‘I Am Troy Davis’: New book humanizes death penalty icon

theGRIO REVIEW - Troy Davis became a symbol for supporters working to abolish America's death penalty, and 'I Am Troy Davis' humanizes that symbol, showcasing the unyielding love of the Davis family...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

The late Troy Davis has long been a symbol for activists working to abolish America’s death penalty, and the new book I Am Troy Davis puts a human face on that symbol, with particular emphasis on the unyielding love of his family.

Davis was charged with murder in the August 19, 1989 shooting death of Officer Mark MacPhail in Savannah, Georgia. Two years later Davis was found guilty and sentenced to death. A lengthy legal battle to prove his innocence ensued, which alleged police intimidation of witnesses to the crime and lack of evidence tying Davis to the shooting.

After Davis’ sentencing numerous witnesses stepped forward to recant their original statements naming Davis as the shooter. Witness testimonies and recantations are clearly laid out in I Am Troy Davis.

Davis’ fight to prove his innocence came to an end on September 21, 2011 when he was executed by the state of Georgia, but his family continues to work to abolish the death penalty.

Author Jen Marlowe wrote I Am Troy Davis with the close help of Davis’ sister, the late Martina Davis-Correia. Although its written in a non-linear style, the book includes a glossary of all the people and events mentioned, so the timeline is easy to follow.

This book tells the harrowing story of Davis-Correia’s impassioned fight to prove her brother’s innocence and save his life, while she was battling cancer. The love between, what Davis-Correia called “twin-souls”, is nearly impossible to convey, but this book effectively captures the undeniable bond between this brother and sister.

Strength of character

The backstory of the Davis family is a key component to I Am Troy Davis. Marlowe illustrates, through the use of personal family stories, the positive effects Davis had on his family and community.

Davis played a major role in the lives of his younger siblings after their father left. He selflessly withdrew from high school so that he could care for his younger sister Kimberly when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Known throughout his community as level-headed, Davis was often called to be the mediator when a fight between neighborhood kids broke out.

A good character and reputation were, according to the narrative, what he valued most.

The legal side

I Am Troy Davis explains the arduous legal process Davis, his family and lawyers faced in a way in which readers who are not incredibly familiar with the justice system can understand.

The appeals process for the state of Georgia and the U.S. Supreme Court is lengthy, and over the more than two decade Davis was behind bars his supporters went through it time and again.

It is heartbreaking to read about the lack of effort put forth by Savannah police to find other suspects after one person came forward and accused Davis of being responsible for the shooting death of MacPhail.

And it is unbelievable how difficult it is to attain an evidentiary hearing as a death row inmate, and how low the odds are of winning on by proving complete innocence.

Continuing the fight

I Am Troy Davis demonstrates compassion for the MacPhail family, however it most likely will appeal only to those who are already predisposed to believing Davis’ version of the events.

Meanwhile, a hero does emerge of this story: De’Juan Davis-Correia, Martina’s son and Troy’s nephew. Born on June 22, 1994, De’Juan grew up in the shadow of the capital punishment debate.

At the age of 13, De’Juan’s social science project for middle school, How Does the Troy Anthony Davis Case Impact Georgia?, won Georgia’s statewide competition for his age group.  Around the same time he started speaking to large audiences about his uncle’s case.

De’Juan played a key role in garnering support for their cause, stepping into a leadership position for the Davis family when his mother fell ill.  The teen has been a consistent activist working with the NAACP and Amnesty International.

De’Juan currently attends Morehouse College in Atlanta and keeps his family’s crusade alive today.

Follow Carrie Healey on Twitter @CarrieHeals