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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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It is with a heavy and despairing heart that I write this post. It is not particularly well-structured owing to the emotive nature of the content. The state of Georgia have now executed Troy Davis, a black man whose life didn't turn out the way America promised. In 1991, Davis was convicted of murder and sentenced him to death on the testimony of nine eyewitnesses. Seven of those eyewitnesses later retracted their statements citing police coercion. The eighth was the other suspect, deemed to be the trigger man by other witnesses. This leaves one man. Members of the jury said they would not have convicted Davis if they knew then what they know now. Troy Davis was strapped down, had a needle inserted into his arm and poisoned to death on the say-so of one man. Life. Liberty. And the pursuit of happiness.

Troy Davis

Amnesty International, the champion of the voiceless, organised a massive effort on behalf of Troy Davis. They collected close to a million signatures and coordinated over 55,000 emails to the Georgia Parole board. The board declined to commute the death sentence. If they would not do it in this case, there is no case in which they would.

Death row undoubtedly houses some of the worst human beings that walk the planet. They are, though, still human beings. That cannot be taken away. The argument that those who kill forfeit the right to live is fallacious; circular in its chain of killing, arrogant in its marginalising supposition of agency and racist in its implementation.

I have great sympathy for the relatives of the murdered police officer, Mark MacPhail, and their loss must never be dismissed, or neglected, for it is horrendous. But I do not buy their arguments. They do not want revenge, they say, yet they call for blood. They only want justice, which is blood, and revenge. They are convinced that Davis committed the murder, on the word of people whose initial testimony they say is sound, but subsequent retractions are flawed. They want to pick and choose the evidence so that they can gain closure, through another death. The evidence on closure suggests that this will not come with the death of Troy Davis. In fact, all they have done, assisted by the state of Georgia, is create further victims. What is the crime of Davis' family who will now be forced to collectively suffer? The MacPhail family did not deserve to lose their family member. The Davis family did not deserve to lose Troy. More victims, more bloodshed.

In the United Kingdom, the campaign to abolish the death penalty was galvanized by the execution of Timothy Evans, a man hanged for the crimes of his neighbour, a serial killer. It would not make an iota of difference to my opinion if Troy Davis was guilty, the death penalty cannot be defended, but I would suggest that Troy Davis must be the pivotal turning point in the fight to rid the world of the ultimate premeditated murder. He did not choose to be a martyr, and it is not fair or right that he was made one. His name must become synonymous now, though, with the injustice of a system which, in its textual obsession with procedure would lead a Supreme Court justice, the detestable Scalia, to declare the constitutional acceptability of executing a man who can demonstrate his innocence.

Troy: I'm sorry. I did what I could to stop the brutality of a world that was indifferent to your life and death. Perhaps I didn't do enough. I hope that my letters brought some comfort to the place in which you dwelt, a mental space I can scarcely imagine. I believe, as do millions of others, that you were innocent. You have paid the ultimate price. I know you were religious. I am not. I hope that, of the two of us, you were right and you have now found your God.

Before I conclude, I'd just like to share these words I was sent by Martina Correia, Troy's sister, in 2009:

Keep fighting for human rights, keep believing in true justice and we will win. Thank you so much for understanding the turmoil this has caused me and my family and thank you for being yet another positive light for Troy.

Troy Davis is just one man among the many who face the death penalty every year, yet his case was not just one among many, it was one in its own right. As an ethical principle, from this day forth, I will not set foot in any country which perpetrates capital punishment.

Featured image by dabnotu under a CC-BY-NC-SA license.

Addendum, 2011-09-24. The letter I received from Troy:

Letter from Troy Davis

"Hello young man! Thanks for your card and support. It means a lot to read your words and to know that many such people like yourself are out there fighting for justice/me. I'll be home soon, I believe that! I'm recovering from Achilles surgery 2 months ago so can't get around much. However, I am getting plenty of rest. :)

Several people sent stamps in an envelope but the Prison won't allow them in the mail. We have to purchase them from the Prison store ourselves. How's the weather over there? Wet and warm here so I enjoy a good breeze every now and then. Keep me and the MacPhail family in your thought as well as my family.


Troy A. Davis"