[Ppnews] Dispatch from Death Row: Saving Troy Davis With a Familys Love
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Jun 1 10:31:35 EDT 2011
Dispatch from Death Row: Saving Troy Davis With a Familys Love
by <http://colorlines.com/archives/author/jen-marlowe>Jen Marlowe
Wednesday, June 1 2011, 9:00 AM EST
DeJaun, come over here, I want to talk to you.
DeJaun Correia, a slender 13-year-old with thick
corn-rows in his hair, sat down next to his uncle
Troy Davis in the corner of the room. Troy
described to DeJaun what to expect now that he
was approaching adolescence. Your bodys gonna
. Women, they go through things, and
us guys, we go through things, too. The same
thing happened to me when I was a young boy growing up.
DeJaun listened intently as his uncle explained
the birds and the bees. It wasnt the first time
DeJaun and Troy had had an intimate one on one.
DeJaun was more comfortable talking to his
uncle, a sturdily built man with warm brown eyes, than anyone else.
Martina Davis-Correia, DeJauns mother and
Troys older sister, encouraged the close
relationship that Troy had with her son. Troy
helped Martina chastise DeJaun if he got in
trouble at school. You dont go to school to
talk in class, you go to school to learn! Troy
would scold the boy. And then, once he felt sure
that DeJaun got the message, Troy grew gentle.
Now come here, and give me a hug. Nephew and uncle embraced.
He gets his discipline [from Troy], Martina
said. But then he gets his love to back it up.
Those uncle-and-nephew exchanges could be deemed
ordinary, if not for their setting. The
interactions took place in a narrow concrete room
with locks and bars on its only door in the
Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison,
where Troy Davis is a prisoner on death row. When
DeJuan was still little, death-row inmates and
their visitors could be in the visiting room
together; contact visits were taken away a year
and a half ago. Now, DeJaun receives his uncles
counsel through phones mounted on either side of a plexiglass window.
Davis, is on death row for the 1989 murder of
white Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail. On
Aug. 19, MacPhail was gunned down while rushing
to the rescue of a homeless man being
pistol-whipped in the parking lot of a Greyhound
bus station. The day after the murder, a man
named Sylvester Red Coles told the police that
Troy Davis was the shooter. Davis was arrested
and was convicted in 1991, primarily on the basis of eye-witness testimony.
There is no physical evidence linking Davis to
the crime. The murder weapon was never recovered.
Yet, Davis was sentenced to death. He has
remained on death row for 20 years, despite the
fact that the case against him has completely
unraveled. He now awaits an execution date, which
could be set any moment, having had his final
appeal rejected by the Supreme Court.
Major human rights and civil liberty groups,
International, and the ACLU, have taken up
Daviss case, and individuals ranging from
President Jimmy Carter to Archbishop Desmond Tutu
have spoken up on his behalf.
Daviss case has become an emblem for much of
what is problematic about a capital punishment
system that is riddled with racism, economic
disparity and error. Public capital defenders do
not have the resources to properly investigate or
litigate their overburdened case loads. Those
with the means to hire decent legal
representation are unlikely to end up on death
row. Over 130 death row inmates have been
exonerated since 1973, demonstrating just how
many innocent people are convicted and sentenced to death.
Meanwhile, theres considerable evidence of a
racial imbalance in who the government decides to
kill. According to a 2001 study from the
University of North Carolina, a defendant whose
victim was white was 3.5 times as likely to
receive the death penalty in North Carolina than
if the victim were non-white. A 2005 study in
California found the defendant of a white victim
three times as likely to be penalized by death.
Growing realizations of these problems have led
more and more states to question their death
penalty policies. Earlier this year, Illinois
became the 16th state to abolish capital punishment.
Even pro-death penalty advocates, such as former
FBI director and federal judge William Sessions
and former Republican Congressman from Georgia
Bob Barr, have spoken out against executing
Davis, citing crucial unanswered questions
(Sessions) and a lack of the requisite fairness
and accuracy required to apply the death penalty (Barr).
The crucial, unanswered questions include the
fact that seven of the nine non-police witnesses
later recanted or changed their testimonies, many
stating that police coercion and intimidation led
to their initial implication of Davis.
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,
witness Darrell Collins wrote in an affidavit in
2002. Collins was 16 years old the night of the
murder, and had been interrogated by the police
for hours without his parents present. They
would tell me things that they said had happened
and I would repeat whatever they said.
New witnesses have come forth identifying Coles
himself as the shooter. I saw Sylvester ColesI
know him by the name Redshoot the police
officer. I am positive it was Red who shot the
police officer, Joseph Washington wrote in a 1996 affidavit.
Ballistics were used at trial to attempt to
connect Davis to an earlier non-fatal shooting.
However, that victim later denied that Davis shot
him and a later report by the Georgia Bureau of
Investigation stated that there was no conclusive
evidence to link the shell casings at the crime scenes.
For years, Davis tried to get his possibly
exculpatory evidence heard in a court of law.
Appeal after appeal was denied on procedural
grounds, in closely divided rulings. Finally, in
August 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a highly
unusual move, ordered an evidentiary hearing for
Davis. The hearing took place in June 2010 in a
Georgia federal courtroom. But the burden of
proof was on Davis. Rather than presumed
innocent, as Davis would be were he granted a
re-trial, the Supreme Court ordered Davis to clearly establish innocence.
There was no physical evidence, so DNA testing
could not assist Davis. Four witnesses took the
stand to recant their 1991 testimony against
Davis. Though their original testimony had been
determined credible enough to place Davis on
death row, the state now vehemently attacked the
witnesses credibility. New testimony from
witnesses who stated that they saw Coles pull the
trigger, or that Coles confessed to them, was
treated as hearsay. Presiding Judge William Moore
determined that Davis did not meet the extremely
high standard of clearly establishing
innocence, though even Moore admitted in his
ruling that the hearing did cast some additional
doubt as to Daviss guilt and that the case was
not ironclad. Daviss conviction, and death sentence, remain.
On March 28, 2011, the Supreme Court denied
Daviss final appeal, clearing the way for the
state of Georgia to set a fourth execution date in as many years.
Truths Children Can See
DeJaun remembers the first execution date
vividly. It was July 17, 2007. He was 13 years
old. We went to go see him, and he wasnt really
worrying about himself. He was mostly worried
about his family. About us. I was looking at my
grandmother. She was praying, praying, praying.
It was a lot of people constantly praying, constantly praying.
Troy gave each family member a duty. With what
did he task his young nephew? He told me, just
continue to do good in school, do whats right,
pick the right friends, watch over the family,
and just respect the family. Respect my mom, my
grandmother, my aunties. Do what you love and have a good profession.
The execution was stayed less than 24 hours
before it was to be carried out. The following
year, Davis came within 90 minutes of lethal injection.
In addition to dealing with his uncle facing
execution, and while carrying a full load of
advanced placement classes in his high-schools
International Baccalaureate program, DeJaun
lives with the stress of his mother being
critically ill. Martina has been battling
stage-four breast cancer since DeJaun was 6
years old. Her original diagnosis was six months
or less. That was 10 years ago, and Martina, who
is far tougher than her willowy frame might suggest, is still fighting.
DeJaun has always turned to his Uncle Troy
during hard times. Martina first brought DeJaun
to death row to meet his uncle when he was six weeks old.
You would think I gave [Troy] a gold bar,
Martina recounted. Troy was scared to hold him.
I literally had to just put DeJaun in his arms
and walk away. And he was like, But hes so
little. Come, get him, get him, get him. And I
was like, No, you get him. You hold him.
Martina smiled at the memory. It was just such a
magical moment, because it was like I was giving my brother this gift.
As a tiny boy, DeJaun didnt understand that his
uncle was incarcerated, much less slated for
death. DeJaun told me, When the family was
getting ready to leave after a visit, Id say,
Come on, Troy, lets go, lets go! But he
couldnt go with us, and my mom would say, Hes
in school. He cant come. One day, hell come home with us.
As DeJaun grew older, Martina explained to him
that his uncle was in prison. But she had not yet
told him that Georgia planned to kill him. When
DeJaun was 12 years old, it became clear to
Martina that her son understood far more than she had realized.
Their dog, Egypt, had gotten out of the yard and
had been hit by a car. Martina and DeJaun
immediately brought Egypt to a vet who told them
that the dogs leg was broken in three places and
would need extensive surgery to be repaired. If
Egypt did not have the surgery, she would have to
be put to sleep. The cost of the surgery, the vet
told Martina, was upwards of $10,000.
As Martina drove DeJuan home, she wondered how
in the world would she come up with $10,000.
Putting Egypt down might be the only realistic possibility.
In the silence of the ride, DeJaun turned to his
mother. Mom, are you going put my dog to sleep
like theyre trying to put my Uncle Troy to sleep?
I looked at my son, and he was looking at me
had to swallow this giant lump in my throat to
hold back the tears, Martina recounted. I
didnt know that he related the two things. That
he knew they were trying to kill his Uncle Troy.
And he knew about which method that they wanted
to [use to] kill him. At that point, I decided
[even] if I had to pawn my car, I wasnt going to
be able to put my dog to sleep.
Killing Troy Davis
DeJauns realization that the state of Georgia
wants to kill his uncle using methods similar to
putting an animal to sleep has added relevance
today. Georgia traditionally used a three-drug
cocktail in its lethal injections. One of the
drugs, sodium thiopental, anesthetized the
victim. But the only domestic manufacturer of
sodium thiopental, Hospira, discontinued its
production of the drug last year, which sent
states scrambling to obtain a stockpile.
Georgia acquired a stash of the drug from Dream
Pharma, a shady British company that operates
from the back of a London driving school. Georgia
imported the drug without declaring it with the
Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), which is a
violation of federal regulations. So in March,
the DEA confiscated Georgias supply of sodium
thiopental, temporarily placing the brakes on the
states ability to implement death sentences.
On May 20, however, Georgia announced that it
would substitute sodium thiopental with
pentobarbital, opening the way to execute once
more. As DeJaun suggested, pentobarbital is,
indeed, what is used to euthenize animals.
Troys execution will likely be the first to be
scheduled under this new procedure, though there
may be some grace time. The Chatham County
District Attorneys office said it would not
immediately seek a warrant for Daviss execution,
presumably out of compassion for the fact that
Virginia Davis, Troys mother, passed away on
April 12. The Davis family matriarch, who had
just received a clean bill of health from her
doctor the day before, died of natural causes
just two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court denied Daviss final appeal.
Martina believes that her mother died from a
broken heart. I dont think my mother could have
taken another execution date, she told a
reporter. It was DeJaun who found his
grandmother slumped over in her chair when he came home from school.
Troy was not permitted to attend his mothers
funeral. Instead, he wrote a goodbye letter,
which a poised, stoic DeJaun read aloud to a
packed Savannah church at the funeral:
To my dearest Mama,
Who would have thought this would be the last
letter between us? I feared this day would come
before I came home to you
. All these years Ive
refused to cry but you, my mother, sure made me
cry a river the day you close your eyes. All I
know is that I will walk out here a Free Man very
soon and keep the family strong just like you would expect me to
Daviss advocates do not expect him to walk out
of prison in the immediate future. They are
focused, first and foremost, on preventing the
impending execution. The sympathy delay granted
by the Chatham County DA could be short lived.
Once an execution date is set, the final line of
defense between Davis and death lies with the
Georgia Board of Pardons & Parole, who have the power to grant Davis clemency.
Amnesty USA, the NAACP and the ACLU have banded
together again, calling on legal professionals,
religious leaders and concerned individuals to
send a strong message to the Board of Pardons &
Parole: when theres doubt, dont execute.
Martina was always central to the advocacy
efforts. She spent years struggling to expose her
brothers case until finally, human rights
groups, and eventually, the media, began to pay
attention. DeJaun, now a tall young man of
nearly 17 years, with close-cropped hair and a
wide, easy smile, has grown into an activist in
his own right. He has traveled all over the U.S.
and to London, speaking about his uncles case
and advocating against capital punishment.
There are so many other cases out there like [my
uncles], DeJaun says. My uncle is not the
only one going through this type of pain
of people really want someone to hear their case
but they dont have the power and resources. I
see myself as an activist, helping people.
When asked where he gets the inner reserves to
handle all that is facing him, DeJaun speaks
about his faith in God. And, he says, he has two
chief role models for strength, courage,
tenacity, humanity and dignity. His mother,
Martina, is one. The other: his Uncle Troy.
Jen Marlowe is a human rights activist, artist
and filmmaker. She has also produced a
video about Troy Daviss case. Her most recent
Hour of Sunlight: One Palestinians Journey from
Prisoner to Peacemaker (Nation Books, 2011). She
is the founder of
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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