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.
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.