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Finality before Justice – Execution Date

for Troy Davis set for October 27th


Annette Schiffman, TFF Board member

October 21, 2008

Amnesty International calls for urgent action NOW

The US Supreme Court, without any explanation and in a one-sentence declaration on October 14, has refused Georgia death row inmate Troy Anthony Davis a hearing, declining to enter a contentious debate as to whether the condemned inmate was the real killer of a Savannah police officer in 1989 – and thus ultimately denying him the chance to prove his innocence which he has claimed all along in a new trial.

The Georgia officials set the execution date just one day later: on October 27th, 7pm local time, four wardens will fix Troy Davis to the stretcher, the prison priest will solemnly issue God’s blessing, and a trained physician, despite having sworn a binding oath to protect all life, will insert the injection needle into the prisoner’s arm, thus taking care that nothing goes wrong in the computer-directed procedure of fuelling into him the poison that will paralyze and finally suffocate him.

19 years in prison, 17 of which were spent in a tiny death row cell in solitary confinement, right through into his 40th year, and following two execution dates within the last 15 months, Troy Davis will die a bureaucratically executed and premeditated death.

“It is disgraceful that the highest court in the land could sink so low when doubts surrounding Davis’ guilt are so high,“ was the unusually harsh reaction by Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International. “Faulty eyewitness identification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions and the hallmark of Davis’ case.”

Davis’ mother Virginia was outraged with sadness and fury: “The real killer is walking around Savannah, bragging about what he’s done, and everybody knows it!”

The man she is referring to is Sylvester „Red“ Cole who was part of the crew that was involved in the shooting in the yard of a Savannah, Georgia, billiard hall in that ended with the killing of police officer Marc MacPhail – a young father of two. Troy Davis and Darrell Collins, who was only 16 years old at the time,  were there with Cole – yet it was Davis who was sentenced to death for the murder of MacPhail two years later – on the sole grounds of eyewitness testimonies.

Seven of the nine witnesses against Davis recanted later. One of them was Darrel Collins. “I told them that ... I didn't see Troy do nothing. They got real mad when I said this and started getting in my face. They were telling me that I was an accessory to murder and that I would pay like Troy was gonna pay if I didn't tell them what they wanted to hear. They told me … I would be lucky if I ever got out, especially because a police officer got killed. … After a couple of hours of the detectives yelling at me and threatening me, I finally broke down and told them what they wanted to hear. … I am not proud for lying at Troy's trial, but the police had me so messed up that I felt that's all I could do or else I would go to jail.”

One of the two who did not recant was Sylvester Cole - the person the defense and some of the witnesses deem to be the real perpetrator and who went free in 1989  - in exchange for his testimony.

Convictions based on eyewitness testimony are highly controversial – not only among experts, but increasingly among the American public. 130  people had to be exonerated from America’s death rows because they were finally proven innocent - and 103 of them had been sentenced to death on false eyewitness testimony.

Savannah District Attorney Spencer Lawton, however,  accused Davis’ supporters of manipulating the legal process: “While an 80 percent recantation rate may seem to some as overwhelmingly persuasive, to others of us it invites a suggestion of manipulation, making it very difficult to believe. The victim’s family has suffered long enough – at some point this has to come to an end.”

Troy Davis’ Case has drawn huge international attention over the years. As with so many cases involving the death penalty – like Mumia Abu-Jamal, Kenneth Foster, Frances Newton, Kevin Cooper and many more – the issue of possible innocence continues to provoke strong reactions in a growing number of people not only worldwide, but also in the United States where public support for capital punishment is currently at a long-time low.

Celebrities like Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict and Harry Belafonte have intervened; and Amnesty International as well as the US-based Center to End the Death Penalty, Troy Davis’ family, support groups for Mumia Abu-Jamal and many other independent anti-death-penalty groups worldwide have launched a huge campagin to save Troy Davis’ life, collecting more than 250,000 signatures during the last three months alone.

They have been successful. The State Board of Pardons and Paroles stopped the first execution the day before Davis was to die by lethal injection on July 17, 2007. The US Supreme Court stopped Davis’ second execution only two hours before he was to die on September 23 in order that the justices could decide if they would hear Davis’ case - which they refused to do this Tuesday, 14 October.

In 2008, the Georgia Supreme Court and the Pardons and Paroles Board dealt Davis two serious blows. In a 4-3 ruling, the state Supreme Court decided not to allow the recanted testimony to be considered. The decision, which basically came down to a legal technicality, stated that unless the original testimony was "the purest fabrication," the recantations weren't admissible.

Chief Justice Leah Sears, writing for the dissent, was extremely dismayed at the ruling. "I believe that this case illustrates that this Court's approach ... is overly rigid and fails to allow an adequate inquiry into the fundamental question, which is whether or not an innocent person might have been convicted or even, as in this case, might be put to death."
Since 1976 the state of Georgia alone has exectuted 42 people. During that time, 5 men have had to be exonerated from death row – proven innocent. Which is every 8th person. The overall average for the United States in this macabre computing is a little lower – given 1119 executions since 1976 it is „only“ every 9th person.

"It is unconstitutional to execute an innocent person“, Davis’ lawyer Jason Ewart said, "evidence will never be heard, and it’s a good chance an innocent man might perish for the sake of finality over fairness.”

All national and many regional newspapers in the United States keep reporting and commenting on Davis’ sentence, and many of them sound heavy-hearted or even stunned.

Leonard Pitts, commentator for the rather moderate Miami Herald writes:  „Not that you need a study to prove the unreliability of eyewitnesses. Just try to remember and describe the woman who cut you off in traffic this morning or the UPS guy who made a delivery to your home. Now imagine doing it with someone dead and your blood pounding and police demanding answers.

Yet on this flimsy basis we make decisions about someone’s life or death?
That’s ridiculous and obscene. And it is evidence of moral cowardice - that we countenance the ridiculous and the  obscene so complacently and complaisantly, never daring to look too closely at what is happening here because if  we look we might accidentally “see,” and then, by God, we might be compelled to act, to admit that capital  punishment is incompatible with justice.“


Annette Schiffmann, TFF Board member

My Page at the Peace and Collective Development Network

Right for the moment Troy Davis’ case is the most important one for all who are opposed to capital punishment and who feel the US-American justice system is frequently failing its original idea of fairness and equal rights for everyone by sentencing poor and colored men in overwhelming proportions to – by European standards - incredibly harsh times in prison.

A huge and steadily increasing mass movement around the globe has saved the lives of many death row inmates so far – and it helped spare Troy Davis’ life through two set execution dates. This one is the third – and it may well be the last. Which means that apart from the fundamental inacceptability of legalized killing by any state the monstrosity of an innocent person being executed would take place one more time.

So please take action! There are different possibilities:

  1. Go to the website of Amnesty International USA and write one of the suggested letters here

  2. Call or send a fax to the Board of Pardons and Paroles:
    Chairman Gale Buckner
    State Board of Pardons and Paroles
    2 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, SE
    Suite 458, Balcony Level, East Tower
    Atlanta, Georgia 30334-4909
    Phone: 001-404-657-9350
    Fax: 001-404-651-6670 and 001-404-651-8502

  3. Call or send a fax to the Attorney General:
    Thurbert E. Baker
    Office of the Attorney General
    40 Capitol Square, SW
    Atlanta, Ga 30334
    Phone: 001-404-656-3300
    Fax: 001-404-657-8733

  4. Watch out for actions in your town or city – International Action Day for Troy Davis: October 23rd

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