The story of death row inmate Troy Davis has been dragging on for nearly 20 years now, going through every channel of the United States' court system and taking its toll on the Davis family and all of those personally involved.
However, as we near Davis’ September 21 execution date, the amount of media publicity and support has increased dramatically. Even though the case has grabbed headlines in the past few days – with high-profile supporters like Jimmy Carter and former FBI Director, Bill Sessions all urging the state of Georgia to stop the execution – the effort to get Davis' case to the attention of so many people has been a long, grueling process, spearheaded by Davis’ family with help from Amnesty USA.
Davis’ sister, Martina Correia, has been working to get her brother’s story told since he was first sentenced in 1991. The problem was that nobody wanted to listen. Local news stations showed little interest, either put off by the lack of evidence proving his innocence or because there was not an execution date to create a more dramatic narrative.
“[Correia] had a really difficult time getting anyone to listen,” Laura Moye, campaign director for Amnesty USA, told The Christian Post.
Support grew slowly, first locally, through churches and concerned citizens. In Savannah, Davis' hometown, people cared. It was getting outside Savannah that was the hard part. That’s when Amnesty stepped in.
“Once we reviewed the case and how poorly it was handled, we wanted to work with her,” Moye said.
Awareness did not come easy. But a combination of hard work slowly grew awareness in the last few years. Correia has worked tirelessly to get her brother’s case publicity, and has given numerous interviews with newspapers and television outlets. She has also held talks around the country, spreading awareness not only about her brother’s case, but about injustices within the legal system.
She continues to do so even as she currently battles cancer, with sister, Kimberly Davis helping out and becoming active on the media side as well.
In 2008, Amnesty USA created “A Life in the Balance,” a four-part video series available at JusticeForTroy.org, that documented the Davis case with interviews of former witnesses who have recanted their testimony against Davis, legal experts who illustrate the lack of evidence, and jurors who regret their decision in light of new evidence.
“If I knew then what I knew now, Troy Davis would not be on death row. Troy Davis would [have been found] guilty,” said Brenda Forrest, one of the jurors in the Davis case interviewed for the documentary.
In the meantime, the case went through the appeals process again and again, with three death warrants being issued for Davis’ execution before they were halted upon further review; one of those warrants came within 45 minutes of being finalized.
As the case gained more notoriety, it gained more attention. The dramatic appeals, the controversial witness testimony recants, and the serious possibility that an innocent man would be executed gained the attention of several luminaries.
In June, 2007, Archbishop Desmond Tutu urged the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles to commute Davis’ sentence. “It is deeply troubling to me that Georgia might proceed with this execution given the strong claims of innocence in this case,” he wrote. “We must confront the unalterable fact that the system of capital punishment is fallible, given that it is administered by fallible human beings.”
In September, 2008, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter urged the board to grant Davis clemency. "This case illustrates the deep flaws in the application of the death penalty in this country," President Carter said in the statement. "Executing Troy Davis without a real examination of potentially exonerating evidence risks taking the life of an innocent man and would be a grave miscarriage of justice.”
And on September 16, former FBI Director, William Sessions, a proponent of the death penalty, wrote an editorial in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution with a headline that read: “Should Troy Davis be Executed? No.”
After describing the many flaws of the case and evidence of doubt, Sessions urged the board to err on the side of caution.
“Those responsible for clemency play a vital role in ensuring our legal system includes a measure of compassion and humanity,” Sessions wrote. “The death penalty should not be carried out, and Davis’ sentence should be commuted to life.”
But aside from high-powered luminaries, the public effort is what has truly made this case somewhat of a phenomenon. With the help of Change.org, Amnesty USA, the NAACP, the ACLU, and the Davis family have been able to amass nearly 700,000 signatures from people urging the state of Georgia to grant Davis clemency.
Those signatures were delivered to the office of the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles in dramatic fashion yesterday, as local supporters of Davis brought several boxes of signatures with labels that said, “I Am Troy Davis,” a rallying cry for Davis supporters. According to Moye, at least 10,000 of the signatures are from residents of Savannah.
Approximately 250,000 signatures came from Change.org, a website that provides an online platform for people to build awareness of causes of their choice to mobilize supporters. After Kimberly Davis created a petition for her brother’s case, Change.org notified its members with information about it and in just two days was able to obtain over 200,000 signatures from people in support of Davis.
“I think what really got to people is the story,” Jonathan Perri, Change.org’s Senior Organizer for Criminal Justice, told The Christian Post. “It really got to people on an emotional level and they wanted to help.”
Indeed, the emotional aspect of the story has touched people around the world and according to Kimberly Davis during an interview with television program, “Democracy Now!” rallies have been held all across the U.S. as well as in Australia, Peru, and other countries.
In New York City, hundreds of Davis’ supporters gathered in Times Square to show support for Davis.
“I don’t think [the country] has the right to use the death penalty,” said Ras Moshe, a Davis supporter in Times Square who has been following the case for several years, told The Christian Post.
“I think he’s innocent,” he added.
“I can’t make a judgment [about Davis’ innocence],” said 20 year-old college student in Times Square who has been following the case for a few weeks. “But it’s just a fact that there’s too much doubt.”
Twitter has also been instrumental in mobilizing supporters. On Friday, the hashtag “#TooMuchDoubt,” which has become somewhat of a slogan for the Davis campaign, had thousands of tweets with people sharing news articles about the case, getting information on rally locations, and urging people to call and write Chatham County District Attorney, Larry Chisolm, to petition the judge to withdraw the death warrant.
Tweeter, @Atlata_Steam echoed the sentiment of the Davis supporter crowd when she tweeted, “No physical evidence. Witnesses recanted. Stop the execution of #TroyDavis! #TooMuchDoubt.”
Davis is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on September 21 at 7 p.m. His clemency hearing is scheduled for September 19.