("Between Life and Execution: The Troy Davis Story" -- Continued from Page 3)

10/9/2008 - Update: Troy Davis Turns 40 Today

Troy Davis turns 40 today - and he still waits for some reason to celebrate this day.

As a kid he loved G.I. Joe and got many of those figurines for his birthday, recalls sister Martina Correia. Birthdays were fun events in the family backyard with cake, ice cream and hot dogs and some nice gifts. Martina was not around when Troy turned 16, a special birthday for any teenager but sent him gifts while training in the Military. Little would she know that his 21st birthday would be behind bars and on death row.

A maximum security prison is hardly the perfect haven to celebrate a special occasion. That too of inmates whose spirit is being broken through isolation, bad nutrition, and a non productive life style.
The only exceptions are July 4th when they get Hamburgers and Hot dogs to celebrated Independence day, or when a convict is executed. Then the guards get a special barbecue meal. When an inmate receives a lot of cards they may just acknowledge the birthday briefly as the guards read the mail. Once a month they rent a DVD and the inmates can watch a movie. There is a TV which is controlled by the guards and the inmates can watch that.

They were allowed unlimited books-not any more. Now its seven, the number of visitors too has been cut down drastically and there are not many activities except for a short outing in an enclosed area with a basketball hoop where they can shoot baskets on concrete floors.

“Many inmates have diabetes and hypertension because of the food they get to eat,” says Martina. “There are many inmates with HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis, and don’t get medical treatment. The inmates have to pay 5 dollars each time they visit the doctor and if there is no family to finance them, then they remain untreated unless they are dying.”

Last year a death row inmate died of cancer and a major news paper reported it as-death row inmate escapes execution-dies of cancer.”

The winter months are harsh. The inmates sleep with 4-5 thin military style blankets, the heating is inadequate. “Last year to conserve energy, they cut off the hot water daily from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. and so many people fell sick taking cold baths. If someone sends you money, they charge you a dollar per month as tax in he prison. The inmate has to buy everything from the prison store, so that the prison can make some money.”

Martina says her family has never been far away from Troy. They used to send Troy 3-4 boxes of things that he could use, but now its been cut to one 15 pound box once a year. Martina and her family has visited Troy for every birthday, and every holiday they could. They have sent individual cards from each family member and friend. Cards that said-even though he is across the miles, he is with them. “We have a present under the Christmas tree for Troy each year. The pile is waiting for him, when he comes back. My mother still wakes up at 6 a.m. every Sunday to cook an elaborate Sunday dinner as if she is still cooking for a houseful of growing kids. Troy used to love her cooking and ate everything!”

Martina helped organize an event last weekend on a 2 day notice for leading members of the NAACP. There is great support from the state and national NAACP. Music and wonderful speeches, shared stories of atrocities on young black men in the late 80s by those who experienced it, walking to the crime scene where it all happened, made it a memorable event.”

The US Supreme Court asked for more time to look at the information before it hears arguments about the case on Friday and expects to give its decision on Tuesday, the 14th of October.
There are millions across the world praying for Troy Davis and that he finally finds justice. Troy himself is praying along with his family, for justice not just for himself but also for the MacPhail family.

As we wait and the world watches, all eyes are on the US Supreme Court. We hope they do the right thing and give Troy Davis the justice he deserves.  

Update 10/24/08

The state of Georgia began preparations to execute Davis for the 3rd time on the 27th, while he hung on to his faith-exhausted but hopeful, that God would step in. Letters from High School kids including one from Davis’s nephew Antone Correia were sent to the Pope, to the Governor, to the GA Parole Board and the White House asking for help. Meanwhile Troy Davis’s lawyers in a last ditch effort, asked asked the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to stay his execution in order to give them time to file a new round of appeals. “Mr. Davis’ execution in light of new evidence concerning his innocence is constitutionally intolerable,” the motion said, according to a report in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. “Society recoils at state execution of an innocent person.”

On 24th October the Federal court of Appeals, stayed Troy Davis’s execution for the 3rd time. “Upon our thorough review of the record, we conclude that Davis has met the burden for a stay of execution,” the court said in an order issued by Judges Joel Dubina, Rosemary Barkett and Stanley Marcus.

But what was interesting were the pre-conditions that followed that ruling. Eminent Attorney Scott Greenfield wrote this scathing commentary in his blog-“What is so surprising about this stay is that it comes on the heels of the United States Supreme Court’s rejection of Davis’ petition for cert, raising the obvious question of what the Circuit saw that the Supremes did not. While there is no available opinion as yet, the newspaper (AJC) reports that:

Davis must clear two difficult legal hurdles to win a new round of appeals.

First, he must show that his lawyers could not have previously found the new evidence supporting his innocence no matter how diligently they looked for it. And he must show that the new testimony, viewed in light of all the evidence, is enough to prove “by clear and convincing evidence that…no reasonable fact finder would have found [him] guilty.”

The 11th Circuit added a twist. It asked the parties to address whether Davis can still be executed if he can establish innocence under the second standard but cannot satisfy his burden under the first, due-diligence question.

The last paragraph is the one that is most shocking, and most offensive, about existing federal law. One would think that proof of innocence, with nothing more, would be an awfully good reason not to execute someone. The very notion of putting an innocent person to death is reprehensible. The very notion of putting someone who may well be innocent, even if not quite proven, is reprehensible. But not in America.

The second prong, diligence, is the bureaucratic kicker. It is our legal system’s elevation of process over substance.

There is an interest in finality of legal determinations. Cases can’t go on forever, with nothing ever being finally resolved. As a general rule, I take no issue with this. But like all legal truisms, there are circumstances that trump the need for finality. Innocence is one such circumstance.

I would be inclined to ask who amongst us is in favor of executing an innocent person, but I already know the answer: much of our federal judiciary. The idea that a belated claim of innocence should be ignored because it didn’t fall within arbitrary time frames, or that a defendant should die because of any number of structural defense issues that delayed learning about, or presenting, new evidence, is just offensive. While appellate decisions clean up the mess of practical litigation reality, to stake a person’s life on the fiction of expected diligence is just plain wrong.

But this latest twist, the 11th Circuit’s post-cert-denial grant of a stay, suggests that there are judges on the court who are indeed concerned about the possibility of putting an innocent man to death. Bravo.

But it begs one very serious question: What if the Circuit concludes that there is evidence to prove that Troy Davis did not murder Police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail, but that his attorney failed to act with sufficient diligence. Are they prepared to put an innocent man to death for a procedural flaw? Is America prepared for this? Stay tuned.”

Protest after protest has come in with thousands of letters being mailed, faxes and emails added to that flood and rallies being held world wide to protest against the decision to execute Troy Davis.
Prosecuting District Attorney Spencer Lawton finally broke his silence after the US Supreme Court to say his piece. The reaction to that piece which has been ripped to shreds by those who have studied and worked on the case for years and even those who have started following it recently has been lukewarm. The support for Davis has increased rapidly since the past few months.

In all the hoopla, the MacPhail family continues to go through their own emotional rollercoaster. Their son still has not found justice. But will they want the wrong man hung? Why are they not paying attention to the fact that there may be something amiss here with so many respected figures asking for clemency for Davis-among them those who are pro-death penalty.

The world’s eyes are on Georgia. Will it execute a man whose conviction is clouded by more than reasonable doubt as new eye witnesses come forward to point a finger at another man, or will it for once, do the right thing and look at new evidence?

Update 9/21/2011

(October 9, 1968 - September 21, 2011)

Today the state of Georgia participated in yet another murder of an innocent man. A man who remained dignified, gracious and full of grace till the end. A man who I grew to know very closely, who would at times confide things in me that he couldn’t tell his sisters or mother so they would not worry more than they already did about his well being. A man who inspired millions behind bars when many of us who are free waste our time, and our lives doing nothing - a man who said he was dying to live while others lived and died - a man who sought to mentor kids to teach them not to make wrong choices - because being at the wrong place, wrong time, can make you another Troy Davis.

I remember my first conversation with him - his incredible faith, intelligence and dignity. I met him soon after for the first time in 2008. All I can say is over the years I learnt many lessons in resilience and honesty. Troy showed me by example not to take life seriously, to laugh even in the midst of being around death, disease and incarceration. I was amazed at his knowledge, his discipline, his optimism and his faith in God. Even on Tuesday evening when he called he said (among other things) – “no matter what happens to me, don’t ever lose faith in God because God is for real”.

I saw no anger, just frustration at the legal system and more concern for my well being than his own. But that is how he always was. And that is how everyone in his family is. When his mother died suddenly, Martina called me to check on me to make sure I was okay. When the Parole Board denied him clemency on Tuesday, Troy called to check on me and my family to make sure we weren’t upset. He ended up giving us strength instead of the other way around. And at the end we were laughing.

I stood there outside the GDCP tonight, and saw the outpouring of love from everywhere across state and country lines. Troy Davis in his 42 years achieved more than many of us expect to achieve in a lifetime. He received more love than the men and women who wanted him dead would in a lifetime.

As I still struggle to accept the flaws in a system where man can play God and be the most cruel of all species, I also find peace remembering a man called Troy Davis on death row. I do not know the truth about what happened on that sad sad night in Savannah Georgia- but this do I know: we all deserve a second chance.

Amidst all the tears and the memories, I can say I am honored to have known a man who showed me that divinity can be found - of all the places - on death row. A man whose dignity, pride and faith till the end when he blessed even those who participated in his death, makes me so proud of the man he was. A man of courage who stood strong and proud in the face of so much and did not give up his integrity till the end.

I wish I could say the same for a lot of men in our legal system and even our President who chose to wash his hands of the whole business even when other Presidents didn’t. I have been a supporter of President Obama all along and still very much admire him. However, my issue with him has been his indecisiveness and his consistent desire to please everybody while no one else is budging to accommodate him. Although Troy’s case was a state matter, the President with his legal background and the fact that his mentor (a Harvard Professor who had a major event at Harvard for Troy Davis) obviously knew about it. He can make a decisive statement himself and say he firmly believes this and that and not shoot the gun from the shoulder of his Press Secretary.

Troy, I know you are in a better place and I know you have impacted future generations deeply. I know that they will fight injustice and will always remember that they stand on your broad shoulders.

- Kavita Chhibber.

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