About Laura Moye

Laura Moye is the Death Penalty Abolition Campaign Director at Amnesty International USA. She has been an active voice for human rights and abolition of the death penalty since her days as a student activist. In 2009, Moye moved from AIUSA's Southern Regional Office, where she had served for 11 years. Her focus there was on building the human rights activist base in the South. She has organized scores of conferences and trainings and provided support to AI chapters and volunteer leaders and social justice coalitions in their human rights work. As part of her anti-death penalty work, Moye has worked on state legislative and clemency campaigns, including a campaign for a moratorium and study of Georgia's death penalty and to stop the execution of death row prisoner Troy Davis.
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Resisting Troy's Planned Execution with Every Moment Left

We are going into a difficult day. Today the state of Georgia is gearing up to execute Troy Davis. However, we have not been sitting quietly by here in Atlanta and everywhere worldwide.

When I learned the stunning news Tuesday morning, I paused for a moment to absorb the gravity of the two-word text message I had just read: “Clemency Denied.” But there was no time for reflection; we called for a “Day of Protest” and called on everyone with the power to act to do so. Around 700 people last night on the capitol steps for an energetic protest, chanting “Not in my name!”

Today is a “Day of Vigil.” We encourage you to make it known that you will not passively accept Georgia’s planned killing of Troy Davis at 7pm. Wear a black armband and write “Not in my name!” on it. Tell people about Troy Davis and why we must abolish the death penalty. If we have not managed to stop the execution by 6pm, gather with others in vigil.


Georgians Raise Voices For Troy Davis, Thousands Back Them Up

Thousands came out for Troy Davis in Atlanta on September 16th

About 3,500 people marched and prayed for Troy Davis in Atlanta last night.  Three busloads of supporters arrived from Davis’ hometown of Savannah along with other buses from Columbus and Rome, Georgia.

Ebenezer Baptist Church could not accommodate about half the supporters who arrived for the prayer service led by Rev. Raphael Warnock of Dr. King’s historic church.  So an impromptu rally took place outside the church, while death row exonerees, a murder victim family member, Georgia clergy and nationally prominent human rights leaders, such as our Executive Director Larry Cox and that of the NAACP, Benjamin Jealous spoke inside.  The march was an amazing sight to see – a sea of signs declaring “Too Much Doubt” and “Stop the Execution” held by a diversity of individuals and groups.


Don't Let Georgia Kill Troy Davis

Troy DavisThe day is now here – the state of Georgia has set Troy Davis’ execution date for September 21st.

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his final appeal earlier this year.  But the story remains the same – Troy Davis could very well be innocent.

However, in the state of Georgia, the Board of Pardons & Paroles holds the keys to Troy’s fate.  In the days before Davis’ execution, this Board will hold a final clemency hearing – a final chance to prevent Troy Davis from being executed.

Davis was convicted on the basis of witness testimony – seven of the nine original witnesses have since recanted or changed their testimony.

One juror said in a CNN news interview:

“If I knew then, what I know now, Troy Davis would not be on death row.”


Breaking: Georgia Switches Execution Drug Clearing Path for Executions

lethal injectionThe Department of Corrections made an announcement this afternoon that it will switch from sodium thiopental to pentobarbitol in its lethal injection protocol. This much anticipated decision clears the path for execution dates to be set against Georgia death row prisoners who have run out of appeals, such as Troy Davis.

It is a red herring to tinker with the machinery of death when the entire system is broken. Whether the state uses chemicals, bullets or electricity, the death penalty is inherently cruel and inhuman, and is part of an error-prone system that has sent far too many innocent people to death row. Replacing the supply of sodium thiopental amounts to nothing more than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

We’ll be monitoring the implications of Georgia’s decision.  Check back on this blog for updates or follow me on Twitter @LauraMoye.

Execution Date is Inevitable. Execution is NOT.

Back row, left to right: Richard Hughes (Keane), Troy Davis, Alistair Carmichael (MP), Kim Manning-Cooper (AI), Laura Moye (AI); Front: Virginia Davis and Martina Correia (family)

Troy  Davis has run out of appeals.  But he has not run out of hope, and neither have we.

It has been one harrowing rollercoaster ride for Troy Davis since he was implicated in the horrible murder of Officer Mark MacPhail in 1989.  Troy has faced three execution dates and he is about to face a fourth.

The question before Georgia right now is, “how will it carry out an execution?”  The seizure of its lethal injection drugs has caused a delay in the process, but that could be resolved very soon.  The next question, the more important one, will be, “will Georgia carry out an execution?”  And in Troy Davis’ case, the question is even more intense, “will it execute a person despite the fact that doubts about his guilt remain unresolved?”

Davis was tasked with proving his innocence at a special evidentiary hearing last year.  The judge ruled against him and the Supreme Court on March 28 refused to hear his appeal of the ruling.  His case exists in a weird grey zone where he’s been unable to prove his innocence to the “extraordinarily high” standard set by the courts, but it’s clear that doubts persist about his guilt.  Without the benefit of physical evidence, his conviction relies on the testimony of a group of witnesses, most of whom have recanted, and many of whom allege police pressured them into testifying falsely at the trial.


Where is the Troy Davis case now?

“..unless this Court notes probable jurisdiction and corrects the decision below, Georgia will execute a demonstrably innocent person.” – amicus brief from the Innocence Project

Troy Davis‘ legal team is appealing the federal district court ruling that Davis did not meet the court’s self-described “extraordinarily high” standard to prove his innocence following the two-day evidentiary hearing that took place in Savannah last June. Davis’ lawyers submitted an appeal and a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court on January 23.  The State of Georgia responded on February 24 and the Davis team was given an opportunity to file a response to the state by March 6.

The U.S. Supreme Court now has all of the legal documents from Davis and the State needed to determine how it will handle the case. It can respond any time now and, as with other cases filed before the court, an exact timeline is not known. The Supreme Court could accept the district court’s ruling outright and deny Davis’ appeal, clearing the path for Georgia to set an execution date. It could punt the case to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Or it could consider the appeal either this term, which already has a rather full docket, or put it on the docket for next term (following the summer recess).


Troy Davis Update: Appeals in Supreme Court Filed

Troy Davis with his family


On Friday, January 21, 2011, Troy Davis’ lawyers filed an appeal and a cert. petition with the U.S. Supreme Court.  The appeals are available via ScotusBlog here and here.  These two documents challenge the ruling of a federal district court in Savannah, Georgia that Davis did not meet an extraordinarily high standard required to prove his innocence.  The federal district court held an evidentiary hearing, ordered by the Supreme Court, on Davis’ innocence claim in June, 2010 and ruled against him in September, thus denying Davis relief from his death sentence.

What is Davis arguing in his appeal?

First, Davis believes he ought to be able to appeal the district court’s ruling to the 11th circuit federal court (the court above the district court and below the Supreme Court).  Davis holds that his case is clearly quite consequential as it involves an actual innocence claim and major, unresolved legal questions that could impact future cases; therefore, it is important that the case have access to full federal appellate review, including that of the intermediate court – the 11th Circuit.


Act Now to Stop the Execution of Brandon Rhode

Brandon Rhode's stitched neck wound. © Private

[Update 12:15 am (Sept. 27): Brandon Rhode was granted a stay of execution by the Georgia Supreme Court on Friday afternoon, a few hours before his second execution date.  The stay will be in effect until Monday, Sept. 27 at 4pm.  He has been scheduled again for execution for Monday, Sept. 27 at7pm.  Please continue to take action!]

The state of Georgia wants to execute Brandon Rhode tonight at 7pm. Please take action – ask the Parole Board to stay the execution. Amnesty International just released a new document about the cruelty of the death penalty, highlighting this case and underlining the irony of President Obama’s speech to the United Nations promoting the need for the world to focus on the respect of human rights.

Rhode’s lawyers are scrambling to halt the execution stating that a meaningful competency review of Rhode has not been made. Almost 90 pages of documents about his hospital visit early in the week following his attempted suicide were only just today sent to his lawyers. Other documents have also been slow coming to them that are critical in mounting an intervention around his competency to face execution. It seems that Rhode’s attempt to take his only life, using a razor blade to his arms and neck, have been inconvenient to authorities who have been tasked with taking his life. Rhode is not an innocent man, but he is a human being and what we as a society do to him speaks volumes about who we are and what our values are. The state is making us all complicit in an unnecessary and outrageous act of cruelty.

Please Stay Alive, We Are Supposed to Kill You

[Update 9/22/10:  You can take action to stop the execution of Brandon Rhode]

Brandon Rhode was rushed to the hospital today to prevent him from dying following his attempt at suicide. This afternoon, the Georgia Department of Corrections announced a delay in his scheduled execution, vaguely referring to an “incident”. Rhodes did not get strapped to the gurney tonight, but the state may try to kill him Thursday instead.

It is the irregular situation like this one that magnifies the cruelty of the death penalty. Clearly, the thought of being executed was terrifying to Rhode, as it must be for every individual facing the pre-ordained and publicly announced time, date and method by which their life is to be ended. What will it be like for him between now and Thursday as his body and mind recuperates from his failed suicide attempt, and as he contemplates the moment when he will be strapped to a gurney and killed?

Those who believe the death penalty is not cruel are focused on the acts of those who commit murder and the belief that retribution is a legitimate means to justice. The idea of human rights, however, is that society sets a standard based on what is cruel and inhuman period, not what is cruel and inhuman in comparison to the worst things an individual may have done to others. Somehow, we get that it would be disgusting to rape someone convicted of rape and we don’t burn down the property of arsonists, but killing those who commit murder seems to be fair game, at least in the minority of nations left using the death penalty.

Retributive justice may feel satisfying to a primitive part of the brain or to a society that wants a simple and loud outlet to relieve a base level of outrage. But retribution is a dangerous place to take justified feelings of anger about the injustice of violent crime. The attempt by Mr. Rhode to violently end his life breaks the façade of the sterile, hospital room-looking, “civilized” execution chamber. Homicides are performed on the gurney in that room in the name of the citizens of the state, dragging us all into a new crime. And we pour millions into this system rather than ask ourselves what went wrong in Mr, Rhodes’ life that led him to do what he did (and a lot did!) and how could we prevent future violent crimes? How could we give law enforcement more tools to effectively tackle crime? They know the death penalty is not a deterrent and doesn’t make our streets safer. What are the needs of the loved ones who survive the victims of violent crime? So many things we could do with our energy (and money) besides resuscitating prisoners only to then kill them.

The Cruelty of Killing the Intellectually Disabled

The state of Virginia plans to put Teresa Lewis to death on September 23, 2010.

How does killing the intellectually disabled give us justice?

The state of Virginia plans to put Teresa Lewis to death on September 23 for orchestrating the 2002 murders of her husband and stepson for insurance money.  Strangely, though, this so-called “mastermind” has an IQ of 72 and has been diagnosed with “borderline mental retardation”.  Further, one of the two shooters in the case admitted in 2004 that he was the true mastermind and that he determined shortly after meeting Lewis that she was “not too bright and could be easily manipulated.” And it seems that that is just what he did.  His IQ, incidentally was scored at 113.  The two shooters were sentenced to life.  Lewis, a non-shooter, was cooperative, pled guilty and now faces death.

This is the second execution date set for this month of a person whose mental capacity borders on intellectual disability.  The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it would be unconstitutional to execute such individuals, except that these two individuals were not recognized in their legal proceedings as meeting the definition of “mentally retarded” (the outdated term used in legal-ese), which requires a look at a number of factors.  Accountability and providing justice for the sake of the murder victims is not the question here, but surely these individuals whose culpability is diminished by their mental capacity should not be executed in a humane society.

Holly Wood, an African American man in Alabama may be put to death tonight if Governor Bob Riley does not intervene.  At the crux of his case is the unsurprising issue of ineffective legal counsel.  The lawyer who represented him at the sentencing phase was a total rookie – no experience with death penalty cases, let alone criminal law.  He failed to share with the jury information about Wood’s mental impairments and as a result, this crucial mitigating factor was missing from deliberations that resulted in the decision to send him to the gurney.  While there was no question about his guilt, four federal judges in three courts, whose opinions did not carry the day, concluded that he was denied adequate legal representation.

The failure to investigate Wood’s mental disability was proof said two dissenting U.S. Supreme Court justices of “inattention and neglect.”  And so, another person goes to death row because of a system that is willing to allow poor legal representation for people facing the most severe and irreversible sentence.  Incidentally, his IQ has been assessed (post-conviction) at 64 and 59.  A reporter asked me yesterday how this score would not indicate his “mental retardation”; thus, how could Wood’s execution be constitutional?  I really don’t know.

Help us stop the pending executions of Teresa Lewis and Holly Wood by taking action today.