Davis’ conviction to be overturned by requiring that Davis prove his innocence, rather than forcing prosecutors to prove his guilt.
“The [appeals court] judge said the case against Troy was far from ironclad, but unfortunately, his lawyers did not meet the extreme bar that the court set for him,” Jealous said. “When you start with a presumption of guilt it’s a much higher bar than a presumption of innocence. But if a federal judge says the case against [Davis] is not ironclad, that should be weighing on the minds of the [Georgia] State Board of Pardons and Paroles. They said previously they would not execute someone if there is any doubt.”
Davis has drawn international support in his quest for clemency, including from former Georgia Republican Congressman Bobb Barr, the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, the pastor of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s former church in Atlanta, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Georgia Congressman Hank Johnson and more than 50 members of Congress, Harvard professor Charles Ogletree, former President Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, and Pope Benedict XVI.
“This case is getting appropriate attention given the extreme level of injustice,” Jealous said. “We’re just hoping that the board of pardons will do the right thing.”Jealous wouldn’t disclose details of the NAACP’s strategy for convincing at least three of the five members of the parole board to change their mind and stop next Wednesday’s execution.
“Suffice it to say we are very focused on making sure board of pardons and paroles hears from a wide range of people…so they understand the importance of the issue and the glaring reasons why they should commute the sentence.”
But Jealous said that if the international efforts fail, the NAACP does not plan to let the Davis matter go away.
“If the board of pardons and parole does the wrong thing here; if they choose to execute Troy Davis for a crime that he is innocent of… we will make sure the world knows his name, [and] that people don’t forget this case.”
The NAACP will deliver more than 60,000 signatures it has gathered on an online petition demanding justice for Davis to the board of pardons on Friday, the same day the civil rights organization plans to hold the first of three public prayer vigils for Davis.
As for whether they can influence the parole board, Jealous said “we’re fighting hard for each vote. We are prayerful that many of the people on this board will have the courage to do the right thing but it’s going to be a nail biter right down to the last minute.”
But he pointed out that Chatham County, where Davis was convicted, is one of 159 counties in Georgia, but has been home to three of the last ten prisoner exonerations, all of which have been black men.
Jealous also spoke of his personal interactions with Davis, and of Davis’ frustration at not being able to tell his story to the public on his own terms.
“I sat with Troy a couple of weeks ago at death row in Jackson, Georgia,” Jealous said. “We spent over an hour and a half together talking. He talked about his frustration with the Department of Corrections consistently refusing to let him talk to the media himself. He talked about how frustrated he was that he is still in this situation 22 years later telling the same story of innocence over and over again. And he talked about his fear about being in the situation that he’s in right now, in a cell on death watch, therefore having all his books and papers taken away from him, all of his clothes except for his underwear and socks [taken away,] being forced to write only with the cartridge of a ball point pen… fearing death at a date and time certain.”
Jealous said Davis’ last stay of execution occurred just 45 minutes before the scheduled execution. “He’d already eaten his last meal,” Jealous said.
And he said Davis has suffered crushing losses while behind bars.
“His mother, who stood by him for over two decades, died last spring,” Jealous said. “His sister, who has been his champion, her cancer has returned with a vengeance, [and has been] in and out of hospital. His nephew, who is nearly 18 years old, has spent nearly every weekend of his life going to visit his uncle on death row, who is more of a surrogate father than an uncle. This young man stands to lose his mother, his uncle and his surrogate father all in one year.”
The NAACP is asking people to blog, write and publicize the Davis story on their websites and radio shows.
And an NAACP spokeswoman, Erika Laws, said during the media call that while the organization sympathizes with the family of the slain officer, “killing this man is wrong.”
The NAACP will host a prayer service for Davis on Friday at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta at 7 p.m., followed by a “unity service in Savannah, GA on Saturday at St. Philips Monumental Church.
On Monday morning, the organization will form a prayer circle near the site of the clemency hearing, starting at 7:30 a.m.