Far from the dim Burger King parking lot that forever changed the course of his life, Troy Anthony Davis faced his fourth and final execution date with the State of Georgia on Sept. 21. Davis, a convicted murderer who spent over two decades on death row, maintained what he and millions around the world proclaimed in the days leading up to his execution: that he was an innocent man.

“This is a good example of a train running away. The state of Georgia couldn’t have convicted Troy Anthony Davis on the evidence they had when they executed him,” said Diann Rust-Tierney, executive director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP). At the time of Davis’ death, seven of 9 witnesses from his original trial submitted affidavits admitting to giving untruthful and unreliable testimonies at the 1991 trial. Nevertheless, courts would not consider the recantations, new evidence, and testimony from new witnesses that corroborated Davis’ claim that Sylvester ‘Red’ Coles, the first to implicate Davis in the murder, was actually the perpetrator.

Complete with allegations of racism, witness coercion, and a faulty police investigation, the Troy Anthony Davis Case was shrouded in doubt from the beginning. With no gun, no fingerprints, and no physical evidence to link him to the crime, on 28 August 1991 Davis was sentenced to die for the murder of Officer Mark McPhail, a 27 year-old police officer.

“It is hard to fathom that with no evidence you could still take a person’s life. I was at a loss for words and it was an eye opener to have the feeling that racism is still here,” said Raiana Davis, a current member and former president of the Morgan State University chapter of the NAACP. College and university students around the country took to social media about the case during the week of the last minute appeal to save Davis’ life and his subsequent execution. Several Howard University students were arrested and fined after gathering outside of the White House and Supreme Court to speak out against the execution.

Protests outside the prison where Davis spent his last days had little effect on the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole, which has to date executed 52 prisoners since 1976. As publicity surrounding the case dies down, Rust-Tierney encourages young people to keep the movement against capital punishment strong. “If they thought they were going to have to sustain this firestorm of criticism and opposition for a month, a year, two years -at the same level of intensity – they wouldn’t have done this. That’s what we have to change.”

Currently, 16 states have abolished the death penalty, with many more states working to set the same measures in place. Re-instated in 1977, the death penalty has long been a source of tension within the justice system. Georgia’s 52 executions stand in stark contrast to the five that have been put to death in Maryland and the 475 that have died in Texas. With the undeniable presence of human error, it is impossible to deny that innocent life has been ended legally time and time again.

“If one innocent person’s life is taken by the death penalty, then we need to end the death penalty,” said Robert Rooks, National Criminal Justice Director of the NAACP. “Over 150 people have been exonerated from death row since 1973,” continued Rooks, who believes that many Americans are on the fence about capital punishment because religion tends to sway voters. “People misuse the ‘eye for an eye’ biblical quote to justify the death penalty,” said Rooks, who calls on clergy members to shed new understanding on bible passages used in favor of the death penalty. Still, for others the argument over the death penalty has nothing to do with faith.

With the economy still hovering on the edge of another recession, many Americans wonder whether the death penalty is even the most affordable way to punish those who have committed heinous crimes. According to reports released by the Urban Institute Justice Center, in Maryland, the average death penalty case that leads to a death sentence costs approximately $3 million, roughly 1.9 million less than a case where the death penalty is not sought.

Still others, such as Lee Wengraf, stress prevention over punishment when it comes to the current system of justice. “We are in favor of an investment in the addressing the social roots of crime,” said Wengraf, elected member of the board of directors for the Campaign to End the Death Penalty (CEDP). “We believe a social justice solution is the correct approach. We need to focus on the problems that cause crime in the first place- unemployment and poverty.”

“We have a very imperfect system, yet, we want to have a punishment that is absolute. There is no reversal from death. There is no coming back,” said Lawrence Hayes, a founding member of the CEDP. “It is such a contradiction that a public official can in one stroke of the pen declare that killing is wrong, and in the next stroke authorize themselves to kill,“ continued Hayes, who spent two years of his own life sitting in a New York State death house.

Upon joining the Black Panther Party in 1968, Hayes began to actively fight heroin in his community by raiding Mafioso drug drop-off spots. Hayes recalls hearing shots fired and seeing “a European-American dressed in regular clothing with a gun in his hand,” on the night that would cost him 20 years behind bars. Similar to the Troy Davis case, Hayes was accused of killing a police officer.

“Our society is too rife with prejudice, classicism, bigotry…there are too many negative issues that motivate the misuse of the death penalty and we’ve seen it,” said Hayes, who was exonerated of the murder in 1991.

While Hayes escaped with his life, hundreds of others have not had the privilege to walk away from death sentences. “Am I to die to save face?” asked Davis in a 2007 personal statement to Amnesty International. With all his appeals exhausted, the State of Georgia answered Davis’ question with a lethal injection at 11:07pm on Sept. 21.

Regardless of whether Troy Davis was innocent or guilty, the death penalty is a passionate issue subject to create tension when an execution looms. However, with the Troy Anthony Davis Case moving farther and farther back in the records of time, the debate that has been begun cannot stop.

Presently, organizations across the country are mobilizing to start and continue discussions not only on the Troy Anthony Davis Case, but also on the morality and effectiveness of the death penalty. Supporters for the abolition of capital punishment are encouraged to reach out to Congress by letter, take part in protests against upcoming executions, and join organizations such as CEDP in putting pressure on the State of Georgia and all states that meter out capital punishment.

Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer