Jurors, Family Members Oppose Texas Execution

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The family of Timothy Adams does not want the state of Texas to execute him on February 22.  That is not too surprising, but is a good reminder that those on death row have families who love them, and that the loss of a loved one through the instrument of state killing can be every bit as painful as the loss of a loved one to murder. 

Execution witness viewing room (c) Scott Langley

The family of Timothy Adams knows this because they are also the family of the victim.  Timothy Adams shot and killed his 19-month-old son, TJ Adams, during a standoff with Houston police 9 years ago.  As heinous the killing of little TJ was, the loss of another family member, this time to execution, will only amplify the pain caused by this crime.

Timothy Adams’ father (and TJ’s grandfather):

“Losing TJ was especially hard for me… However, I cannot imagine losing my son to this tragedy as well… I do not know what I will do if we lose Tim.”

Timothy Adams’ brother (TJ’s uncle):

“It’s hard to explain why Tim did what he did… It was totally out of character… I still have a strong relationship with him. I often break down when I leave the prison after our visits. I cannot imagine losing my brother.”

Timothy Adams’ sister (TJ’s aunt):

“It’s going to affect my family in a bad way if he is executed. I would never wish this on anyone, even my worst enemy… This would just be another huge loss to our family.”

Three jurors from the original trial are also seeking to stop this execution, saying that they felt pressured by other jurors into voting for a death sentence they didn’t believe in.  

One juror said she changed her vote from life to death under pressure, and “carried the guilt around for years knowing that I sentenced Adams, a man who had done wrong but who was otherwise a good, religious, and hard-working person, to death”; while another said: “Adams was so remorseful during the trial, and I could tell that he was hurting a lot.”

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles can recommend that Texas Governor Rick Perry grant clemency in this case, and commute Timothy Adams’ death sentence to life without parole. Please join these jurors and family members in calling for clemency in this case.

Troy Davis Hearing: Landmark Opportunity for Justice

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The hearing at the Savannah federal district court tomorrow is both historic and unprecedented.  Never before has the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a hearing to determine if it is unconstitutional to execute someone who is innocent. While this hearing is of the utmost importance to Troy Davis and the entire Savannah community, it also carries great legal significance.

Following his conviction in 1991, the case against Davis has unraveled, with seven of the nine witnesses recanting or contradicting their original testimony. After spending 19 years on death row and facing three execution dates, Davis has been given an opportunity to present evidence pointing to his innocence in a court of law.

This is a momentous opportunity that Amnesty International worked for and welcomes. But the burden of proof has been turned on its head. The court has set a very high bar: rather than ‘innocent until proven guilty,’ Davis must clearly prove he is innocent.

With 138 death row prisoners having been exonerated since 1973, it is more than a possibility that innocent people will be executed in the United States. It is inevitable in a broken system. The justice system should therefore be especially concerned with cases like Davis.’

Even as truth and justice are sought, we cannot forget the tragedy of a life lost. Mark Allen MacPhail was the innocent victim of a terrible murder. It is important to remember that the Savannah community lost a brave public servant, and acknowledge Officer MacPhail’s family during this difficult time. It is our sincere hope that this hearing will shed more truth on what happened the night of his murder and that justice will finally be served.

Larry Cox is the Executive Director of  Amnesty International USA.  He is currently in Savannah, GA to attend Troy Davis’ evidentiary hearing.

A Visit with Troy Davis

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This Wednesday, an amazingly historic hearing will begin here in Savannah, Georgia where I will be all week.  The U.S. Supreme Court ordered the Savannah federal district court to hold an evidentiary hearing to give death row prisoner Troy Davis an opportunity to present his innocence claim.

Troy Davis' sister Martina Correia with Laura Moye outside Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison where death row is housed in Jackson, Georgia

I visited Troy along with his family yesterday and asked him how he was doing.  He seemed fairly calm, but not sure how to feel.  His life has been on a rollercoaster ride ever since he was implicated for the murder of a police officer twenty-one years ago.  Three years ago, when Amnesty International first started campaigning intensively on his case, an execution was scheduled then stayed.  This happened two more times in the next two years.  I’m not sure how I would feel either given the ups and downs of our justice system.  But I did detect hope, which he has held onto these nineteen years on death row.

This was my second visit to Troy.  It was a strange place to be on Father’s Day.  But once I walked through the numerous double-gated areas to find the Davis family gathered around him, it felt oddly normal to be in their midst on this family-oriented holiday.  Troy was playing jokes on his two-year old niece, a bundle of energy that the whole Davis clan watches over and dotes on so fondly.  He has clearly been a source of support for his teenage nephew whom he checks on regularly to ensure he’s doing well in school.  And it’s this remarkable family, so full of love and commitment to each other, and to their faith, that accounts for the life that remains in Troy’s eyes, despite all that he has faced.

The hearing is a serious opportunity for the doors of justice to open, but it won’t be easy.  He’ll have to prove that he is clearly innocent.  In a trial, the state would have the burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.  And just what this legal standard of “clearly establishing innocence” means is a matter for the judge at the hearing to determine.

I hope to get a seat in the courtroom while the hearing is under way; though, there are likely to be throngs of people wanting to get in.  I sincerely hope that the hearing will shed more light on what happened the night of the tragic murder of off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail.  Both families have been waiting for justice and it’s time for the doubts to be addressed.

It is very sad that Troy’s family has had to think about the possibility of losing someone they love, someone who is clearly an active participant in their lives.  Being in the prison reminded me of how the death penalty creates more victims – the innocent families of the accused.  I have no idea what Father’s Day is like for the MacPhail’s and I wouldn’t pretend to know.  Justice has been a long time coming for them too.  And I really don’t know what to expect this week as the hearing draws closer, but I sincerely hope that learning more of the truth will lead to a more robust justice and help the healing of both families and of the larger community.

Forcible Evictions of HIV-positive Families in Cambodia

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Yesterday morning, the Cambodian government forcibly evicted about 20 families living with HIV/AIDS from their homes in Borei Keila and resettled them at Tuol Sambo, a resettlement site just outside the capital, Phnom Penh. The site lacks clean water and electricity and has limited access to medical services. Evicted families were compensated with inadequate housing at the site and 50 kilograms of rice, soy sauce, fish sauce, water jars and US$250, but they were warned that anyone who did not comply with the move would not receive compensation. A human rights worker present during the transition described the families as despondent and noted that those who are ill were exhausted by the move.

When Amnesty International visited the site – in a semi-rural area where houses are built from green metal sheets – villagers in the vicinity saw it as a place for HIV/AIDS victims. The evicted families expressed fears that being forced to live in this separate, distinct location will bring more discrimination and stigmatization than they already are forced to deal with because of their status as HIV-positive.

Forced evictions are a tactic Cambodia has employed more and more often, and this is not the first time the Cambodian government has taken this sort of action against people living with HIV-AIDS. In March 2007, the Municipality of Phnom Penh resettled an additional 32 families living with HIV/ AIDS against their will in temporary green, corrugated-metal shelters in appalling conditions to make way for the construction of a number of new houses. The families believe that the authorities are discriminating against them because of their HIV status.