Friday, March 19, 2010

Meet Troy Davis: Georgia Death Row, Part One

Almost 34 years ago, July 2, 1976, the Gregg v. Georgia ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty and marked the beginning of the modern period of capital punishment.

Four years earlier, the Supreme Court's decision, in Furman v. Georgia, forced states and the national legislature to rethink their statutes for capital offenses to assure that the death penalty would not be administered in a capricious or discriminatory manner and that all existing death penalty statutes were unconstitutional. The justices found that the prevailing pattern of arbitrary imposition of the death penalty could no longer be tolerated. In the words of Justice Potter Stewart, "These death sentences are cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual" - - they are capriciously, freakishly, and wantonly imposed. The Supreme Court commuted the sentences of all 629 people on death row.

For every six people executed in Georgia since 1973, one has been exonerated. Misconduct by police and prosecutors played a major role in Georgia’s death row exoneration cases. And like most of those on death row today, many of Georgia’s wrongfully convicted could not afford a private attorney. Georgia does not guarantee counsel in the appeals process – even if the inmate has new evidence of innocence.

One of the most recognizable faces in the fight to make sure those wrongly convicted do not die at the hands of the state is that of Georgia's death row inmate, Troy Anthony Davis.

Davis, 38, of Savannah, has faced execution and the death chamber three times in his 18 years on Georgia's death row for the 1989 slaying of off-duty Savannah police officer Mark Allen MacPhail.

Since Davis' conviction, the evidence against him has fallen apart. No physical evidence; no murder weapon; seven of the nine witnesses have recanted or contradicted their testimony, many alleging police coercion. Of the two eyewitnesses who stuck to their stories, Sylvester "Redd” Coles was himself considered a suspect in the killing. The other initially told police he could not identify the shooter.

After prolonged appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court, on Aug. 17, instructed a federal court in Georgia to consider, for the first time in a formal court proceeding, significant evidence of Davis' innocence that surfaced after his conviction. This is the first such order from the U.S. Supreme Court in almost 50 years. The Supreme Court has never ruled on whether it is unconstitutional to execute an innocent person.

Where is the Justice for me?
A plea from Troy Davis

Where is the Justice for me? In 1989 I surrendered myself to the police for crimes I knew I was innocent of in an effort to seek justice through the court system in Savannah, Georgia USA. But like so many death penalty cases, that was not my fate and I have been denied justice. During my imprisonment I have lost more than my freedom, I lost my father and my family has suffered terribly, many times being treated as less than human and even as criminals. In the past I have had lawyers who refused my input, and would not represent me in the manner that I wanted to be represented. I have had witnesses against me threatened into making false statements to seal my death sentence and witnesses who wanted to tell the truth were vilified in court.

For the entire two years I was in jail awaiting trial I wore a handmade cross around my neck, it gave me peace and when a news reporter made a statement in the local news, “Cop-killer wears cross to court,” the cross was immediately taken as if I was unworthy to believe in God or him in me. The only time my family was allowed to enter the courtroom on my behalf was during the sentencing phase where my mother and sister had to beg for my life and the prosecutor simply said, “I was only fit for killing.” Where is the Justice for me, when the courts have refused to allow me relief when multiple witnesses have recanted their testimonies that they lied against me?

Because of the Anti-Terrorism Bill, the blatant racism and bias in the U.S. Court System, I remain on death row in spite of a compelling case of my innocence. Finally I have a private law firm trying to help save my life in the court system, but it is like no one wants to admit the system made another grave mistake. Am I to be made an example of to save face? Does anyone care about my family who has been victimized by this death sentence for over 16 years? Does anyone care that my family has the fate of knowing the time and manner by which I may be killed by the state of Georgia?

I truly understand a life has been lost and I have prayed for that family just as I pray for mine, but I am Innocent and all I ask for is a True Day in a Just Court. If I am so guilty why do the courts deny me that? The truth is that they have no real case; the truth is I am Innocent.

Where is the Justice for me?

By Troy A. Davis

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