[Ppnews] Dispatch from Death Row: Saving Troy Davis With a Family’s 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 Family’s Love

by <http://colorlines.com/archives/author/jen-marlowe>Jen Marlowe

Wednesday, June 1 2011, 9:00 AM EST

“De’Jaun, come over here, I want to talk to you.”

De’Jaun 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 De’Jaun what to expect now that he 
was approaching adolescence. “Your body’s gonna 
be changing
. 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.”

De’Jaun listened intently as his uncle explained 
the birds and the bees. It wasn’t the first time 
De’Jaun and Troy had had an intimate one on one. 
De’Jaun was more comfortable talking to his 
uncle, a sturdily built man with warm brown eyes, than anyone else.

Martina Davis-Correia, De’Jaun’s mother and 
Troy’s older sister, encouraged the close 
relationship that Troy had with her son. Troy 
helped Martina chastise De’Jaun if he got in 
trouble at school. “You don’t 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 De’Jaun 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 
De’Juan 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, De’Jaun receives his uncle’s 
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, 
including the 
International, and the ACLU, have taken up 
Davis’s case, and individuals ranging from 
President Jimmy Carter to Archbishop Desmond Tutu 
have spoken up on his behalf.

Davis’s 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, there’s 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 Davis’s guilt and that the case was 
“not ironclad.” Davis’s conviction, and death sentence, remain.

On March 28, 2011, the Supreme Court denied 
Davis’s final appeal, clearing the way for the 
state of Georgia to set a fourth execution date in as many years.

Truths Children Can See

De’Jaun remembers the first execution date 
vividly. It was July 17, 2007. He was 13 years 
old. “We went to go see him, and he wasn’t 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 what’s 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-school’s 
International Baccalaureate program, De’Jaun 
lives with the stress of his mother being 
critically ill. Martina has been battling 
stage-four breast cancer since De’Jaun 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.

De’Jaun has always turned to his Uncle Troy 
during hard times. Martina first brought De’Jaun 
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 De’Jaun in his arms 
and walk away. And he was like, ‘But he’s 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, De’Jaun didn’t understand that his 
uncle was incarcerated, much less slated for 
death. De’Jaun told me, “When the family was 
getting ready to leave after a visit, I’d say, 
‘Come on, Troy, let’s go, let’s go!’ But he 
couldn’t go with us, and my mom would say, ‘He’s 
in school. He can’t come. One day, he’ll come home with us.’”

As De’Jaun 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 
De’Jaun 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 De’Jaun 
immediately brought Egypt to a vet who told them 
that the dog’s 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 De’Juan 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, De’Jaun turned to his 
mother. “Mom, are you going put my dog to sleep 
like they’re trying to put my Uncle Troy to sleep?”

“I looked at my son, and he was looking at me
. I 
had to swallow this giant lump in my throat to 
hold back the tears,” Martina recounted. “I 
didn’t 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 wasn’t going to 
be able to put my dog to sleep.”

Killing Troy Davis

De’Jaun’s 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 Georgia’s supply of sodium 
thiopental, temporarily placing the brakes on the 
state’s 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 De’Jaun suggested, pentobarbital is, 
indeed, what is used to euthenize animals.

Troy’s execution will likely be the first to be 
scheduled under this new procedure, though there 
may be some grace time. The Chatham County 
District Attorney’s office said it would not 
immediately seek a warrant for Davis’s execution, 
presumably out of compassion for the fact that 
Virginia Davis, Troy’s 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 Davis’s final appeal.

Martina believes that her mother died from a 
broken heart. “I don’t think my mother could have 
taken another execution date,” she told a 
reporter. It was De’Jaun who found his 
grandmother slumped over in her chair when he came home from school.

Troy was not permitted to attend his mother’s 
funeral. Instead, he wrote a goodbye letter, 
which a poised, stoic De’Jaun 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 I’ve 
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

Davis’s 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 there’s doubt, don’t execute.

Martina was always central to the advocacy 
efforts. She spent years struggling to expose her 
brother’s case until finally, human rights 
groups, and eventually, the media, began to pay 
attention. De’Jaun, 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 uncle’s case 
and advocating against capital punishment.

“There are so many other cases out there like [my 
uncle’s],” De’Jaun says. “My uncle is not the 
only one going through this type of pain 
 a lot 
of people really want someone to hear their case 
but they don’t 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, De’Jaun 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 Davis’s case. Her most recent 
book is 
Hour of Sunlight: One Palestinian’s Journey from 
Prisoner to Peacemaker” (Nation Books, 2011). She 
is the founder of 

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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