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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Thank you Gov. Strickland for not executing Kevin Keith!

Bucking the opinion of his parole board and conventional political wisdom, Ohio’s governor did something very amazing on Thursday, September 2.

Gov. Ted Strickland intervened to prevent the execution of a man convicted of murdering three people, including a child. This was no small act in a very political season. But Strickland did his job. He carefully reviewed the evidence in a terrible murder case. He recognized that the case is plagued by very serious errors in its investigation and that doubts persist about whether Keith even committed the crime at hand.

Join us in thanking Ohio’s governor for commuting Kevin Keith’s death sentence.

It is the function of executive clemency power to be a check on the judicial process because cases can slip through the cracks. And Kevin Keith’s case, not to mention his life, almost slipped right through the cracks of human error and injustice. Case after case, we see that the U.S. justice system is far too comfortable with doubt, bias and error. How could 138 people wait on death row to be executed only for it to be discovered in time that they were wrongfully convicted? What kind of system allows for such a high error rate when human life is on the line?

Gov. Strickland’s act is a bright spot amidst a continuous and macabre calendar of scheduled state killings. Perhaps authorities in all U.S. states will take notice that our death penalty system is so riddled with problems that abolition is the only true failsafe against wrongful executions.

In the meantime, we urge authorities examining cases where doubts persist and have not been fully resolved to halt executions lest they be complicit in a grave and irreversible tragedy. Certainly the leadership of Gov. Strickland could be very instructional for Georgia authorities in looking at the Troy Davis case, where courts have reviewed his case, yet serious doubts about guilt still persist.

Speak Out for Troy Davis

Two days ago, a federal district court in Savannah, Georgia denied Troy Davis’ petition – ruling that Troy didn’t reach the extraordinarily high legal bar to prove his innocence.

But I was in that courtroom in June, along with other Amnesty representatives. We saw the witnesses and heard the facts first-hand, and as Executive Director Larry Cox put it “nobody walking out of that hearing could view this as an open-and-shut case”.

So how is it that Troy has been put back on track for execution?

The courts have been far too comfortable leaving room for doubt, error and bias. There is no physical or scientific evidence linking Troy to the crime. In fact, Troy had to rely on witnesses who the judge didn’t find credible, even though these are the same witnesses on which his conviction hangs!

Because the courts have failed to resolve the doubts in this case, we’re taking Troy’s story back to the court of public opinion. We want every news outlet talking about the disastrous system that would allow a man to be put to death even when doubts persist about his guilt.

Please help by writing a letter in support of Troy Davis and ask key newspapers to publish it.

Troy’s case is so powerful because it has inspired:

  • A majority of witnesses to admit that they lied 19 years ago
  • Four witnesses to finally testify against the person who they suspect to be the real killer of police officer Mark MacPhail
  • Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to all call for clemency
  • A movement of human rights supporters to unite and pass Troy’s story along from one person to the next to the next…

There are no do-overs when it comes to death. As long as there’s doubt, there should be no execution. But as long as there’s hope, we’ll continue to fight for Troy Davis.

Troy Davis: What Will Happen Next?

On Wednesday, lawyers for Troy Davis and the Georgia Attorney General filed briefs in response to a few questions posed by Judge William T. Moore, Jr. at the end of Davis’ June 23-24 evidentiary hearing.  A major issue the judge asked them to brief was how to interpret the “clearly establishes innocence” standard set by the U.S. Supreme Court when it ordered the hearing.

At the end of the hearing the judge made it clear that he wanted to move quickly.  We wouldn’t be surprised if he issued his ruling this month.  In his ruling, he will decide whether Troy Davis did or did not “clearly establish” his innocence, based on a legal determination of what “clearly establish” actually means.  Because Davis has already been convicted, there is no presumption of innocence and he will have to do more than just raise “reasonable doubts” about his guilt.  The burden is on Troy Davis to prove his innocence.  Therefore, we expect the “clearly establish innocence” standard to be quite high.

If the judge rules that Troy Davis did “clearly establish” his innocence, his sentence and possibly his conviction could be overturned.  The state could appeal the decision and the local DA could attempt to re-try him (though we can’t imagine what sort of case could be built at this point).  If Davis does win, it could significantly impact other cases, establishing that it is indeed unconstitutional to execute someone who is actually innocent, even if they had access to a “fair trial”.

If the judge rules that Troy Davis did not meet the high innocence standard, he would be at risk of a 4th execution date.  However, he would have an opportunity to appeal the decision and can ask for clemency from the state parole board.

The district court’s ruling will be incredibly momentous, either way.  Please stay tuned as Troy Davis is still not safe from execution.  While international human rights safeguards state that no one should face execution when there are any doubts as to the reliability of their conviction, this is not a legally established principle in the U.S. After listening to the witnesses testify in the hearing last month, it was clear to me that the doubts in Troy Davis’ case were deepened and certainly not resolved.  Please continue to educate people about the Troy Davis case and the broken system it represents.

Justice for Everyone

It’s just after 5 am and I’m in line with the first 20 people waiting for a coveted seat in the courthouse for Troy Davis’ evidentiary hearing.  Reporters, supporters of Troy Davis, and supporters of Mark MacPhail, the victim in this tragic case, are all jumbled together.

Last night we gathered in the Davis family’s church for a vigil. Two death row exonerees spoke, including Juan Melendez.  He was on death row in Florida 17 years for a crime he didn’t commit. He shared a piece of that story and encouraged the Davis family and supporters to stay strong.  Larry Cox, AIUSA’s executive director gave an impassioned speech. He told the crowd that it was time for the characterization of this as a duel between Davis and MacPhail to end.

“How can you be for justice for one person and not be for justice for everyone?’” he asked.

Juan Melendez speaks in Savannah, June 22 - (c) Scott Langley

Larry Cox, AIUSA Executive Director, speaks in Savannah, June 22 - (c) Scott Langley

The Rev. Dr. Raphael Gamaliel Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church (Dr. King’s church in Atlanta) described the struggle for Troy as one for “the soul of this country.”  And he recalled the key moments when “God pressed the pause button” in Troy’s case, with one stay of execution after another.

It was a moving night. And I was once again humbled to be part of this growing movement and to experience the many miracles along the way.

We now await the first day of the hearing with much hope and anticipation. We don’t know how it will go, but we are grateful for the breakthrough that the U.S. Supreme Court created by ordering this hearing last year and we will remain watchful while the process unfolds.

A Visit with Troy Davis

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.

Bias, Misconduct and Error: Reggie Clemons and Missouri's Tragically Flawed Death Penalty

This is the bridge where it all happened at a very late hour in April, 1991 in St. Louis, Missouri.  Two young white women plunged into the Mississippi River to their deaths.  It was a horrible, senseless tragedy.  Three African American youths paid for the crime – all sentenced to death.  One has been executed, one had his sentence reduced to life imprisonment and the third, Reggie Clemons, is at risk of being executed.

Jamala Rogers, Coordinator of the Justice for Reggie Campaign, Ernest Coverson, Amnesty Midwest Regional Field Organizer, and Laura Moye at the “Chain of Rocks” bridge.

Jamala Rogers, Coordinator of the Justice for Reggie Campaign, Ernest Coverson, Amnesty Midwest Regional Field Organizer, and Laura Moye at the “Chain of Rocks” bridge.

No physical evidence.  Just two (white) witnesses, one who initially confessed to the crime, the other implicated the three (black) youths in exchange for a lesser sentence.

The tragedy of Julie and Robin Kerry’s deaths was compounded by a legal process so alarmingly unfair that justice was never really served.  And even worse, Reggie Clemons could lose his life with these issues unaddressed.  You can take action to prevent this injustice right now.

Yesterday, I visited the old “Chain of Rocks” bridge on my visit to St. Louis along with my colleagues from our Midwest Regional Office.  Jamala Rogers, a community activist and Coordinator of the Justice for Reggie campaign, filled in pieces of the story and the history of the campaign she started more than a decade ago.  We met with Reggie’s mother Vera and step-father Bishop Thomas for dinner and learned more about the story and how Reggie has been doing in prison.  Vera has been visiting her son on death row almost every week these past 17 years.  She joked about how she’d worn through cars making the drive so frequently.  Despite all that she has been through, a calm resolve shines through Vera’s gentle and gracious spirit.

Reggie Clemons

Reggie Clemons

Today, we will be in front of the old courthouse where Reggie was sentenced to death in 1993.  We will join with Amnesty International members in Missouri and our coalition partners to release our new report, “USA: Model Criminal Justice? Death by Prosecutorial Misconduct and a ‘Stacked’ Jury,” about the Clemons case.  It speaks volumes about a flawed death penalty system that ought to be abolished.


At the top of the list of issues stacked against Mr. Clemons was the brazen conduct of an overzealous prosecutor, all too common in death penalty cases which are highly politicized.  The report also discusses the “stacked” jury, which both did not represent the racial composition of St. Louis and was biased toward the prosecution.  Clemons alleged police brutality during his interrogation by police, and his defense attorneys clearly did not prepare adequately for his trial.   There was no physical evidence linking Clemons to the crime, only the two witnesses, both of whom were initially charged in the crime, and at the end of the day Clemons was only convicted as an accomplice.  Yet he sits on death row.

While the number of problems in Clemons’ case may seem exceptional, these are issues that plague the entire U.S. death penalty.  It is all too clear how bias, misconduct and error riddle so many cases.  Over 70% of all cases across the country are reversed due to serious error and 138 people have been released from death rows since 1973 after having been wrongfully convicted.  Further, a handful of individuals may have been wrongfully executed, such as Cameron Willingham in Texas and Larry Griffin in Missouri.


What's Next for Troy Davis

The evidentiary hearing date for Troy Davis that we’ve been waiting for is now scheduled!   Judge Clark Moore in the Savannah-based federal district court for southern Georgia has set it for June 30, 2010.   There is a chance that the date could change if the two legal teams try to negotiate with the judge around possible issues in their schedules.   We will provide an update if the date changes.

Thanks to supporters who have been following this case and have been on alert since the hearing was ordered on August 17, 2009.   This comes after several months of briefs and communications between the judge and the two legal teams in preparation for this very unusual type of hearing.   Amnesty International will continue to watch the case closely.

Unlike with a new trial, where the state would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty and convince 12 jurors; this is a hearing conducted by one judge.   The burden falls on Davis to “clearly establish his innocence”, which is an incredibly high legal standard.

So in a minimum of one day, perhaps a few more, various witnesses will provide their testimony and be cross-examined to give their accounts of what happened on that tragic night in 1989 when police officer Mark Allen MacPhail was fatally shot.   This is an immense opportunity to bring new testimony and evidence in to a court of law on a person who was almost executed three times for a murder he may not have committed.

Please “lend your face for justice” while we await this hearing.   We want to continue to keep the light on Davis’ case.   And please plan on joining us for a Global Day of Solidarity the day before the hearing begins.   We are asking people around the world to organize an activity where they live, be it a vigil, a teach-in, tabling or other activity to show your solidarity and make it clear that the world continues to watch and cry for justice to be served and for Davis be spared from execution.  Visit our site to learn more on how you can support Troy during the Global Day of Solidarity on June 29th.