Big win for Troy Davis

Martina Correia
By: Patrick Dyer

The U.S. Supreme Court interrupted its summer recess on August 17 to announce a shocking decision in Troy Davis’ favor. The decision forces a federal judge in the southern district court of Georgia to review evidence that the Georgia death row prisoner is innocent.

After 18 years on death row, having been served several death warrants and coming within 90 minutes of being executed last year, this decision is a monumental victory for Troy and his supporters. The Supreme Court has only granted a handful of petitions of this sort in the past century. That it did this time is a testament to the pressure mounted by anti-death penalty activists, led by Troy’s sister, Martina Correia.

Troy Anthony Davis was tried and convicted of killing an off-duty police officer, Mark McPhail, in Savannah, Ga., in 1989.  In the years since his conviction, seven of the nine non-police witnesses who testified against Troy have come forward to recant their testimony. Up until now, the courts have refused to allow these witnesses to be heard and cross-examined.

The Supreme Court instructed the federal court to “receive testimony and make finding of fact.  Judge William Moore is the federal judge who will be presiding over the hearing.

He has issued an order requiring the state of Georgia to file an answer in 45 days, after which Troy’s lawyers have 45 days to reply. After this exchange, a hearing is expected to begin, with the recanting witnesses and new evidence of Troy’s innocence to be heard for the first time by a court. The date has not yet been set for the hearing, and is not expected before November 2009.

This is a huge victory, but as Martina Correia acknowledges, we are not out of the woods yet. “This is just another giant step in the uphill battle we continue to fight,” she said. “We are celebrating, but not jumping up and down. We understand there are those still fighting hard against us, and printing misinformation in an effort to distort the truth.”

Outrageously, even by their own standards, conservative Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas issued a dissenting opinion claiming that it is constitutionally acceptable to execute an innocent person, so long as they had a “full” and “fair” trial. Their repugnant dissent even went on to describe Troy’s presentation of evidence as a “fool’s errand.”  Fortunately, mass opinion around the country has shown just how far out of the galaxy Scalia and Thomas are, including a broad spectrum of editorial opinions ridiculing them.

Prior to the court’s decision, activists up and down the Eastern seaboard were busy mobilizing for a September 26 mass rally in Washington, D.C., three days before the expected Supreme Court ruling.  This rally would have been the first national mobilization on a death penalty issue since the Mumia Abu-Jamal mobilizations of the late 1990s, an obvious major step forward for our movement.

But with this victory, activists felt we had accomplished what the demonstration was aiming to do, so the protest was called off. Now, activists are turning their sights on organizing for a Global Day of Solidarity Rallies to take place on the first day of Troy’s hearing. 

And momentum continues to build for Troy. According to Martina Correia, “people who never talked about Troy’s case are now talking about it; people who never thought we would get this far are now coming on board.”  A national coalition of abolitionist groups, including the CEDP, NAACP, Amnesty International and others, have been regularly discussing and debating strategy around the Troy Davis case since early summer.

Currently, plans are in the works for a week of “Teach-Ins for Troy” September 21 to 27. “Tuesdays for Troy,” featuring leafleting, picketing and petitioning, have also been restarted in Georgia and elsewhere. And support is building for a Global Day of Solidarity Rallies on the first day of Troy’s hearing.

All of these high-visibility actions and more are necessary for keeping the pressure turned up during this critical phase of the struggle. And just as importantly, the grassroots struggle to free Troy Davis is bringing together activists and coalitions who are forming the basis for the larger assault on
the system of capital punishment itself.

In a recent letter, Troy said, “God is truly working it out. Keep praying, keep believing! We are still fighting an uphill battle.”