On the passing of Darby Tillis - a true warrior for justice!

By: Campaign to End the Death Penalty
Monday, November 10, 2014

Good morning folks,

It is with sadness that we must tell you of the passing of Darby Tilllis - our friend and comrade in the struggle for abolition of the death penalty. Darby served on the board of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty for almost two decades and his contributions to the struggle for justice and against racism are boundless. For those that can attend, we will let folks know of any plans for services and other memorials for Darby. 

Darby’s was an unparalleled voice in our movement. Here’s how we described him in a speaker biography:

Darby Tillis was the first of the thirteen men exonerated from Illinois' death row. A fiery, hard-hitting speaker--a "street preacher," as he calls himself--his message and delivery can wake up any audience. . For years he has traveled across the United States pounding out his message that the death penalty is a barbaric, racist institution, that must be abolished. He speaks about his own personal experience as a wrongfully convicted man on death row who was railroaded on to death row in 1979 by an overzealous, corrupt system for a crime he did not commit. It took five trials to prove his innocence. Finally, in 1987, he and his co-defendant were released; beginning a chain of exonerations that would eventually lead Republican Governor George Ryan to halt all executions in Illinois. To date, Darby has received little compensation from the state, but that hasn¹t stopped him from delivering his truth like a dart through the heart of Illinois' criminal injustice system. Darby is also a talented musician. If asked, he can belt out a mean "death row blues" tune on his harmonica. 

These few words cannot truly capture the true spirit and passion that Darby embodied during his life. Remembrances are already spreading among his loved ones, friends, and comrades and we will be bringing those remembrances to you in the coming days. You can see what many folks are saying about Darby at his Facebook page

For now, we share with you some words from Mark Clements, a former police torture victim who spent 28 years serving juvenile life without parole in an Illinois prison:

Good afternoon:

I want to inform each of you that Illinois first exonerated death row inmate Mr. Darby Tillis has died. I am awaiting to learn of funeral services and other arrangements that may be given as a memorial in his honor.

This is a sad day!. As Darby would spend hours with me normally during the middle of the night, reminding me how corrupt and unjust the criminal justice system become. He often reminded me that I would have to make a living being the voice for those I left behind. He would often encourage me knowing that being a kid and being sent to prison at sixteen years old, this world had become different, and the people would use you, take advantage of you, but he always taught me to keep moving regardless. He tried to hammer his points home to me as we would sit inside restaurants which every one knew him. He was always was there for me.

I remember traveling to Springfield in 2010 to lobby against the death penalty. Darby was picked to team up with me in encouraging senators to vote against the death penalty. He would just walk in their office and tell their staff, Hi, where is the senator. They say who should we say you are!, Tell them Darby Tillis is here and if he turn this meeting down I will not bring me and the boys to play music at his club any more. It would work. I said, wow!. 

We travelled to Georgia to fight to save the life of Troy Davis. Darby, had a way of doing things. He was bold and open. I recall his words to the media outside the State Building. Nine witnesses put Troy on death row, seven have credible affidavits today claiming different, Troy is locked up like a dog so he could not influence no one to do a damn!, Thing for him one way or the other. It's good for nine to convict, seven to exonerate is not good to Georgia. What damn! Common sense does that make. Seven say the man is innocent, the eighth one is mentally unstable, and the ninth one is the killer.  

At a Chicago Police Torture rally, Darby tells Jim Williams from CBS after a question was asked how do beatings amount to torture. He looks over at me and gently steps up to address the question. Darby said, if I smack the shit out of you and grab your balls and squeeze them, what do you call it? he further said, "Mark, he was a kid, you people holler how much you love kids, but let him get the shit beat out of him, and knew nothing and when you knew shut up because Richard Daley said shut up!. 

I will miss Darby, and I just pray that I have the strength to maintain the fight in which he played a key roll in organizing and speaking out against the death penalty and against wrongful convictions.


Mark A. Clements,

Campaign to End the Death Penalty

Board Member