On the 21st September 2011, shop the American State of Georgia executed Troy Davis. Davis died protesting his innocence, sovaldi supported by international condemnation of the trial process under which he was found guilty of murder.
In 1991 Davis was found guilty by jury of fatally shooting off duty police officer Mark Allen McPhail in 1989. McPhail was shot twice whilst trying to placate a disturbance in a Burger king car park. Four days later Davis surrendered himself for investigation but insisted he was innocent.
During twenty years on death row Davis’ execution was stayed three times, just hours before it was due to happen. In 2004 the defence filed petitions claiming key prosecution witnesses had recanted their original testimony. They claimed seven out of the nine witnesses admitted their statements were untrue or fabricated, and that they had been threatened or pressured by the police when statements were given. One witness signed his statement but was later found to be illiterate.
In 2009 the US Supreme court ordered a federal judge to hear new evidence in favour of innocence. Professor Wilkes of Georgia University believes Davis’ attorneys made a fatal error at this point, namely failing to subpoena Sylvester Coles, a man other witnesses said was present on the night of the shooting. As a result of this failure, the presiding judge refused to hear evidence of other witnesses who identified Coles as the killer. Davis therefore was not held to have successfully establish his innocence as required, a test condemned by Amnesty International, and his conviction was upheld, significant doubts over the reliability of evidence outstanding.
2004 onwards saw increasing international outcry against the management of Davis’ case, including personal appeals by the Pope and former President Jimmy Carter. Amnesty International, who see capital punishment as being “oppressive” and within the remit of ‘inhumane and degrading treatment’, campaigned on behalf of Davis for the past ten years. Last week Amnesty sent a petition containing over one million signatures to the body who had the power to withhold the execution, Georgia State Pardon and Parole Board. An appeal made to the board by Davis’ attorneys was rejected on September 20th 2011, along with a request for a polygraph test, a response declared by some as ‘routine’.
In the week leading up to the execution Amnesty held rallies, including one in O’Connell Street, Dublin where campaigners, dressed in t-shirts bearing the slogan ‘I am Troy Davis’, worked to gain signatures. For Amnesty International Ireland the campaign for Troy Davis has personal significance, in 2010 Troy’s sister Martina spoke in Dublin at the AGM. On the night of the 21st September a vigil was held at the Unitarian Church on St Stephen’s Green, beginning fifteen minutes before the scheduled execution time.
At midnight GMT Davis’ attorneys announced that the US Supreme court had placed a temporary delay whilst they considered the appeal. After four hours of deliberation the appeal was rejected. At 11.08pm local time in front of the McPhail family, Davis was pronounced dead – fifteen minutes after the administration of the lethal injection. Pleading his innocence until the end Davis asked those present to ‘look deeper into his case to find the truth, and asked God to have mercy on the soul of his executioners’.
For those who have supported the contention that there was reasonable doubt in Davis’ case and who worked hard to get his voice heard, his execution was “devastating”. Words spoken at the vigil on the night of the 21st served to highlight how personal the fight had become. Their message echoed Troy Davis statement to Amnesty International the day before his execution.
“The struggle for justice doesn’t end with me. This struggle is for all the Troy Davis’ who came before me and all the ones who will come after me.”