Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Troy Davis and the death of innocence

Troy DavisHis name has been at the forefront of the worldwide anti death penalty movement for over a decade, but Troy Davis may now be in the final weeks of his life. Today his execution was set for 21st September at 7:00pm local time in Georgia, USA.

For those not familiar with his case, Davis was convicted of murdering a police officer during a late-night confrontation outside a fast food restaurant in 1989.  Always protesting his innocence, he was convicted on eye-witness testimony, due to an absence of any physical link to the crime.  However, the validity of this was thrown into doubt in the years following the trial, as a picture emerged of witnesses being harassed, assaulted and even threatened with execution by police officers. 

It takes just a handful of the many quotes compiled in Amnesty International’s damning 2007 report on the case to highlight the context in which the testimonies were given: 

“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.”

“I was real tired because it was the middle of the night and I was pregnant too… I
was scared that if I didn’t do what the police wanted me to do, then they would try to
lock me up again.”

“I remember that they asked a lot of questions and typed up a statement which theyTroy Davis No Murder Weapon told me to sign. I did not read the statement before I signed. In fact, I have not seen it before today.”

“They told me that I was going to the electric chair. They got in my face and yelled at me a lot. The cops then told me that I did the shooting over in Cloverdale. I just kept telling them that I didn’t do anything, but they weren’t hearing that. After four or five hours, they told me to sign some papers. I just wanted to get the hell out of there.”

Such a situation is perhaps understandable: police officers angry at the murder of their colleague, under strenuous public pressure, during a time when regulations and standards of conduct were lower, and terrified at the prospect of no one ever being brought to trial – stooping to the lowest possible grounds in order to secure a conviction. 

Though if understandable it is never acceptable: for building a case on this makes a mockery of justice, particularly when in the absence of physical evidence, witness testimony is the only basis for the case.  Now, seven of the nine original key witnesses have formally retracted their statements (one of the remaining two was another suspect in the case) whilst others who were nearby the crime scene or who knew Davis have highlighted additional evidence, that may have helped the defence, but was ignored by the police and prosecution at the time. 

Of course, this does not vindicate Davis, but it raises serious questions about his guilt; so serious that in 2009 a juror in the case stated that “Troy Davis would not be on death row” if she had known back then what she knew now.

Like in the case of Reggie Clemons in Missouri, a man is set to be locked to a table and pumped full of poisonousness chemicals on the back of a case that is riddled with doubt, malpractice and hugely infirm evidence.  The strongest case against the death penalty in the USA right now is the possibility that innocent people are being executed.  Before even addressing the inhumanity of judicial murder or the undermining of international standards, the fact stands that in the cases of Davis, Clemons and numerous others – based on evidence that appears to be coerced, I am Troy Davisfabricated or simply incorrect. the jury may have got it wrong. 

There is however, still hope.  Davis’ execution has already been scheduled and postponed three times (in 2008 being called off with less than two hours to go); due to a combination of legal challenges and a global campaign that has been supported by thousands including Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI and even a former FBI director, as well as the European Union and Amnesty International. 

If pressure over the coming days can secure another stay, a strong signal will be sent and there may be a genuine chance to  review Davis’ case to the full and thorough extent that he, and all those living under US law, deserve.

Execution Chamber 2

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