--Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., 1994
"By reserving the penalty of death for black defendants, or for the poor, or for those convicted of killing white persons, we perpetrate the ugly legacy of slavery--teaching our children that some lives are inherently less precious than others."
--Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, former President, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, 1989
Tonight, the daddy is feeling the letter that celebrity and long-time social activist Harry Belafonte sent to Georgia's State Board of Pardon and Paroles urging them to review the evidence-- old and new-- in the Troy Davis case. The letter is important not only for its plea for a review of the evidence, but also for the solid background it provides into the case.
Dear Chairperson Hunt and Board Members:
Having become aware of the current circumstances surrounding the fate of Mr. Troy Anthony Davis, I am deeply and urgently concerned by the imminent possibility of a grave injustice. Convicted of murdering Officer Mark McPhail and also for shooting Michael Cooper and assaulting Larry Young in the same situation, Mr. Davis has been on death row for the last 15 years. It is critical to note that Mr. Davis’ conviction was not achieved through the use of physical evidence and there was no murder weapon found. The prosecution instead based its case on the testimony of witnesses, many of whom now allege police coercion and most of whom have recanted their trial testimony.
Since the trial, Mr. Cooper and Mr. Young, who both survived, now deny knowing who the perpetrator in their attacks was. A witness who signed a police statement declaring Davis the assailant later admitted that, “I did not read it because I cannot read. Another witness said he incriminated Mr. Troy because the police “were telling me that I was an accessory to murder and that I would…go to jail for a long time and I would be lucky if I ever got out, especially because a police officer got killed…I was only sixteen and was so scared of going to jail. Several witnesses have implicated another man in the crime, yet the police focused their efforts on convicting Mr. Troy.
Troy has been an exemplary prisoner for 15 years, and during that time has campaigned to have the facts of the case heard in its entirety. Compounding this uphill legal battle are current statutes. The federal Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 was cited by Georgia state lawyers as grounds for refusing to hear new evidence that would help prove his innocence because it was not presented during appeals in state courts. Additionally, Troy has repeatedly suffered from deficient legal representation, particularly during the crucial appeals phase.
While I am opposed to the death penalty, I recognize that your service on the State Board of Pardons and Paroles means you view the death penalty as a fact of law. The 124 people who have been released from death rows across the US due to wrongful conviction are themselves dramatic indicators of the colossal weight this puts on your shoulders. News accounts of a growing number of cases in which those who have already been executed are now believed to have been innocent only increase that burden. The fact that human error is inevitable argues that we must exhaust every possibility and carefully examine every detail before allowing the state to take an action that cannot be reversed. My plea is that you use your power to ensure that Troy has one final chance of a fair hearing in federal court, one that will properly review all evidence, both old and new, and properly question the reliability of the witness testimony used against him at trial. I implore you to review the facts of this case. Immense “reasonable doubt” exists in Troy’s case, and by granting clemency, you can prevent a grave travesty.
To see how you can help, go to the Troy Davis website.