A Travesty of Justice: The execution of Troy Davis
On September 21, 2011, the whole world watched in horror as Georgia executed Troy Davis, an innocent man. In a movement spearheaded by Troy's family, people poured into the streets demanding that his execution be stopped.
The execution of Troy Davis exposed the brutality of the system and inspired a new generation of people to fight against it. Read below the details of his case, how people stood against this legal lynching, and where we go from here.
Troy was sentenced to death in 1991 despite fact that no physical evidence linked him to the crime, and no murder weapon was ever found. There was frenzy among police to find the person who had killed one of their own—25 officers were assigned to the case. The media sensationalized the case of a 27-year-old white father shot in the line of duty, apparently by an African American man. One reporter said, “There is a desire among the police to have the suspect locked away before MacPhail is buried.”
Initially a suspect himself, a man named Sylvester Coles went to the police to say that Troy Davis was the killer, focusing attention on Troy. Curiously, Coles admits he was carrying a .38 caliber gun half an hour before Officer MacPhail was shot—the same caliber that was used in the killing. Troy admits that he was at the scene before MacPhail was shot, but that he had stepped in to help a homeless man who was being pistol-whipped by Coles.
The basis of Troy’s conviction was the testimony of nine witnesses. Among the seven witnesses who have recanted their testimony in sworn affidavits, several say they felt pressure from the police to identify Troy as the shooter. Knowing they could face perjury charges for their statements, they nevertheless have come forward to tell their story—but the courts will not allow this new evidence to be heard by a jury. Sylvester Coles is one of the two original witness who has not recanted his testimony.
Here are what two of the witnesses had to say:
Jeffrey Sapp: “The police came and talked to me and put a lot of pressure on me…They wanted me to tell them that Troy confessed to me about killing
Darrell Collins: “The police were telling me that I was an accessory to murder, and that I would…go to jail for a long time, and I would be lucky if I ever got out, especially because a police officer got killed…I was only 16 and was so scared of going to jail.
WHAT HAPPENED IN THE COURTS?
In June of 2010, Troy was granted an evidentiary mandated by the Supreme Court. This was encouraging because the Supreme Court rarely makes these kinds of rulings. Activists had some hope that with the truth finally able to come out, Troy could win a new trial. At the hearing witnesses that had once testified against Troy recanted their previous testimony, explaining how they were pressured and threatened by police. A brand new witness also testified that he knew Troy didn’t do it because he saw who did.
But with all this evidence, Judge Moore was not convinced. He wrote that if a jury were to hear the evidence presented, they would still convict Troy. That is complete nonsense, but that is how the system works. The judge gets to decide what a jury would think of the new evidence, and while he admitted that the case against Troy was not ironclad, he still denied his appeal.
In March of 2011, the Supreme Court upheld Judge Moore’s ruling, clearing the way for an exeution date to be set. They gave no explanation as to why they ruled against Troy.
On September 7, 2011, Georgia set an execution date for Troy. It was the fourth time he had faced a date.
WHO LED THE FIGHT FOR TROY ?
Troy and his family fought for over 20 years for his freedom. If it wasn't for their activism, along with thousands of others, Troy would have been executed long ago.
“As I face this state-sanctioned terror, I realize one constant—my faith is unwavering, the love of my family and friends is massive, and the fight for justice and against injustice by activists worldwide has ignited a fire that is raging for human rights and human dignity,” Troy wrote.
The fight for Troy's life was led by Troy’s sister, Martina Correia, even though she herself was battling life-threatening breast cancer. After Troy's execution, Martina said, "I want people to know that we didn't fail. As long as we keep hammering away at this thing, as long as we refuse to give up, we haven't failed. We'll be doing what Troy would have wanted us to do. Our efforts made an impact and will continue to make an impact."
Martina lost her battle with cancer soon after Troy was executed.
WHAT WAS DONE TO SAVE TROY DAVIS?
Many groups supported Troy, including Amnesty International, ACLU, NAACP, Campaign to End the Death Penalty, and various civil rights, religious organizations, and labor groups. Well-known individuals such as Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, singer Harry Belafonte, actress Susan Sarandon, Congressman John Lewis, and author and activist Angela Davis, to name a few—voiced their support for Troy.
All across the country, people spread the word about Troy's case, collected signatures on petitions, held rallies to protest his execution, and vowed to continue the fight to abolish the racist death penalty.
WHAT DO WE DO NOW?
Troy's murder showed us that we can’t rely on the courts or politicians to do the right thing. We need a vocal and visible presence that challenges the powers that be.
In his last note to supporters, Troy wrote, "There are so many Troy Davises. This fight to end the death penalty is not won or loss through me, but through our strength to move forward and save every innocent person in captivity around the globe. We need to dismantly this unjust system city by city, state by state, and country by country."
Troy's legacy lives on and the fight for abolition continues. The execution of Troy Davis was a turning point for the anti-death penalty movement. Now there is only one direction to go--towards abolition!
WE ARE ALL TROY DAVIS!