As I stood in the courtyard of Jackson State Prison in Georgia yesterday holding a prayer vigil for Troy Anthony Davis, I, like so many others held out hope for some sort of miracle. In the exact location where I joined Troy’s mother in 2008 when we received such a miracle 90 minutes before his scheduled execution, perhaps I was too optimistic in believing that similar action could take place and justice would prevail.
Despite the fact that there was a last minute delay in Troy’s execution last night that sent jubilation throughout the crowd, all of us collectively watched as he was eventually put to death. This time, even with an expansive global movement to save his life, the miracle unfortunately never arrived.
Ever since I was first introduced to the Troy Davis case several years ago, I have been perplexed as to how a man was convicted based solely on eyewitness statements and without any physical evidence. No weapon, no DNA and no proof other than the fact that some people stated he committed the alleged crime. But what makes Troy’s case an utter travesty in our legal system is the fact that 7 out of these 9 witnesses have since recanted their testimony and many said that they were coerced or pressured into pointing the finger at Troy. And yet, he was still executed last night.
One of the two remaining witnesses who did not recant his/her testimony was a man by the name of Sylvester ‘Redd’ Coles — another suspect in this case. And yet, Troy was still executed last night. A female witness even stated that she was threatened by Coles if she came forward, and yet Troy was still executed last night. Everyone from former President Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu to former prison wardens and conservatives who are pro-death penalty pushed for a stay in this man’s death penalty, and yet Troy was still executed last night.
I will be traveling to Washington, D.C. to meet with the Justice Department to push for a federal law that prohibits any state from prosecuting a capital case based solely on eyewitness testimony. Nowhere in America should an individual be executed again without any concrete physical evidence. And at this time, as we mourn the loss of Troy, we must continue to move as well — to mourn without moving only compounds this most egregious injustice.
Although it may be very difficult, especially for those that knew Troy and those that fought on his behalf for years, we all must push forward and ensure that his death was not in vain. A federal law is absolutely necessary, and whether one is pro-death penalty or anti-death penalty like myself, we need to set the bar to where concrete evidence must be required before taking a person’s life.
For those of us who were pushing for a stay in Troy’s execution, do not let anyone paint you as against the family of the slain police officer in this case, Mark MacPhail — for that is the furthest thing from the truth. Our deepest sympathies go out to the MacPhail family, and because they too deserve justice, a re-examination of this case was essential in order to truly determine who was culpable. That’s all Troy Davis asked for; a chance to halt his execution and receive a fair day in court. But tragically, that opportunity was diminished last night.
As I left Georgia yesterday to return to NY, I was consumed in the irony that so many heads of state were gathered at the UN and heard the U.S. stress the importance of human rights while we simultaneously executed this man. What did they think as they turned on the news, read the papers and watched how we behaved? In order to preach and advocate for rule of law and civil/human rights, we must first rectify our own miscarriages of justice at home.
Troy Davis died at the age of 42, after spending 22 years behind bars. As we know all too well, those with money and the ability to hire high-powered attorneys receive the best defense and fighting chance in court. Imagine if one day you woke up and someone accused you of murder and you were then sentenced to death for it. That’s pretty much what happened to Troy.
Based solely on eyewitness testimony that is almost unanimously recanted, a man’s life was cut short last night. If laws are designed to protect us and establish a humane society, we must rectify them so that this sort of injustice never happens again.
Mourn we must, but we must continue to move. Carry on the fighting spirit of Troy Davis who till his last breath, proclaimed his innocence.