Troy Davis was 19 years old in 1989 when someone pointed a finger at him and said, “He did it.” The crime: Murder of a policeman. The sentence: Death.
But now, so many years later, many believe Davis was falsely convicted — yet he is scheduled to die by lethal inject at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
All that stands between Davis and a wrongful execution is a small group of individuals acting as the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles. Those individuals need to look at the case, acknowledge that most of the eyewitness testimony against Davis has evaporated and then do the right thing — stop the execution by commuting his death sentence.
As Davis, now 41, fights for his life, he has many on his side — Jimmy Carter, the former president, former governor of Georgia and Nobel laureate; Pope Benedict XVI of the Roman Catholic Church; Desmond Tutu, the former archbishop of South Africa; and hundreds of thousands of Americans who have signed petitions calling for the members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant clemency. The NAACP has a petition online drawing large numbers of concerned people pledging their support.
Why have so many rallied to save this man’s life? Here’s his story.
That night in 1989, in Savannah, Georgia, someone shot and killed Mark MacPhail, an off-duty police officer. There was no physical evidence against Davis, but one man — himself a suspect — told police Davis pulled the trigger. Other witnesses, nine in all, corroborated the allegation, and the jury agreed. Davis was sent to Georgia’s Death Row.
Though he steadfastly maintained his innocence, few believed him — there were all those witnesses.
Now, it is the witnesses that few believe.
Of the nine, seven have publicly recanted their testimony, saying police coerced them into giving statements against the accused. And the testimony of at least one of the other two has been thrown into serious doubt.
“If I knew then what I know now,” Brenda Davis, one of the jurors in the trial told CNN in a 2009 interview, “Troy Davis would not be on Death Row. The verdict would be ‘not guilty.’”
She’s right. There’s little left to warrant a conviction of any crime — and nothing to support a sentence of death. Yet the courts have refused to stop the execution.
So now that duty falls to the five members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles. They meet Monday in Atlanta to consider Davis’ case. It is his last chance.
The members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles should examine the evidence and listen to their own hearts. Should Davis be put to death? No — in no way does the evidence support a conviction, much less the most extreme punishment.
Davis, in the judgment of most reasonable people, is an innocent man. Even a sentence of life in prison is clearly unwarranted, but commuting his sentence to life is the only option.
And that’s what the board members must do. Consider the shredded evidence. Commute the sentence. Save the man’s life. Then go home with the honor and satisfaction of doing what is right and good.