Troy Davis to Die, Damien Echols to Live

Stop the Execution of Troy Davis

We all know that innocent men have been executed in the United States. Damien Echols of the West Memphis 3 came far too close to being one of them. It has been less than a month since Damien walked out of death row where he spent most of his life and all of his adulthood, the last ten in solitary confinement. During those eighteen years, Damien shared space on “the row” with the innocent and the guilty, and with many others who were so mentally impaired that they did not even understand why they were facing the death penalty. He lived through the horror “on the inside” of men being taken from his unit and executed, while the rest waited for their turn in line.

No “civilized” society should countenance such public torture and murder of its citizens, no matter what they might have done wrong. And most other civilized societies around the world have long ago banned the death penalty. Whether you agree with that as a matter of principle or not, we should certainly all be able to agree that there is no greater crime any society can commit than executing an innocent man. We cannot let Troy Davis become another one of them.

Troy Davis was convicted in 1991 of the murder of Savannah (GA) police officer Mark MacPhail. He was sentenced to death largely as a result of nine eyewitnesses who implicated him during the trial. Since then, however, seven of those nine witnesses have recanted their testimony or changed their stories. On top of that, the prosecution did not introduce any DNA evidence at trial to support Davis’ conviction.

In a society which says that it prizes life, this execution simply must be stopped. That there is such a vigorous and well-grounded debate about Davis” innocence should be enough – in and of itself – to justify a moratorium on his execution. If he even “might” be innocent, then he should “never” be killed by the State. The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles declared in 2007 that it “will not allow an execution to proceed in this state unless and until its members are convinced that there is no doubt as to the guilt of the accused.” How can there be so much doubt among the American public and figures such as former President Jimmy Carter, yet the members of the Board were absolutely convinced of his guilt? Damien is living proof that life-threatening mistakes in the criminal justice system can be cured over time. But a mistaken execution is irreversible.

Chatham County District Attorney Larry Chisholm and the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles have the rare power at this moment to unilaterally save a man”s life by reconsidering clemency or seeking a withdrawal of the death warrant. May wisdom and justice, not political popularity or expediency, guide his decision. And may that decision be a beacon of light for our society going forward, not another hour of deathly darkness.

Stephen Braga, Emily Lurie