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Troy Anthony Davis

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It’s Wednesday afternoon. I’m outside on our front porch. Our street is blissfully quiet and calm, just the way I like it. A young dad bikes by, and beside him his two tykes ride their own short bikes, pedaling very quickly to keep up. All three pass under our giant grandfather oak, mercifully granting the sweltering summer’s needed shade. I’m filled with thanks for such a quiet energizing time.
Up in Georgia, not so lucky and definitely without any slanting sun inside his death-row cell, sits an African-American man accused of murder. Troy Anthony Davis has been sitting in that cell for eighteen years, even though no physical evidence has ever linked him to the high profile murder of a police officer. Since Davis’ conviction, seven state witnesses—including so-called five eyewitnesses—have recanted portions of their testimony, some even alleging police coercion, a recurring circumstance in today’s all too common top-down haste for conviction,

Luckily, with the outcry of so many, the United States Supreme Court stayed Davis’ execution in September 2008, just hours before he was scheduled to die, spectacularly signaling just how fragile are our lives when submitted to touch-and-go justice.

In March 2009, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled 4-3 against Davis’ plea for a new trial. How that body can decide that verdict in view of the action of the US Supreme Court, together with those seven witnesses’ reversal of testimony is beyond me. I weep for Troy. Perhaps even for the people on that tragically impaired Georgia court.

I read about Troy’s case two years ago. It tears at my heart and ignites my outrage. Too many people sit behind bars today for crimes they didn’t commit.

Only a few months ago, a memoir of injustice and redemption called Picking Cotton was published. Picking Cotton highlights the story of a young woman, Jennifer Thompson-Canino, 23, who, as victim of a violent rape at night, pointed to Ronald Cotton in a line up, swearing he was her rapist. On the basis of that single, emotionally and circumstantially fraught testimony, the court placed Cotton, also 23, in a North Carolina prison, where he languished for eleven years before concrete DNA evidence proved his innocence.

What makes this story so compelling is how each—accuser and accused—came to forgive and reconcile with the other. While in prison, Ronald worked at freeing himself from the rage of unjust incarceration, and never meeting her, to finally forgive his accuser. Jennifer, who after two years of acute shame at having unjustly put a man in prison for so long, at last, with the help of counselors and her husband, came to ask his forgiveness for what she’d done, so that years after Ronald’s release and reentry to life, and with the generous help of police, attorneys, and state prosecutors who’d been involved, the two finally met on one emotion-filled morning. Both were now in their thirties.

Somehow, these two were destined to model this most difficult of virtues: the act of forgiving. Now, Ronald and Jennifer travel, often together, giving talks and advocating against eye witness-only evidence. More recently, Ronald and Jennifer marched together in the Georgia Community March for Justice for Troy Davis on October 13, 2007.

North Carolina, finally recognizing that too many factors can affect the accuracy of so-called eyewitness accounts, has conceded that such accounts alone are not enough to convict a person. Too many unwarranted factors can influence the accuser.

At the time of this writing, Troy Davis continues to live behind bars. His life now depends on the appeal all of us can make for justice. Please donate a few minutes to Google Troy Davis and learn what you can do to help.

My prayer is that someday Troy Davis, like me, can sit on a front porch and witness the beauty of a green world so long denied him.


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