Why does Georgia want to kill Troy Davis?

By: Marlene Martin

Troy Davis' life hangs in the balance as the New Abolitionist goes to press.

Will the state of Georgia go forward with its scheduled execution date of September 23 and send Troy to his death? Or will the state's Board of Pardon and Paroles commute his sentence?

News of Troy's execution date stunned activists because his case is still before the U.S. Supreme Court, which has not made a decision yet. Nonetheless, activists are jumping into action. Martina, Troy's sister and most ardent spokesperson said of her family, "We are a family of fighters, and this is only making us fight harder."

Troy has been on Georgia's death row for 18 years. He was convicted of killing a white police officer, but no physical evidence ever connected him to the crime. The only thing that convicted Troy was the testimony of nine witnesses--seven of whom have now come forward and signed affidavits saying they lied on the stand, some saying they were pressured by police to do so.

One of these witnesses, Jeffrey 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.' 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. I told them that Troy told me he did it, but it wasn't true. Troy never said that or anything like it."

Despite this compelling evidence of his innocence, Troy has been denied the ability to present this evidence to a jury--one appeal after another has been turned down. Rosemary Barkett, a judge on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, expressed frustration over other judges' refusal to grant Troy's appeals, saying, "If these people say, "I was coerced by the police," how could [they] reject that without a hearing?"

But the judges say they are only following the law as it stands. That law, known as the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), signed into law in 1996, has made it much more difficult for death row prisoners to find relief in the courts, even with very strong claims of innocence.

Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears wrote a dissenting opinion in Troy's case that the courts had set a bar so high for granting a new trial that no one could meet it.

But as with every death row case, there are other "bars" that stood in the way of Troy getting justice. Troy was dealt a blow when Congress voted to defund existing resource centers that helped indigent defendants get decent legal representation. As a result, Troy was without any attorney at all from 1991 to 1996. His attorney at the time explains, "I desperately tried to represent Mr. Davis during this period, but the lack of adequate resources and the numerous intervening crisis made that impossible."

Now, what happens to Troy depends on how much pressure activists can exert on the courts and the Board of Pardon and Paroles. And the pressure is on. Letter, faxes, petitions, e-mails and phone calls have been pouring in from all over the world in support of Troy. The ACLU has been holding weekly "Tuesday for Troy" rallies in Atlanta. A march in support of Troy has been called by Amnesty International for September 11 in Atlanta.

In a recent letter from Troy he sends his message of "thanks" and gratitude to all that are working to bring him justice. But he understands that we need to keep up the pressure, "Even though I've already received a lot of media coverage, most Georgians still haven't heard about my situation."

But with Martina as his main advocate, he has an excellent driver at the helm. And even though she is battling her own death sentence, having been diagnosed with breast cancer eight years ago and at one time given only six months to live, she writes, "We will fight until the end and even past Troy. I will see the death penalty abolished in my lifetime. Please know that faith can move mountains, and we can still save Troy Anthony Davis."

To learn more about Troy's case and for information on writing the parole board, go to http://www.troyanthonydavis.org/support-troy-davis.html.