Saturday, 4 August 2007

Our prayers have been answered

Saturday, Aug 04, 2007 - 06:42 PM Updated: 06:59 PM

By JoAnn Merrigan

Virgina Davis sat with her two daughters at Second Saint John Missionary Baptist Church Saturday in Savannah. A program was out to begin in support of her son, Troy Davis, who's on death row for the 1989 murder of Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail. Just the night before, Mrs. Davis had received word that the Georgia Supreme Court will hear an appeal filed by her son's attorneys.

"Our prayers have been answered and now they're going to sit back and listen and bring all the witnesses forward," Mrs. Davis told me. "This is what we've been trying to get for 15 years was someone to listen."

Davis,now 38 years old, was granted a stay of execution by the State Board of Parole last month, just one day before he was set to be put to death. His family says there is no physical evidence of substance against him and that out of nine eye witnesses, seven have now recanted their stories.

Saturday, two people who don't know the Davis family, made is a point to come from out of state to take part in the program.

One of them was Gary Drinkard, who came from Alabama to tell his story. He says he was wrongly convicted of a murder and held on Alabama's death row for eight years before being cleared in 2001. "My attorneys were able to prove I was at home when the crime was committed. The state had relied on the testimony of some so called "eye witnesses" to convict me."

Drinkard is now part of a group "Witness to Innocence" which he says is made up of death row exonerees nationwide. "There's 124 exonerees out now that are living proof that mistakes are made," Drinakard says. "We're the only supposedly civilized society in the world that still has the death penalty."

Jennifer Thompson-Cannino also came to take part in the program from her home in North Carolina. She's an activist who says she speaks to groups telling them that knows first hand that eye witnesses can make mistakes. In 1988, she was raped while attending college. She later identified a man she was convinced was her attacker. Some seven years later, a DNA test proved she had been mistaken and that the wrong man was behind bars. Thompson-Cannino told a emotioinal story of finally meeting the man and asking for his forgiveness. "And he offered it immediately," she told the crowd. "I had taken years of his life but he said all he wanted now was to have a good life, and he wanted me to do the same."

Thompson-Cannino says she was troubled to learn that there are what she terms "so many" death row cases nationwide where the evidence against those convicted may be questionable. "I asked myself if this was really the United States of America," she says.

The Davis family said Saturday they had not been able to speak to Troy by phone regarding the news that Georgia Supreme Court would hear an appeal regarding a lower court denying a new trial. His sister, Martina Correia says the hearing may not take place until November. "We still have work to do on this case but it says to me that people are paying attention and listening to the facts of the case and not just the emotions of the case," she told me.

Correia also believes that problems in her brother's cases are an example of systemic problems within the criminal justice system. "We've had six people exonnerated from death row in Georgia and two are right here from Chatham County," she says. "When you've got over 100 counties in the state, that's a big number from one area."

Another sister, Kimberly Davis, expressed support for her brother Troy and compassion for the family of Mark MacPahil. "I know they have suffered a tremendous loss," Davis told me. "but so have we, my brother has been incarcerated for 18 years. We don't need to kill the wrong man to try to give closure because that wouldn't give closure to our family or their family either."

The Davis's say they are preparing for another parole board hearing next week. "Our family remains behind Troy 100 percent," his mother told me.

No comments: