Exactly one year ago September 21, I remember making my way to the entrance of the Georgia Diagnostic Classification Prison in Jackson, Georgia -- about a 45-minute ride from the airport. It was one of my many trips during the past four years to see my friend, Troy Davis. Some of these visits were heart-wrenching -- three to be exact. That is because I had to say "goodbye" yet again because Troy had received another warrant for his execution. But leaving the prison those times had somewhat happy endings -- if you can call visiting and saying goodbye to someone on death role a happy ending.
The outcome for those was that Troy was still alive. But last year, my visit to the prison was just very very tough. I recall parking my rent-a-car and walking the same path to the prison... not even looking up to see the others coming to see their brother, uncle, cousin, and friend. I wanted to be hopeful like the other times, but I was just sad. Sad for all that Troy had gone through -- receiving stays yet having to face three scheduled executions; having his case heard by the Georgia Supreme Court only to have them decide against him; getting an evidentiary hearing but the judge ignoring all the new evidence by witnesses; and lastly having his fourth scheduled execution briefly halted so that the U.S. Supreme Court could review his case as he sat and waited several hours before they strapped him to the gurney for good.
When I spoke to Troy's sister, Martina, a few weeks after his execution, she said to me, "Gemma, Troy was just so tired. He was just so tired." I understood what she meant. He had such hope for nearly 22 years -- the time he was on death row, only to get so close to possibly being free -- only to be pushed back in the cell he so longed to leave. Sadly, Martina Correia lost her life as well. She died of breast cancer nearly two months after her brother.
Troy, who was incarcerated at age 21 and found guilty of killing Officer Mark MacPhail in August of l989, wanted nothing more than his freedom. There are so many tragic events in this story. Troy was found guilty simply by the testimony of nine witnesses. MacPhail was shot in Savannah, Georgia when he came to the rescue of a homeless man who was being harassed by another guy for his beer outside of a pool hall and Burger King. MacPhail was a young police officer, newly married, with a family. He was just doing his job. As the years went by and Troy lingered in prison, seven of the nine witnesses recanted. Despite all this, it wasn't enough to save him. The gun was never found. No DNA. Many of the eye witnesses were young, one couldn't read or write, and many of them claimed the police coerced them into a confession that Troy committed the murder. One of the witnesses showed up with a lawyer telling the police Troy did it. That witness, many have said, is the real triggerman. Yet, the police never checked his story, his home, or his car. I heard about Troy's case simply by reading the paper back in July of 2007 -- the night before his first scheduled execution. I was so troubled by what I read -- ready to be executed despite witness recantations and support from Pope Benedict, Desmond Tutu, and former President Jimmy Carter, etc. I made phone calls and one led to a connection with Martina. Within a few weeks, she asked if I wanted to meet her brother. I did -- and my life was changed. I'm not the same person. None of us are who met Troy, who were privileged to know him and call him a dear friend. Troy taught me so much. He was never bitter. He was always spiritual. I could spend hours with him (and I did) hearing about the Bible; what he was like as a teenager; a young boy growing up in Georgia; the love for his mother Virginia -- his siblings, Martina, Kimberly, Ebony, and Lester. The pride he had for his nephew, DeJaun and the joy he got when his 4 year-old niece, "Princess" Kiersten would visit him. I would just laugh hysterically when he would imitate her and say, "Choy (She couldn't pronounce Troy,) I just love you so much." That last visit to say goodbye to Choy was so moving. Uncle Choy lifted Kiersten and rocked her back and forth as if she were a little plane taking off. I remember saying to Troy, "I so wish I had a camera... "
Troy was one of the kindest people I had ever met. He responded to every letter he received... and at the end... he received so many. His dream was to be free and make a difference in the world. He wanted people to know that there are other Troy Davises out there and that there are people in prison like him -- innocent.
My last words to him were thanking him for changing my life. His final words to the world changed others:
All that I can ask is that each of you look deeper into this case, so that you really will finally see the truth. I ask to my family and friends that you all continue to pray, that you all continue to forgive. Continue to fight this fight.
For those about to take my life, may God have mercy on all of your souls. God bless you all.
On this anniversary of his passing, let us remember who Troy Davis was, what he stood for, and the work we as a nation still need to do.