Troy Davis Must Not Be Executed

By Benjamin Todd Jealous Troy DavisAs Father's Day approaches, we often reflect on the male role models, father figures and patriarchs who are instrumental in our lives. We hold them in high regard because they possess qualities we admire: courage and strength, perseverance and determination, humility and grace. To DeJuan Correira, his "Uncle Troy" embodies all of these attributes. A mentor to his nephew, Troy Anthony Davis played a prominent role in DeJuan's development into a superior student while simultaneously providing support to DeJuan's mother, Martina, Troy's sister who was diagnosed with cancer in 2001. Davis' accomplishments as a father figure and family man are astounding given his circumstances; since 1991, Davis has been on death row, wrongly convicted of the murder of Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail. His case is one of several in the United States where black men are convicted of violent crimes despite faulty testimony, ineffective counsel and reasonable doubt. In Missouri, Reggie Clemons was convicted of the 1991 murder of two young women despite no physical evidence linking him to the crime. His conviction and was based on coerced confessions, inadequate defense lawyers and a prosecution team that was held in contempt of court. Currently sitting on Missouri's Death Row, Clemons is set to be executed on June 17. But the Troy Davis case is the most compelling case of wrongful conviction in decades. No physical evidence links Davis to the crime; no murder weapons were found and seven out of nine eyewitnesses recanted or contradicted their original statements. The facts of his innocence are so overwhelming that it has inspired conservative former Congressman Bob Barr and former FBI head William Sessions to speak out. The chorus calling for a new trial includes former President Jimmy Carter and Pope Benedict XVI. Despite irrefutable evidence of his innocence, Chatham County is one of 159 counties in the state of Georgia. The county currently has approximately 250,000 residents, less than 3 percent of Georgia's state population. Yet this tiny county has produced one-third of Georgia's exonerations and 40 percent of its death row exonerations, statistics that reveal a questionable history of negligent legal practices. The Troy Davis case is the latest in a series of disturbing instances of Chatham County's disregard for justice and a proclivity to prosecute and potentially execute people innocent of the crimes of which they've been convicted. The new Chatham County District Attorney, Larry Chisolm, who is black, could reopen the case, but so far he has refused to do so. In a desperate attempt to silence Davis, the Georgia Department of Corrections has prohibited all television access to him. Interview requests from 60 Minutes, Dateline NBC and the Associated Press have been denied, and the prison has threatened to revoke Davis' phone privileges should any family member allow media to speak to him. These drastic infringements on Davis' First Amendment rights are a measure of the state's fear that exposure could reveal the truth about racism and injustice in Chatham County and in the state of Georgia. While many in his position would be resentful about the unfair circumstances and an unjust system that put them behind bars, Davis exudes benevolence, responsibility and leadership. The effect Davis has had on his nephew is evident — DeJuan achieved top honors in the state's Social Science Fair for his project entitled "Time for Change: How Does the Troy Anthony Davis Case Affect Georgia?" From the confines of the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison, Davis has mentored and provided an example to young DeJuan by being positive, unwavering and unbroken. Davis is steadfast in his belief that justice will eventually be served and that he will be absolved. He has served nearly 18 years of his life on death row for a crime he did not commit; time he will never get back. Nonetheless, the window remains open to act before an irreversible crime is committed. We must put a stop to this injustice before it's too late. On June 25, the Supreme Court will hear a last ditch appeal in the case. If Davis' writ of habeas corpus is denied, within weeks — maybe days — an execution date will be set. I am urging everyone to take a moment to save an innocent life. Go to where you can send a letter to Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue and ask him to commute Troy's sentence. Benjamin Todd Jealous is the president and CEO of the NAACP. * Cross-posted on The Root