Despite an eleventh hour appeal to the US Supreme Court, Troy Davis, on death row in Georgia for 20 years, was executed last night, by lethal injection, at 11pm, local time. The Supreme Court took four hours to turn down his appeal for clemency, even though rumors had spread that his execution would be stayed, for up to a week, and that Justice Clarence Thomas — not a man generally known for his humanitarianism — was particularly interested in his case.
Troy Davis’s execution was not an isolated incident in the US. 34 death row prisoners had already been executed in America this year, and although the number of executions in the US is declining (from a 30-year high of 98 in 1999), there were still 46 executions last year. In addition, at the start of this year, there were 3,251 prisoners on death row in the US, and when it comes to executions, only three countries have more institutional vengeance than the US — China, Iran and Iraq.
Even so, Troy Davis’s case was particularly noteworthy for two reasons: firstly, because of the breadth of support he received from around the world, with nearly a million people calling for him not to be executed, in petitions that were delivered to Chatham County District Attorney Larry Chisolm (with many more also signing online petitions), and also because of the widespread protests around the world as the date for his execution approached; and secondly, because there were such profound doubts about his guilt. This, again, is no obstacle to execution in the US, but it was made a particular issue by the state of Georgia, as Amnesty International explained eloquently in a blog post on Tuesday.
Speaking of the rejection of Davis’s clemency petition by Georgia’s State Board of Pardons and Paroles, Amnesty wrote, "This appalling decision renders meaningless the Board’s 2007 vow to not permit an execution unless there is "no doubt" about guilt. The Troy Davis case is riddled with doubt."
These doubts stem from the chilling truth that seven of the nine witnesses on whose testimony Troy Davis was convicted of killing off-duty police officer Mark McPhail in August 1989, have publicly recanted their statements. Despite this, however, the state apparatus of Georgia didn’t care.
Whether it was the particular details of Troy Davis’s case, or the fact that he somehow became the focus of a wider movement, both at home and abroad, against the death penalty, campaigners hope that his death will not be in vain, and that it will mark a turning point in the campaifgn to eradicate the death penalty, both in the United States and elsewhere in the world. Amnesty International has launched a "Not In My Name Pledge," asking supporters to "pledge to fight to abolish the death penalty," which readers can sign here.
Troy Davis’s final words last night, as his killers prepared to execute him, were directed first of all at the family of Mark McPhail. Maintaining his innocence to the last, he said:
I’d like to address the MacPhail family. Let you know, despite the situation you are in, I’m not the one who personally killed your son, your father, your brother. I am innocent. The incident that happened that night is not my fault. I did not have a gun. All I can ask … is that you look deeper into this case so that you really can finally see the truth.
After this, he said:
I ask my family and friends to continue to fight this fight. For those about to take my life, God have mercy on your souls. And may God bless your souls.
In remembering Troy Davis, it would be appropriate if all those who supported him "continue to fight this fight" against the death penalty, which has no place in any country that dares to call itself civilized.
And for encouragement, let us recall Troy’s own words, which he spoke in 2008, after his planned execution was stayed for the third time (he was scheduled for execution in July 2007, September 2008 and October 2008). That year, at the National Convention of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, his sister, Martina Correia, who never stopped fighting for her brother despite suffering from cancer, read out a statement from Troy that included the following inspiring words:
There are so many more Troy Davises. This fight to end the death penalty is not won or lost through me, but through our strength to move forward and save every innocent person in captivity around the globe. […]
We must dismantle this unjust system, city by city, state by state and country by country. I can’t wait to stand with you, no matter if that is in physical or spiritual form. I will one day be announcing, "I AM TROY DAVIS, and I AM FREE!"
Never stop fighting for justice, and we will win!
Note: To find out more about upcoming executions in the US, and to take action to try to prevent any further executions, please visit this Amnesty International page.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in June 2011, "The Complete Guantánamo Files," a 70-part, 700,000-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, "Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo" (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.