Friday, 24 October 2008

My Visit With Troy Davis, a Man Facing Death on October 27th

Dear Fellow Activists,

My Visit With Troy Davis, a Man Facing Death on October 27th

By Federica Valla, American Observer
Posted on October 23, 2008, Printed on October 23, 2008

They come out of the corridor all dressed up,
with perfectly ironed white suits with blue
collars and tennis shoes, a white smile upon
their shaved faces. It is visiting day, and they
have been waiting for it since last week.

They lean in a line against the yellow painted
gates with their arms straight out, waiting for
the warden to release their handcuffs, and then
they dissolve in the crowded room filled with
kids and antsy wives who offer them prepackaged
foods just purchased from the vending machines in
the hall -- their gourmet lunch for the day.

But Troy Davis is not allowed in the visitation
room with the rest of them because he is a death
row inmate. Visitors see him in a separate room,
two gates away from where others greet guests.

Inside the prison, he is known by the number
657378, since the day he was confined to cell 79
on the top floor of the G-house in the Georgia
Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson,
Ga. He was convicted for the murder of a police
officer when he was 20 years old. He has always said he is innocent.

Davis has been sitting on Georgia's death row for
17 years, charged with the assault of Larry
Young, a homeless man, and the murder of police
officer Mark Allen MacPhail in the parking lot of
a Burger King in Savannah, Ga. on August 19,
1989. Seven of the nine eyewitnesses who
testified that Davis was present at the shooting
have recanted their testimony, saying police
pressured them into making false statements.
Their recantations have never been heard in
court. No weapon has ever been found, and no
physical evidence connects Davis to the crime.

After years of litigation, Davis exhausted his
appeals to the Georgia Supreme Court in March
2008 when the court denied him an evidentiary
hearing. He was denied clemency from the Georgia
Pardons and Paroles Board on Sept. 8, 2008. His
appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was not
considered until Sept. 23, when the court
convened an emergency session and gave Davis a
stay less than two hours before his scheduled
execution, due to the abundance of incongruent
evidence in favor of his innocence.

The stay gave Davis and his many supporters new
hope. But on Oct. 14, the U.S. Supreme Court
declined to give Davis's case a full hearing,
leaving the lower court verdict intact. A new
death warrant was issued few days later and a
third execution date is scheduled for Oct. 27 at 7pm.

I met Davis inside the walls of the prison for
the first time, when, after a two-month
correspondence, I decided to fly to Jackson to
talk to him in person. I wanted to know for
myself how someone could sleep at night, knowing
that death might soon be whispering in his ears
for a crime he says he did not commit.

The answer was more powerful than I had expected.

"My faith has taught me that if you give all your
worries to God he will carry your burdens," Davis
wrote in a letter to me sent the day after my
visit. "It's God that carried me through death's
valley and took my worries away."

For Davis, faith is the door to freedom. Having
faith makes you stronger than your family and
able to support them more than they are
supporting you, he said, because they are the
ones who will be left behind once you are gone
and you have to show them you are not afraid to die.

"Sometimes all of this seems like it's happening
to someone else. I sometimes dream to be free,
but in each dream my family is 18-and-a-half
years younger, and my father is still alive,"
said Davis during an in-person interview in April
2008. "I am disappointed at the system, but
refuse to become bitter and angry, because I
still have a lot of fight left in me ? I have too
much to live for to give up, to give up on myself
means I have given up on my family as well, but
we are in this together and I cannot give up now."

Meeting Davis not only changed the person I am
today, it changed the way I perceived death, and
prison, and the smell of prepackaged food.

Walking though the prison's metal gates in the
early hours of that April day, I felt sick to my
stomach. Standing in line with mothers, daughters
and wives of inmates, I felt out of place and
inappropriate. I had not lost anyone dear to the
prison's walls; I was just a cocky journalist in
search of a scoop. But my feeling of regret soon
vanished once I saw the smile on Davis's face,
and perceived how much my interest in his case changed his day.

I was not allowed to bring a recorder in to my
interview with Davis. I wasn't even allowed pen
and paper. Eight hours after I sat down with him,
my head filled with interesting thoughts and
minus $10 in prepackaged food later, I left his
cell to pour my thoughts on paper.

Six months have passed since that day. I've tried
to start writing this article ten times, trying
different structures and voices and perspectives.
I'm finally ready to explore my chat with Davis
that foggy afternoon of late April.

Why now? Because much has changed since that
weekend when I talked to him in person. I think
it is time for others to know what I found in
that cell that so captured my attention,
especially now that Davis is facing his third and
final execution date on Oct 27.

Before prison, Davis was a big brother to his
siblings. He took night classes to get his high
school diploma so he would have time to take care
of his younger sister Kimberly when she became
paralyzed. He would drop her off and pick her up
from school since their parents were separated,
their oldest sister Martina was in the army, and
their mom worked the day shift, he said. After he
graduated from high school, Davis worked in his
father's construction company. Every week, he
took $50 from his paycheck and snuck the cash
into his mother's room to help her pay the bills, he said.

It never crossed his mind that hanging out with
the wrong people on a summer night in 1989 could
have cost him his life as a free man, or that an
innocent man -- which he insists he is -- could
be slated to die under the American justice system.

"For an innocent man like me the justice system
continues to fail me. Why is that so hard to
admit they made a mistake? What kind of person
knows he coerced false evidence to convict an
innocent man and still refuses to right the
wrong? Who is more barbaric then, them or the
people they put in prison?" he asked in a letter
dated April 27. "I would like to ask society how
long would you remain quiet while innocent people
suffer, while we remain on death row and unjustly
get convicted? When is it that enough is enough?
When will you speak up and fight to stop
injustice everywhere? Or will you wait until
someone you love becomes a victim to the system, too?"


It is no surprise that a man facing death would
say he is innocent of the crime. But Davis is not
alone in claiming his innocence.

While investigating Davis's story, I came across
a similar case: the case of Rubin Cantu, a
22-year-old Hispanic man who was executed in
Texas in 1993. As in Davis's case, Cantu was
convicted based solely on eyewitness
identification. He was found to be innocent --
after he was killed. Among the documents on file
in Davis's case was a letter from Samuel D.
Millsap Jr., a former Texas District Attorney and
the prosecutor in Cantu's case. In the letter,
Millsap said he has concerns about having
convicted Rubin Cantu for a crime he might not
have committed solely on the basis of one eyewitness's testimony.

Millsap said he thinks Troy Davis's case is similar to Cantu's.

"In the Davis case now, the question is if we are
about to execute a man in circumstances in which
it is likely or, at least, there is a substantial
chance that he did not commit the crime that he
was convicted for," he said. "It seems to me that
what courts have an obligation to do is try to
make sure that justice is done and that the
innocents are protected. Personally, what the
Georgia Court has done by refusing to grant Troy
Davis a hearing is really the ultimate in form over substance."

Millsap believes in Davis's innocence. In 2007,
he wrote a letter to the Pardons and Paroles
Board advocating clemency for Davis. Amnesty
International has also been active in Davis's
case, publishing a detailed report on his trial's
flaws and organizing weekly rallies in Atlanta.


"Being on death watch is something unimaginable.
I did not realize the seriousness of it until it
was all over," Davis said when we talked in
prison in April. "Imagine having to fill out
paperwork on who will visit you on your last 24
hours alive. Imagine writing goodbye letters to
your loved ones. Planning your last meal. Walking
to each death row inmates' cell, shaking their
hands while they say 'good luck,' while I was
responding 'I will be back.' Imagine seeing
grownup men with tears rolling down their faced
who you did not know they cared so much about
you. Imagine filling out papers on who will
receive your personal property and your dead body."

Davis will go through the motions of waiting for
a police officer to come in to his cells to take
all his measurements from shoe size to shoulder
width. He has been through this twice before.

"They take your shoe size, they measure you up so
they can find someone your size they can use to
try out the scenario of the execution," he said
during our talk on April 27. "They make sure they
choose the same size guards to attend the
execution so they can deal with you if you resist them."

Then they will put him in a 35-foot-tall
isolation cell with a steel toilet, a steel cart
and a 24-hour camera monitoring him as if he were
a "museum display," he said. When he went through
this process before, he was given a Bible, some
sheets of paper a pen, envelopes and an old
TV/radio. They gave him clothing that were two
sizes too big, so that if he tried to fight the
guards his pants would fall off and he would have
to surrender because he would be stumbling all over his clothing.

Besides his faith in God, Davis says one person
has kept him sane through his years in prison --
his "angel," his older sister Martina Correia, a
breast cancer survivor who has been by his side
for all these years, even when the strength to
fight seemed to fade away. He said without her he
would have probably given up on life and freedom much earlier.

"Watching how Martina sacrificed her dreams to
free her brother inspired me to fight harder and
helped me to think about my family before I
allowed myself to get into any trouble that would
keep me from seeing them," said Davis on a letter
dated April 8. "I thank God for her daily. I want
to build her a house, I want to put her son De
Jaun through college so he can follow his dream
to find a cure for Cancer, which is what she is fighting."

Correia splits her free time working as an
executive director of the National Black
Leadership Initiative on Cancer and as the
National Steering Committee Chair for Amnesty
International. She travels the world in the name
of her brother, because innocence matters for everyone, she said.

"We are in this fight to win," she said in an
email exchange on Sept. 2. "I do it for the man
he is. I will rest when he is free."

The "stay tough" attitude seems to run in the
family. It comes through in a letter from Davis
written right after the Georgia Supreme Court
denied him a new trial. A new execution date was
looming, but Davis was still sure justice would prevail.

"Personally I think things will work out before
then," he wrote in his last letter to me, dated
Sept. 18, 2008. "I'll be home living the life of a free man soon."

? 2008 American Observer All rights reserved.
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