Former witnesses against Troy come clean

By Laura Kagel, Georgia Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator for Amnesty International USA

Savannah was tranquil and warm in the early hours when people started lining up to get passes for the evidentiary hearing in the Troy Davis case. The police seemed prepared for some major disruptions, but a courteous atmosphere prevailed everywhere.

Across from the courthouse Amnesty International was a presence, along with the NAACP, under the dense foliage of Wright Square. Inside the pleasantly air-conditioned courtroom the public seemed full of anticipation and the sight of box after box of court documents entering the chamber was a sudden visual reminder of the gravity of the event.  Just before the proceedings began, Troy entered the courtroom in the company of corrections department employees. He looked straight ahead and then took a seat at the end of the row of defense lawyers and facing the witness stand. His legal team began calling witnesses straight off, because the judge had requested that they skip opening arguments.

(c) Scott Langley

The testimony of the witnesses called by the defense team really underscored the fragility of the state’s case against Troy Davis.  It was amazing to hear their stories. Over the course of the morning, the witnesses affirmed that their testimony implicating Davis was built on lies and often explained their recantations in moving ways, recounting the pressure they felt to point the finger at Troy.

Antoine Williams, who said he could not read the statement he allegedly made to the police because he can’t read, talked about being haunted with nightmares about it.  Kevin McQueen testified that he implicated Troy because he was mad at him.  When asked what he hoped to gain by his testimony today, he stated simply, “peace of mind.” When pressed about his earlier – now recanted – testimony, McQueen said adamantly, “The man did not tell me he shot anyone. Period.”


The Story of Troy Davis’ Sister

By Laura Kagel, Georgia Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator for Amnesty International

As part of the Freedom School that Amnesty International is sponsoring in Savannah this week, Kim Davis, Troy Davis’ sister, came today to speak to a group of young activists about how the death penalty affects the families of death row inmates. Towards the end of a day spent learning about and discussing the death penalty in the United States and abroad, the group focused in on the Troy Davis case.  I took them through a history of the case and tried to explain how he got to where he is today, awaiting an imminent hearing on evidence of his innocence after almost nineteen years on death row.

Kim Davis, Troy Davis' sister, speaks to students in Savannah - (c) Scott Langley

The day was packed with new information and the audience was getting tired, but everyone revived when Kim announced: “Troy is actually my hero.” She described a close-knit family involved in church and sports. As a teenager, she was excited to join her older siblings in the local high school, where she played basketball, ran track, and was in the marching band. The listeners became riveted as she told about how she collapsed one day, was taken to the emergency room of the hospital, and woke up the next morning totally paralyzed due to multiple sclerosis. She remained that way for a year.

When she was ready to go back to school, Kim had to go to one that was accessible by wheelchair, and so she couldn’t be with her siblings anymore. Her mother had to come home from work to get her ready for school and later to take her to her physical therapy. It was wearing her out. Without any prompting, Troy dropped out of school and enrolled in a night school program so that he could take care of his sister during the week and spare his mother the trouble. He did more than just drive her to physical therapy; he coaxed and prodded her to get out of her wheelchair and relearn to walk, and he taught her to play basketball in her wheelchair, and inspired her to participate in the Special Olympics. “He believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself,” she recalled.

Kim noted that many people who have written to Troy to offer encouragement find that they themselves receive words of encouragement.  After his mother’s first visit to death row in Jackson, she reported back to the family, “Troy said, I’m going to be alright. I want you all to be strong. I’m strong no matter what.” Amazingly, the same Troy who pulled the wheelchair away from his little sister and said, “If you want your wheelchair, you’ll have to walk to it,” continues to inspire his family and others from prison.

Laura Kagel is the State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator for Georgia for Amnesty International USA.  She is currently in Savannah to observe Troy Davis’ evidentiary hearing.