Troy Davis wins stay hours before his execution

By: Alice Kim

Troy Davis was scheduled to be executed by the state of Georgia in July. Thankfully, he was granted a stay of execution by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles in light of an intense international campaign calling attention to the injustices in Troy’s case. Soon after, the Georgia Supreme Court agreed to hear oral arguments that could lead to a new trial for Troy.

Now, after sixteen long years on death row, Troy will finally be able to present evidence that could prove his innocence. From the beginning, Troy maintained that he was innocent of killing Mark McPhail, a white police officer who was shot at a Burger King parking lot in Savannah in 1989. In fact, Troy surrendered himself to the police to clear his name; he learned the hard way that justice was not to be found in the courts.

Troy was found guilty of killing McPhail solely on the basis of witness testimony that contained numerous inconsistencies at the time of the trial, according to a comprehensive 35-page report by Amnesty International, “Where is the Justice for Me? The case of Troy Davis, facing execution in Georgia.” No physical evidence linking Troy to the crime was found and the gun used in the crime was never located.

Significantly, since the original trial, seven of nine key witnesses have recanted their testimony. As the number of wrongfully convicted prisoners continues to grow, eyewitness testimony has come under increasing scrutiny.

“Eyewitness misidentification is widely recognized as one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions in the United States,” wrote Kirk Bloodsworth, in a recent Huffington Post editorial. “Since 1989, DNA evidence has been used to exonerate over 200 individuals who were wrongly convicted and of those, approximately 75 percent were convicted on evidence that included inaccurate and faulty eyewitness identifications.”

Bloodsworth, himself, was wrongfully convicted on the basis of mistaken eyewitness identification. The first to be exonerated by DNA testing, Bloodworth points out that in most cases, like Troy’s, no biological evidence exists that could be tested to prove innocence.

But it would be wrong to assume that Troy’s wrongful conviction was simply the result of ‘mistakes.’ In affidavits recanting their testimonies, multiple witnesses said that police pressure forced them to wrongly point the finger at Davis.

In his affadavit, Jeffrey Sapp, who testified that Troy told him he had shot the officer in self-defence, said that police pressured him to implicate Troy. “I remember when the officer got shot down at Burger King,” Sapp stated. “The police came and talked to me and put a lot of pressure on me to say, ‘Troy said this’ or ‘Troy said that.’ They wanted me to tell them that Troy confessed to me about killing that officer. The thing is, Troy never told me anything about it. I got tired of them harassing me, and they made it clear that the only way they would leave me alone is if I told them what they wanted to hear.”

Recantations by other witnesses tell similar stories of police pressure. In light of the recantations, four of the jurors in Troy’s original trial now question their ruling and believe that their sentence was based on incomplete and unreliable evidence.

Moreover, former President Clinton’s tough on crime policies had direct consequences for Troy. In 1995, when Congress eliminated $20 million in funding for post-conviction defense, the Georgia Resource Center who was representing Troy saw their budget slashed by 70 percent. Just as the Center was preparing Davis’ appeal, they were forced to lay off the majority of the Center’s attorneys. Troy’s lawyer has admitted that the best he could do was try “to avoid total disaster.”

On top of that, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, signed by Clinton following the Oklahoma bombings, meant that Troy’s pleas to present evidence that could prove his innocence were rejected on procedural grounds.

For the time being, Troy’s execution has been put on hold--a testament to struggle and activism. From behind bars, Troy has been a vocal proponent in the fight to save his own life and prove his innocence. And Troy’s sister, Martina Correia, who has been battling breast cancer, has fought tirelessly to organize support for Troy. Leading up to Troy’s hearing before the Parole Board, Martina helped to assemble a diverse group of advocates from Sister Helen Prejean to South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

“My brother Troy is such a wonderful person that he gives me the strength to do this, because he cares more about our family and our health than his own well-being, “said Martina in a recent interview with Democracy Now. “So he gives me the strength to keep doing this work, and that’s what I do...I’m going to continue my fight to prove Troy’s innocence.”