Remembering Troy Davis

One year ago today, the state of Georgia killed Troy Anthony Davis. The Board of Pardons and Paroles ignored the fact that there was no physical evidence linking him to the 1989 murder of Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail, or that seven of the nine state’s non-police witnesses recanted their testimony, or that nine individuals signed affidavits implicating Sylvester Coles, one of the other witnesses who testified against Troy, as the real killer. Despite nearly one million petition signers from around the world calling for Troy’s life to be spared, the Supreme Court refused to intervene, and the state proceeded with his execution.

Although the pain and shock from such a grave injustice remains with us, we can find comfort and strength in the wisdom of Troy’s words from that night: “This movement started before I was born. After tonight, our movement will grow stronger until we succeed in destroying the death penalty in the United States once and for all.”

Indeed, the movement has grown stronger. Earlier this year Connecticut became the fifth state in five years to end the death penalty. Several other states, including Maryland, are fighting legislative battles, and this November, voters in California will vote on Proposition 34, which if passed, would replace the death penalty with life without the possibility for parole.  In the past year, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber issued a moratorium on the death penalty in his state, and here in Tennessee Gussie Vann became our third exoneree when all charges against him for the 1992 murder of his daughter were dropped. Former Tennessee death row inmate Timothy McKinney continues to fight for freedom as he awaits his third trial, and in June, Ndume Olatushani was released on an Alford plea after serving 27 years behind bars, 19 of which were on death row.

While we are making progress around the country, injustices in the system continue. The case of Reggie Clemons in Missouri is eerily similar to Troy Davis’ case. Clemons is African-American, and the victims in the case were white. There is no physical evidence linking him to their murders, and eyewitnesses have recanted their testimony. Additionally, one of the witnesses was a former suspect.  There are also allegations in Clemons’ case of police and prosecutorial misconduct as well as jury bias. Please take action by signing this petition urging authorities to commute his sentence.

There is also the tragic case of Terrance Williams in Pennsylvania, who is scheduled to be executed on October 3. Williams suffered horrendous childhood sexual abuse, but the jury never heard about this victimization or that the men he killed had been his abusers. Five of those jurors now say they would not have sentenced Williams to death, and the widow of one of the victims has asked for his life to be spared, along with numerous judges, religious leaders, mental health professionals and children advocates. Please join them in calling for clemency by signing this petition.

Cases like those of Clemons and Williams will only continue as long as we have this broken death penalty system in place. We can honor their struggles for justice and the memory of Troy Davis by recommitting ourselves to abolition. You can get involved wherever you are by raising awareness about our severely flawed system.  You can talk with friends and family, host a speaker at your church or civic group, write a letter to the editor, and/or join or form a TADP chapter in your area. Together, we can make Troy’s vision for a world without the death penalty a reality.

(Photo courtesy of Amnesty International USA)

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