In the final hours of a years-long fight to save Troy Davis’ life, human rights activists have intensified efforts to prevent the execution of a most likely innocent man. The prospects, however, look increasingly bleak.
Davis’ lawyers have been scrambling for any possible solutions, but the only remaining chance to stop the execution is through the courts — a highly unlikely scenario. The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles denied clemency Tuesday morning, and other desperate efforts have also failed. As AP writes,
His backers also have resorted to far-fetched measures: offering for Davis to take a polygraph test, urging prison workers to strike or call in sick, posting a judge’s phone number online, urging people to call and ask him to put a stop to the 7 p.m. execution. They’ve even considered a desperate appeal for White House intervention.
So far, these efforts have proven futile. Their probable failure will be, to say the least, drastically demoralizing to human rights activists who have rallied around this case in the fight against capital punishment.
While many people are executed on unfair grounds, the Davis case is significant because of glaring inconsistencies in the evidence that was used to convict him. Davis was convicted in 1991 of murdering Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail in 1989; the verdict, however, has drawn criticism due to shifting, changing testimonies and the lack of physical evidence. In the two decades since his trial, all but two of the state’s non-police witnesses have recanted their testimonies — and one of those who has held onto his testimony is the principle alternative suspect. In a country that claims to pride itself on justice, Davis’ guilt is blatantly uncertain.
Amnesty and other human rights groups deemed Sept. 16 the International Day of Solidarity for Troy Davis, and hundreds of thousands of people held vigils and other events to urge the Georgia board to grant him clemency. The case has drawn the attention of notable figures like Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, and Pope Benedict XVI. Evidently, even the high profile nature of the cause was not enough to halt the execution.
Davis’ supporters are refusing to back down, even as the last shreds of hope disappear. Activists have been holding more protests and vigils on his behalf, begging for last-minute intervention. They are calling the parole board, raising awareness, and holding signs saying, “Not in my name!”
Meanwhile, Davis has refused a last meal and has said he would like to spend his last hours with friends, family, and supporters.
If the execution happens, it will mark a huge blow for the community that has mobilized around Davis for years. It could send the message that grassroots organizing, petitions, and vigils are ineffective. Davis’ death will prove how unfair and unjust our “justice” system is, and it will make many people feel completely powerless to change it.
Additionally troubling is the message Davis’ execution sends to the rest of the world. His case has garnered considerable international attention. The United States is one of 139 countries with the death penalty, but we are one of only 23 countries that carried out executions in 2010. Always striving to be at the top, we were among the countries with the most executions in 2010 — along with China, Iran, North Korea, and Yemen. Our penchant for killing people puts us among countries with notorious human rights records, thereby weakening our claims for international morality.
Foreign bodies have opposed how the U.S. justice system is handling Davis’ case. The Council of Europe, among other groups, has called for his sentence to be commuted. Renate Wohlwend of the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly said, “To carry out this irrevocable act now would be a terrible mistake which could lead to a tragic injustice.”
Most death penalty cases do not get nearly as much global attention as Troy Davis; therefore, his execution will further hurt our reputation as a nation. But aside from what the international community thinks of Davis’ death, perhaps the greater question is what his execution — and countless others every year — do to us as a country.
Columnist Leonard Pitts wrote that this case in particular shows how bloodthirsty our nation can be: “But that need to see death — the inability to imagine how justice can be had without it — is compelling. Indeed, there can be little doubt that is what is driving Troy Davis toward execution.” His observation is particularly salient as Texas Gov. Rick Perry draws praise instead of criticism for his record of overseeing 234 executions at a recent Republican presidential debate.
The widow of Mark MacPhail, the slain police officer, said earlier this week, “It’s time for justice. We need our justice.”
But what kind of justice is served if a man is killed for a crime he did not commit?
Hours away from execution, Troy Davis released a statement that echoes his supporters’ dedication:
“The struggle for justice doesn’t end with me. This struggle is for all the Troy Davises who came before me and all the ones who will come after me. I’m in good spirits and I’m prayerful and at peace. But I will not stop fighting until I’ve taken my last breath. Georgia is prepared to snuff out the life of an innocent man.”