Overtime: Justice for Troy Davis

We're not politicians, or lawyers or corrections officers or anything of that sort. We are an athlete and a sports writer, which might seem like miles away from the concerns of Georgia's machinery of death. But that distance has made us all the more disgusted and appalled by the treatment of death row prisoner Troy Davis. An injustice somewhere is a threat to justice everywhere, and on Aug. 24, an injustice was done. On that summer day, federal Judge William T. Moore of Savannah, Georgia, coldly dismissed Troy Davis' claims that he is innocent of the 1989 killing of off-duty police officer Mark Allen MacPhail. Judge Moore made this decision despite the fact that a conservative-leaning US Supreme Court ruled almost a year ago for the incredibly specious case to be reviewed.

This was a case without either material evidence or a murder weapon. It depended solely upon nine eyewitnesses who named Troy Davis as the shooter. That sounds pretty compelling, but what moved the Supreme Court to call for a review is the fact that since the conviction, an astounding seven out of nine non-police witnesses have recanted their testimony. Several have claimed that intense police pressure led to their choosing of Davis. One of the two witnesses who maintain that Davis is guilty, a gentleman named Sylvester Coles, has been named by several of these witnesses as the actual shooter.

However, none of this evidence has been heard because of a law signed by President Clinton in 1996 called the anti-terrorism and effective death penalty act. This act restricts federal reviews of state death penalty convictions. So in essence, whatever additional information that is obtained after the fact, regardless of errors discovered by the state, federal review remains restricted. Davis' case has also been met with mountains of challenges because Congress voted back in 1995 to restrict funding for organizations that want to provide assistance for death row prisoners who can't afford dream teams of expensive lawyers. The Georgia Research Center was helping Davis with his case, but their budget was cut by two-thirds, and Davis was unable to introduce the new evidence. An unfortunate reality is that justice costs, and if you cannot afford the dream team of attorneys and private investigators, you are in a world of trouble. The state, after an indictment, narrows its focus on conviction and simply will not take the time and resources to fully examine innocence or guilt. It's an absolute disgrace.

As Davis' sister and advocate, Martina Correia, explained to Democracy Now following the judge's ruling:

[T]he lawyers actually had a subpoena for Sylvester "Red" Coles, but they have no policing powers, so they can't go on private property and serve a subpoena... And the judge did not give them policing powers, nor did he assign any police to serve the subpoenas that were already issued and ready to be served on Sylvester Coles... So what we had to do was we had to trust that he would come to court.

In other words, Moore had no incentive or compelling authority to subpoena Coles, and when Coles didn't show, it was a mark against Mr. Davis.

Highlighting many of the worst aspects of the U.S. justice system when it comes to death penalty cases, the State of Georgia would be wise to intervene in some form or fashion. The parole board in Georgia has executive clemency power. Pressure needs to be applied to them. What type of confidence will the citizens of Georgia have in their state if some type of intervention is not done? There is precedence for parole board intervening in capital cases. In fact, earlier this year a man by the name of David Crow had his sentence commuted. So it can be done, they just have to have the moral courage to stand up for what everyone who has looked at the facts of this case knows is right. And that is that Troy Davis is innocent and the state of Georgia is hell bent on executing an innocent man.

This fight is far from over. Numerous organizations like Amnesty International, the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union; the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, former President Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, singer Harry Belafonte and thousands of protesters have spoken out. And make no mistake about it -- we can win. A group called The Innocence Project, which was founded in 1992, has gotten more than 220 people exonerated through post-conviction DNA testing.

75% were cases of mistaken identity, and many of those cases have extreme similarities to the case of Troy Davis: poor representation, weak case, low income, etc. We cannot give up on Troy Davis. Every life is precious. He has already been incarcerated since 1991 -- we think it's past time that justice finally prevails.

For more information about the case, please visit nodeathpenalty.org or Amnesty International.