Last week’s court order to execute Troy Davis on the 21st of this month represents the very worst flaw in our criminal justice system: the likelihood of putting an innocent man to death. If the state of Georgia moves forward with this execution, it will commit not only a grave violation of Troy’s human rights but also an egregious violation of our nation’s founding principles of justice and fairness. I hope that doesn’t happen.
Troy is facing execution for the 1989 murder of Mark MacPhail, an off-duty police officer in Savannah, Ga. Seven of the nine witnesses who testified against him have recanted their statements; several others have come forward identifying one of the remaining two witnesses as the actual killer.
Since the beginning of the case, there has been a lack of any physical or scientific evidence positively identifying Troy as the shooter. As if that is not enough to halt this execution, earlier this summer the judge at his final hearing said that the case against him was “not ironclad.” Has the U.S. really become a country that orders the killing of a person against whom the evidence of guilt is “not ironclad”? In Troy’s case, there is just too much doubt to go forth with an execution.
Earlier this month, I met with Troy’s sister, Martina, to discuss her brother’s plight. She spoke about the pain her brother expresses from Death Row: his uncertain future, the isolation from his family and the frustration that comes from being unable to tell his side of the story.
Taking any life, under any circumstance, is wrong, and my prayers go out to the MacPhail family for the loss they’ve suffered. Yet, if we’re going to heal as a community, the right person must be held accountable. Putting a potentially innocent man to death is not only wrong but also immoral. If government is going to have the immense power of ending a life, it must be sure it exercises that right only in circumstances where there is no doubt about that person’s guilt.
Whether you agree with the death penalty or not, executing an innocent man is not the solution. The struggle to attack biases in our death penalty and justice system will continue. What matters so urgently right now is that the wheels are in motion to kill a man who is likely innocent. Troy currently awaits his fate in the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison.
Ultimately, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles has an opportunity to take an important step towards justice, grant Troy clemency and ensure the protection of our basic human rights and of the principles upon which this nation was built. But, more than that, the board has the chance to save the life of a fellow human being who is likely innocent. At this moment, this five-member board has the power to act as this country’s moral conscience. And I hope they do.
To make this happen, we must make our voices heard to the Board of Pardons and Parole. Visit NAACP.org to get involved and demand justice for Troy Davis.
Robert Rooks is Criminal Justice Programs Director, NAACP