Execution Set for Troy Davis; Family Relies on Hope and God

On September 21, the state of Georgia is set to execute a convicted cop killer. However, there are fears that an innocent man could be killed, and his family, with the help of advocacy groups, are still hoping to prove his innocence in time.

In 1991, Troy Davis was convicted of shooting policeman, Mark MacPhail, and was sentenced to death. The evidence used to convict him consisted of nine eyewitnesses with inconsistent testimony of what happened during the murder.

Since then, seven of the nine witnesses have recanted their testimonies, claiming they were coerced by police during the investigation, according to Amnesty International.

One of the other two witnesses is the other suspect in the murder. Advocacy groups are also arguing that not only is there new evidence against that other suspect, but also nine individuals have signed affidavits implicating his guilt.

Over the last 20 years, Davis has had four appeals rejected, including a rare hearing in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. Davis’ attorneys have not been able to prove his innocence; however groups claim his guilt has been just as vague, leaving what many believe to be simply too much doubt to put a man to death.

"The problem with the legal system… is it has been so focused on procedure, it hasn't been asking a more fundamental question, which is, can we rely on the conviction?" said Laura Moye, death penalty abolition campaign director for Amnesty International USA.

"Troy Davis was given an enormous task of proving innocence at the evidentiary hearing in Savannah last summer. He was given a task that was almost impossible to achieve without physical evidence, and with witnesses that the judge didn't want to believe," she told the Inter-Press Service.

The case has drawn international attention and prominent supporters. In Davis’ corner are several human rights groups such as Amnesty International, Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, and the NAACP, among others.

According to CNN, celebrities have also joined the cause, including Susan Sarandon and Harry Belafonte as well as political and religious leaders such as Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

"In the past two years, the coalition has grown beyond what we could have ever imagined. We're gonna fight. We believe in Troy's innocence," Davis's sister, Martina Correia has said.

The Davis family has suffered a great deal throughout the last 20 years of Davis’ incarceration. According to the San Francisco BayView, Davis’ father died six months after he was convicted, an aunt died 18 months ago, and his mother died in April.

“I just think my mother died of a broken heart, but she made sure we were strong enough to deal with this,” Correia said. “It’s not just the inmate who is on Death Row. That whole family is on Death Row.”

On top of the pressures of family deaths and a brother on death row, Correia is also undergoing treatment for breast cancer. When the BayView asked her how she dealt with so many pressures, Correia said, “I just have a strong faith in God. Whenever I have something happening, and it’s too much of a burden for me to carry, I just give it over to God.”

With the execution date set, the clemency process can begin and Davis’ supporters are going into overdrive to draw attention to the case and pressure the state of Georgia government.

Davis’ clemency hearing is on September 19. Several events are scheduled to show support. September 16 will be International Day of Solidarity for Troy Davis and rallies will be held across the country, including Atlanta at the historic Ebeneezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was a preacher in the 1960’s.

Amnesty International is also asking people to make the weekend of the 17th-18th a time for reflection or prayer for the Davis and MacPhail, and has even issued an interfaith prayer for the purpose on its website.

Supporters hope that the show of support will eventually pressure authorities to see the “reasonable doubt” of the case and not execute a man without full-proof evidence.

"The Board has very wide discretion at what they can look to to grant relief, they are not confined by the narrow parameters of the legal process, this narrow focus on process and procedure that has hampered Troy's ability to have his innocence claims taken seriously," Moye told IPS.

Davis’ sister says she simply wants authorities to see the obvious doubt and do the right thing.

"The Parole Board in 2009 said they would not execute when there's doubt. There's more than minimal doubt in Troy's case," Correia said. "There's so many unanswered questions."

And despite the setbacks and apparent injustice, Correia says her brother has turned the pain into a positive.

“He asks God if it’s His will to use him to make a bigger statement about innocence, then that’s God’s will.”

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