The fight for my brother Troy

Martina Correia interviewed by Julien Ball

Troy Anthony Davis was sentenced to death for the 1989 murder of a white police officer, Mark Allen MacPhail. Ten months ago, Troy came within 24 hours of being executed before winning a stay. Activists were hopeful that the Georgia Supreme Court, having agreed to hear oral arguments, would grant Troy a new trial.

Despite convincing evidence of his innocence, however, the court denied him a new trial.

The case against Troy was built entirely on eyewitness testimony. But since then, seven of the nine eyewitnesses against Troy have recanted, with several signing sworn affidavits stating that police coerced them to testify.

Troy's sister and advocate Martina Correia discussed the court's decision and the fight to save her brother's life with Julien Ball.

Julien Ball:  Can you talk a little about the Georgia Supreme Court's ruling?

Martina Correia:  The Georgia Supreme Court ruled 4-3 against Troy not based on the merits of the case, but based on a technicality. The judges that ruled against him said recanted testimony does not carry as much weight as trial testimony.

They didn't even know that these witnesses had testified at the parole board. They said the witness testimony was old, even though it had not been heard in a court of law. They ruled on a technicality--the same thing we've been fighting for 18 years. They were cowards, if you ask me, because they didn't rule on the merits of the case.

Justice Leah Sears said the court was "morally wrong" and "too rigid," and the standard set by the court for recantations was so high that nobody would be able to meet it. They didn't have anything to compare Troy's case to, and they set the bar so high that nobody would be able to reach it.

JB:  Can you talk about the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the effect it's had on Troy's case?

MC: That law is responsible for many people already being executed. The law is so disgusting. You're giving someone a time limit. The law was put in place to attack "terrorists," but they attached the death penalty to it. It's hindered Troy's case. It doesn't matter if the actual murderer came forward and said, "I did it."

When Troy was arrested, he didn't have good lawyers and good investigators in his case. But they made the law retroactive, so by the time we did get lawyers and investigators, it didn't matter, because the law was retroactive 10 years, and it was too late to present the evidence.

JB: Can you tell us a little about Troy?

MC: He is one of the most giving people. When we were growing up, Troy was the mama's boy. He was very close to home, I was outdoorsy. My father was a contractor and former police officer. I was into the outdoors, like camping. He was into whatever his mom wanted him to do.

When Troy got older, he played ball and coached for the police athletic club. He would cut the neighbors' grass. When the ice cream truck would come around, he would line up all the kids and buy them ice cream. He was a really good kid. He was the quiet one. He didn't get in trouble. He didn't hang with the crowd.

He was always the peacemaker. He told me, "If I had not been myself and had let Larry Young be attacked, I wouldn't be in this situation, but because I helped someone else, I'm on death row." People might think that sounds corny or Leave-It-to-Beaver, but that's the type of person Troy was. He gave up a lot of his teenage years to take care of my sister, who was in a wheelchair.

JB: Troy's case has gained media attention and support from a number of organizations. What impact do you think that's had?

MC: I think it's been really important, especially with the Parole Board, because when the Parole Board has doubt, they say they won't agree to an execution. But in order for my brother to get a clemency hearing, you have to have an execution date. And you don't have an execution date until 48 hours before execution.

The court and legal system in Georgia has been at the center of everything that wrong with the death penalty, and that's because things have been allowed to stay under the radar. If death row inmates could be interviewed in Georgia, death row would be shut down. Georgia doesn't care about the law--they care about keeping the South the old South. The people in charge are the same old people.

So the media doesn't have the impact in Georgia it should. We need a national TV station to tell Troy's story. If Troy doesn't have an execution date, his case falls under the radar.

JB: What impact do you think the movement to save Troy has had?

MC: The campaign for Troy has had a phenomenal impact in that people around the world know the name of Troy Anthony Davis. People are starting to watch what's going on with the case.

It's okay to sign petitions, but sometimes we need to hit the pavement. We've been playing nice. Human rights organizations are nice--they have a purpose. But where is the grassroots? We have the largest Martin Luther King parade in Savannah, but if he were alive, he'd be asking what's going on. Because the dream that he had doesn't exist in Georgia. It exists for the 1 percent who live there, and make over $200,000 per year.

They're using all kinds of underhanded tactics to keep people from finding out the truth about Troy. They say the witnesses are only coming forward because they don't want to have his execution on their conscience. But they have nothing to gain. They can be tried for perjury and get a life sentence. So why would anyone say recanted testimony isn't as important? They came forward to do the right thing.

Right now, I'm really pissed off. I don't have a lot of faith in the U.S. justice system. My mother sits, and I know what she's thinking. I talk to my brother, and I know what he's thinking. He's thinking, "I'm going to have to sit in a room and wait for a phone call to see whether I get another stay."

JB: How do you think the fight for Troy connects with the fight to abolish the death penalty overall?

MC: I think it's like with a tree--you have to start chopping somewhere. You can't just say I want to see this tree fall, because it's rotten. When people see the whole tree standing, they say that the tree's there.

When you can show that there are 128 different people who've been exonerated, then you can show that this isn't for the worst of the worst--they're being selective based on socio-economics and race.

Hammering on the death penalty as a moral issue is not going to work. To chop down this tree, you have to find the outrageous cases with inconsistencies and that show the problems with the system. That has more of an impact than just saying, "The death penalty is wrong." We have to chop at the base of this tree and work our way up to the top.

JB: What's next in the fight for Troy?

MC: On May 17, we're having a big rally at the Georgia state capitol building. We're going to get signatures throughout the city and pass out flyers. That's been very successful. We're trying to get people to write to Georgia congressmen. We're asking everyone to come to the May 17 event and to go on Amnesty's Web site.

We're trying to get the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case. They usually take cases that set a national precedent, and people have been telling me that they might decide this case only relates to Georgia.

There's no gun, no weapon, no DNA, no motive, pretty much no case--but these people still say that it's okay to kill him. I look at my son, and I say, "How do I explain this to my son? Do I say to my son that it doesn't matter how smart you are if you're Black? I don't want this to be my son's fight for the rest of his life."

If the Supreme Court doesn't select his case, the prosecutor will try to get an execution date quickly. Then we will be back before the parole board for clemency. I don't want Troy to get life without parole, because that's like a death sentence, but we can at least continue to fight a life sentence.