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.


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.

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.

Troy Davis Hearing: Landmark Opportunity for Justice

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

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.

Troy Davis Hearing in 4 Weeks

Four weeks from today, June 23, Troy Davis will get a day in court. Not a perfunctory hearing where lawyers and judges parse the written affidavits of all the witnesses who have recanted their trial testimony, but a real hearing, where those witnesses themselves will testify, in person and under oath, about what they really saw that summer night in Savannah, Georgia, more than 20 years ago. 

The hearing may be filled with high drama, as the witnesses are likely to face vigorous cross-examination.  And the outcome is far from certain.  Because this is an evidentiary hearing, and not a new trial, Troy Davis is presumed guilty and must prove his innocence. And the directive to the judge from the Supreme Court  – that he “make findings of fact” as to whether Troy Davis can “clearly establish” his innocence – does not exactly specify what the judge can do once those facts are found.

Which is why those of us who have worked so hard for justice in this case must not hold back now.  June 22, the day before the hearing begins, will be a Day of Solidarity.  A time to reflect on how far we have come in highlighting the fundamental unfairness in this case, and a time to show that we remain hopeful, but vigilant, and that we recognize the great challenge Troy Davis faces in the requirement to prove his innocence.

Solidarity events can be large (rallies, vigils, film screenings, speakers), or small (information tables, house parties or discussions).  What’s important is that we all take action together.  More information about the hearing and an Organizing Kit for taking action are available online, and you can register your event here. Please take action at this critical time!

Breaking! Troy Davis to get his day in court

Update (4/30/10):  Troy’s evidentiary hearing has been moved up to June 23rd

We just got word that Troy Davis will finally get his day in court.  A federal judge has scheduled an evidentiary hearing  for June 30 in the Savannah-based federal district court for southern Georgia.

Troy Davis was convicted of murdering a Georgia police officer in 1991. Nearly two decades later, Davis remains on death row – even though the case against him has fallen apart. On August 17th, the Supreme Court issued an order mandating a new evidentiary hearing for death-row inmate Troy Anthony Davis. With its ruling, the nation’s highest court decided that Davis should have another chance to prove his innocence before the state of Georgia puts him to death.

While the news of the hearing date is welcome, we must continue to let Georgia authorities know that we support full justice for Troy Davis.  Sign our petition opposing the death penalty for Troy Davis!

Troy’s evidentiary hearing has been moved to June 23

Troy Davis gets visitors in Georgia: Peachy with a side of Keane

By Laura Moye, Death Penalty Abolition Campaign Director

This is just a quick note from Savannah, Georgia, where I am right now with a wonderful delegation of folks from the UK who are here visiting to support Troy Davis.

Many Amnesty International activists around the world have been working hard on the Troy Davis campaign.  AI UK is one of the sections that has made Troy’s case a priority.  They wanted to send a team here to visit Troy and offer their solidarity for our struggle.  Their anti-death penalty campaigner, Kim Manning-Cooper, is here with Alistair Carmichael, a Member of Parliament, and Richard Hughes, drummer for popular British band Keane.

On Friday, September 25, we had meetings with three members of Congress’ offices and European embassy staffers.  All of these public servants have been invested in work to abolish the death penalty and create a more fair justice system.  It was wonderful to exchange perspectives and discuss strategies for a global effort to end the death penalty. That night, we flew to Atlanta.  We drove down to Jackson Saturday morning along with Troy’s mother, Virginia, and sister, Martina.  We entered the maximum security facility, lined with tall fences covered in multiple coils of concertina wire and guard towers at every corner.