Remembering Troy Davis six years later and the continued fight to end the death penalty in the U.S.
By: Kristina Roth, Senior Program Officer for Criminal Justice at Amnesty International USA
The state of Georgia convicted Troy Davis of the murder of Mark MacPhail, an off-duty police officer, before he was even 21 years old. He spent 19 years on death row and after three set execution dates was executed 20 years later in 2011. Today marks six years since Georgia extinguished his life. The U.S. capital punishment system is flawed beyond repair, and we must cease the use of a punishment that violates human rights and causes prolonged human suffering.
Prosecutors never produced any physical evidence linking Troy Davis to the crime and seven out of nine witnesses whose testimony contributed to his 1991 conviction later changed or retracted their testimony, some citing police coercion. Mark MacPhail and his family had the right to justice for his murder. But the death penalty is not justice.
Since Troy Davis’s execution in 2011 the U.S. has executed nearly 200 more people. During the same period, another 21 people have been exonerated of the crimes for which they were originally sent to death row, making nearly 160 of such cases in the U.S. since 1973. In 2014 The National Academy of Sciences published a study that found 1 in every 25 men currently on death row may be innocent. That is an awfully large risk to take with an irrevocable consequence. But even if someone is guilty of a crime, they should not be executed. Execution is wrong, period.
Over one million activists from around the globe wrote to the Georgia authorities calling on them to halt Troy Davis’s execution through the work of Amnesty International, many coalition members and the condemned man’s family. His case drew calls for a retrial from national politicians on both sides of the political divide like former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr as well as international leaders such as Desmond Tutu and Pope Benedict XVI. Despite global efforts to halt the execution, state authorities brought the life of Troy Davis to an end on September 21, 2011. Troy Davis maintained his innocence until his last breath, and many mourn the loss of his life and the injustice of the death penalty, the ultimate denial of human rights.
Since Troy Davis’s death, Connecticut, Delaware, and Maryland have abolished the death penalty, but capital punishment remains in place elsewhere in the U.S. and continues to be a fundamentally broken practice that denies people their dignity and human rights. After an over three-year pause in judicial killing, following a “botched” execution, Ohio has scheduled 27 executions to take place between 2017 and 2022.
Georgia, the state that ended Troy Davis’s life, is scheduled to execute Keith Tharpe on Tuesday, September 26. In Keith Tharpe’s case clear evidence of racial bias expressed by a juror has been revealed since his trial. However, the courts have deemed this evidence inadmissible under Georgia law, and that juror misconduct had therefore not been proven.
The application of the death penalty in the United States is riddled with racial bias and applied disproportionally against people of color and poor people. Of the 70 executions in Georgia since 1976, 64 (91 per cent) were for crimes involving white victims. A third of those executed were African American. Seventeen of these 23 executions were for crimes involving white victims. None of Georgia’s 70 executions were of white defendants convicted of killing black victims.
Today we remember the enduring love of Troy Davis’s family for him and their commitment to bring justice to his case, inspiring many others to act on behalf of death row inmates. It’s not too late to stop the execution of Keith Tharpe. Take action with us today and call on the Georgia board of pardons and paroles to commute his death sentence.