[Ppnews] The railroading of Troy Davis
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu May 5 10:31:28 EDT 2011
VOICES: The railroading of Troy Davis
Laura Moye is director of the Amnesty International USA Death Penalty
Abolition Campaign. In this interview, Moye talks about 42-year-old
Troy Davis, an African American who has been on death row in Georgia
for over 19 years -- having already faced three execution dates. The
continued railroading of Davis has sparked outrage around the world,
and public pressure during the last few years of Davis' appeals has
been essential to his survival today.
However, on March 28, 2011, the US Supreme Court rejected his appeal
against a federal district court's ruling that Davis did not prove
his innocence in an evidentiary hearing held last year. This week
Amnesty International released an email action alert, emphasizing
that now, more than a month after the Supreme Court ruling, Davis'
execution date can literally be scheduled any day. The situation is
dire, and public support is currently needed now more than ever before.
To take action and learn more, visit Amnesty International's page
focusing on Troy Davis, as well as the Color of Change petition,
Angola 3 News: Why does Amnesty International consider Troy Davis'
case to be so important?
Laura Moye: Troy Davis' case is emblematic of a broken and unjust
death penalty system. His story speaks volumes about a criminal
justice system that is riddled with bias and error and is fixated on
procedure more than it is on fairness.
It is often difficult to get people to understand or to be interested
in systematic and large-scale injustice, but Troy Davis' story has
gotten through to a lot of people and has made the abolition cause
more tangible and real for a lot of people.
A3N: What do you think are the most compelling facts about this case?
LM: The case against Davis has unraveled, yet he still faces
execution. The conviction rests primarily on nine key witnesses, but
six have recanted and one contradicted her trial statement. The
police recovered shell casings at the crime scene, which were
naturally present given that there was a shooting. However, they
never found a murder weapon or any other physical evidence linking
the shell casings to Troy Davis.
Almost all of the witnesses were vulnerable for one reason or
another. One witness was illiterate, others were minors that were
questioned without their parents or supportive adults, some had
criminal histories, and most were African American.
The murder of the white police officer enraged local law enforcement,
and indeed it was a terrible crime. Officer Mark MacPhail was rushing
to the aid of a homeless man who was beaten unconscious in a Burger
King parking lot on the other side of a Greyhound bus station in a
poor end of town. When he came running to the scene, he was shot, and
he fell to the ground without even having drawn his weapon. He left
behind a wife and two very small children. Outrage was appropriate in
the wake of his death. However, reports about how the investigation
was conducted call into question how fair and proper things went.
Many speak to the intense pressure on the African American community
to find the perpetrator. Most of the witnesses allege coercion by the
police in obtaining statements.
Strangely, one of the two witnesses who did not recant his testimony
has been implicated in at least nine affidavits and by a new
eyewitness account as being the actual perpetrator. This very same
man was the one who first reported to the police that Davis was the
shooter. He was never treated as a suspect himself. He was not put in
line-ups and he was present at the crime scene with other witnesses
for a reenactment of the events.
Davis had a heck of a time trying to seek relief once his case moved
from the trial level to the post-conviction habeas process. The
Georgia Resource Center was hit with a two-thirds budget cut, which
reduced the number of staff attorneys to two, representing about
eighty prisoners. Triage was not even possible with the remaining
resources. Yet this was the time for Davis to assemble evidence and
an argument about his innocence claim.
Also, in the mid-1990s, the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death
Penalty Act (AEDPA), was passed on the heels of the Oklahoma City
Bombing. It limited access by death row prisoners [to] the federal
appeals process, placing time limits on introduction of new evidence,
for example. Davis' case was negatively impacted along with others.
Troy Davis has been confronted with a system that would rather hold
onto a decision a jury made twenty years ago than admit that some
fundamentally wrong things have happened. It is a system bent on
preserving itself more than on being absolutely sure that injustice
and inaccuracy are filtered out.
A3N: Please tell us more about the racism in Davis' case.
LM: Davis is African American. MacPhail, the murder victim, was
White. The perpetrator was indisputably African American. The crime
happened on a poor end of town, near housing projects and behind a
Greyhound bus station. The racial dynamics in the community were
inflamed by the murder and the ensuing investigation. Many African
Americans have talked about the fear they felt in the midst of a very
A3N: Do you think the injustices in his case are symptomatic of the
overall criminal justice system in the US?
LM: Many death penalty cases have issues of unfairness. Davis' is
less common in that there is a serious innocence claim.
However, how people are treated by the criminal justice system
because of their background, particularly race and class, is
illustrated by this case. The lack of resources for people's defense
and appeals work is very common. And the difficulty in accessing the
appeals process for meaningful relief is also very difficult.
A3N: Why have the appeals courts been so opposed to granting a new trial?
LM: The county superior court in Savannah, Georgia would not grant
Davis' "extraordinary motion for a new trial." He appealed this all
the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court and was denied. Interestingly,
the Georgia Supreme Court denied his appeal by one vote.
The courts are very hesitant to re-open death penalty cases. Witness
recantations are considered suspect and testimony by the many people
who implicate the other suspect are dismissed as "hearsay." And yet
we know that most of the 138 exonerees from death row did not have
DNA at their disposal, just like Davis, who had no other kind of
At trial, the state has the burden to prove the defendant is "guilty
beyond a reasonable doubt." After a conviction, that standard
disappears. The prisoner then has an uphill battle to prove that the
conviction was wrong or faulty.
A3N: When do you expect that an execution date will be set?
LM: As soon as Georgia announces that it has a protocol for carrying
out executions again, we expect an execution warrant to be signed
against Davis. From that point, an execution date could be two weeks away.
A couple months ago, the DEA seized Georgia's supply of lethal
injection drugs after a complaint was filed about how they accessed
their supply of Sodium Thiopental. Davis would already have received
a date if this issue was not at play. So time is very much of the essence.
A3N: What can our readers do to support Troy Davis right now?
LM: We know many people have signed the petition, but this is a
hugely important thing we need. If you have not signed the petition
this year, please sign it again -- by going to
<http://www.justicefortroy.org/>www.justicefortroy.org and if you
have signed it, please share it with ten friends and ask them to do
the same. You can print out the petition and circulate it. That's
downloadable from the website too.
If you know clergy or legal professionals, ask them to please sign
the sign-on letters for Troy. And when a date is set, join us for an
international day of solidarity, where we will have demos around the
world in advance of Davis' clemency hearing to show the parole board
that the world is watching and demands a stop to the execution!
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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