Skip to content

Time is Running Out for Troy Davis

Earlier today, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles denied clemency to Troy Davis, a man who has been imprisoned on death row since 1991, and has faced multiple execution dates. The death penalty has been in the news a lot in the United States recently, as it came up rather memorably and dramatically at the Republican debate, when the audience actively cheered at the number of executions in Texas. Rick Perry may sleep at night just fine after executing people who were in all probability innocent, but some of us are not as sanguine about the death penalty, and what is done in our names.

The United States is among a shrinking list of nations that still uses capital punishment. Despite the care this country claims to take with capital cases, innocent people have been executed, and will continue to be executed, because we have a deeply broken ‘justice’ system. This case highlights the extremes of that system; as Amy Goodman and many other commentators have pointed out, it amounts to a judicial lynching. And it is very likely to move forward despite international outcry.

Davis was convicted of the 1989 murder of a police officer on the grounds of eyewitness testimony, a notoriously unreliable source of information in criminal trials. Despite the fact that the murder weapon was never found and no physical evidence linking Davis to the crime scene was uncovered, the jury apparently found the testimony sufficient to convict. In the subsequent years, seven of the nine witnesses have recanted their testimony. They have reported police intimidation, and evidence identifying a different shooter has been suppressed. This hardly meets the ‘beyond a reasonable doubt‘ standard for conviction, and should be grounds for a new trial to determine the facts of the case; that’s if Davis would be indicted at all at this point, given the scant evidentiary support.

Most people with any awareness of the situation believe that Troy Davis is innocent of the crime he was convicted of, or at the very least that he deserves a new, fair trial. At least one juror has indicated she would have returned a different verdict in the case, had she known then what she knows now. Leaders from around the world have raised their voices in support of Davis, from the Pope to Desmond Tutu; the New York Times refers to the situation as ‘a grievous wrong‘ in an editorial. Even the parole board openly admitted in earlier discussions on the issue that questions of innocence made it impossible to proceed with an execution, which makes their decision today all the more paradoxical.

Supporters of Troy Davis include a number of prominent conservatives, among them people who actively advocate for the death penalty in the US. This, if nothing else, highlights the extreme level of injustice here, when people who typically support capital punishment feel it is not merited in this case. Whether they doubt the evidence in the case and want to see a retrial or think he is innocent, they agree that to proceed with this execution would be a grave miscarriage of justice. When people with oppositional politics can unite on a single issue, that’s a sign that all of us should be paying close attention.

As often happens with capital cases, Troy Davis has filed a number of appeals, requests for clemency, and other measures in his fight for justice. None of these have been effective, despite considerable support. In 2010, a federal judge concluded that:

…that new evidence and testimony, including that 7 of 9 witnesses had changed or recanted testimony, wasn’t enough to prove his innocence. “The state’s case may not be ironclad, [but] most reasonable jurors would again vote to convict Mr. Davis,” Judge Moore wrote in his ruling. (source)

Evidence clearly indicates that the trial was deeply flawed, which ought to be grounds for a new trial in this case, but wasn’t. Instead, Davis, a Black man convicted of killing a white police officer, was forced to rely on the ‘fail-safe’ of clemency mechanisms, which are supposed to intervene in extreme miscarriages of justice that are not rectified by the court system. Those fail-safes, bluntly, failed, and Davis’ execution is scheduled for tomorrow night at seven.

This reflects poorly not just on the justice system in Georgia, which did not provide Davis with a fair trial and didn’t protect him from the outcome of a deeply flawed trial, but the United States as a whole. Our outsize role on the global stage should come with accountability, should come with an explanation for why we are allowing a state-sponsored murder to proceed. This case is an opportunity for the United States to live up to  its ideals, with an offer of Clemency for Davis, and that is looking exceedingly unlikely. His last hope may lie with the President of the United States, who cannot grant clemency but can request a stay and review of the situation.

Vigils are being held in various points across the country tomorrow, and State Senator Vincent Fort has called for a prison strike alongside the Southern Center for Human Rights:

I am calling for a general strike or sick-out by all but a skeleton staff of the Georgia Diagnostic Prison on September 21st, 2011. I say to the prison staff: If you work on that day, you will enable the prison to carry out the execution of a possibly innocent man.

Both the NAACP and Amnesty International have petitions for clemency up. The petitions request that District Attorney Larry Chisholm (Telephone: 912-652-7308 Fax: 912-652-7328) withdraw the death warrant against Troy Davis. It is important to be aware that this alone will not halt the execution; Judge Penny Freeseman (912-652-7252) would need to approve it. You can also contact the Board of Pardons and Paroles (, phone 404-656-5651, fax 404-651-8502) to request that they reconsider their decision. (Please note that the Governor of Georgia does not have the power to grant clemency in this case.) As always, keep contact short and sweet, and be patient if you get busy phone lines.

ETA: The ACLU also notes that the prison contracts out its medical services to CorrectHealth: call and ask for a general strike of all execution personnel at Phone: 770-692-4750; Fax: 770-692-4754.

ETA again: Apparently, the District Attorney’s and the Review of Paroles’ phone numbers are no longer working. Instead, people calling to request clemency are advised to contact (404) 656-5651 and press 5 in the first and second menus. (Thanks, Flavia!)

Protesting this case may seem futile, but as long as Mr. Davis draws breath, I ask you to fight alongside him.

I’ll leave you with some words from Mr. Davis, relayed through one of his family members:

Thank you for supporting me and my family. I have been truly blessed by god through you all. Thank you for showing solidarity and continuing the good fight for humanity.


  1. of making many books wrote:

    This situation is horrifying beyond words.

    Tuesday, September 20, 2011 at 11:15 pm | Permalink
  2. L. E. Hairstylist wrote:

    It’s also worth noting, for those who tend to be skeptical of online activism such as petitions having real-world effects, that this execution date has already been delayed more than once, in no small part because of online activism. That is to say, online activism has already helped save Troy Davis’ life in the past.

    Tuesday, September 20, 2011 at 11:59 pm | Permalink
  3. abby jean wrote:

    thanks for pulling this info together in one clear and concise piece – have already used it as a reference in some discussion!

    Wednesday, September 21, 2011 at 11:19 am | Permalink
  4. Anica Lewis wrote:

    I just tried the phone numbers for the district attorney and the parole board, and I got the, “the number you dialed has been changed or is no longer in service”, message. I’m sure I dialed correctly – have they actually changed their numbers?

    Wednesday, September 21, 2011 at 11:34 am | Permalink
  5. @Anica Lewis, I just checked on the sites where they list the petitions and this seems to be the only phone number available.

    Wednesday, September 21, 2011 at 11:52 am | Permalink
  6. The new number published for the request for clemency is (404) 656-5651 and press 5 in the first and second menus. BigBoi from Outkast is one of the organizers currently in Georgia gathering for a rally, so it’s not like the information comes out of nowhere. I have had people comment that it takes a lot of patience to get through after numerous busy signals and waiting on hold.

    Wednesday, September 21, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Permalink
  7. Anica Lewis wrote:

    For whatever reason, it worked this time. And they must be getting mobbed on the phones – I had to hold for almost half an hour to speak to someone at the parole board! I hope this means they’re hearing from enough people that they’ll have to listen.

    Wednesday, September 21, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Permalink
  8. Joel Reinstein wrote:

    Thank you for the phone numbers.

    Wednesday, September 21, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Permalink