Executive Director of Amnesty International USA.
Director of the NAACP’s Criminal Justice Program.
The State of Georgia is preparing to execute Troy Anthony Davis in one of the most high-profile executions in the United States in years. Davis is scheduled to be killed by lethal ejection at 7:00 p.m. EDT, one day after the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected clemency. Democracy Now! will air a special broadcast from outside the prison in Jackson, Georgia, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. EDT. Davis was convicted of the 1989 killing of off-duty white police officer Mark MacPhail. Since then, seven of the nine witnesses have recanted their testimony, and there is no physical evidence tying Davis to the crime scene. In a new development, Davis has asked state prison officials and the pardons board to allow him to take a polygraph test today. Some supporters of Davis are now calling for a general strike or "sick out" by the staff at the Georgia prison where the execution is set to occur. We speak with Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA, and Robert Rooks, the director of the NAACP’s Criminal Justice Program. "I have been working on the death penalty for more than 30 years," Cox says. "I’ve never seen a case where there is so much significant doubt about the guilt or innocence of the person that the state of Georgia wants to put to death." Rooks, who met with Davis in prison on Tuesday, says Davis is holding out hope to remain alive but says the fight against the death penalty should continue no matter the outcome. "You have a choice," Rooks quotes Davis as saying. "’You can either fold up your bags after tomorrow and go home, or you can stand and continue this fight." [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting live from Atlanta, Georgia. Troy Anthony Davis is scheduled to be executed by the state of Georgia at 7:00 p.m. tonight. We will be reporting live from the prison grounds in Jackson, Georgia, where he’s set to be put to death by lethal injection despite significant doubts about his guilt. We’ll be broadcasting live from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. Eastern [Daylight] Time in a special edition of Democracy Now! You can go to our website for more details. We’ll be live-streaming there, and many radio and television stations around the country and around the world will be broadcasting the special that we do today.
And today on Democracy Now!, I’m joined by Democracy Now! producer Renée Feltz, who has spent years covering the death penalty. Renée, it’s great to have you co-hosting with us today.
RENÉE FELTZ: Thank you very much, Amy. And welcome to all of our listeners and viewers around the world.
The state of Georgia is preparing to execute Troy Davis tonight in one of the most high-profile executions in the United States in years. Davis is scheduled to be killed by lethal injection at 7:00 p.m. Eastern time tonight. On Tuesday, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole rejected clemency for Davis, sparking a new round of protests. An editorial in today’s New York Times described the ruling as "a grievous wrong" and "a tragic miscarriage of justice."
Davis was convicted of the 1989 killing of an off-duty white police officer named Mark MacPhail. Since then, seven of the nine witnesses have recanted their testimony, and there is no physical evidence tying Davis to the crime scene. In a new development, Davis has asked state prison officials and the pardons board to allow him to take a polygraph test today.
AMY GOODMAN: Some supporters of Troy Davis are now calling for a general strike or "sick out" by the staff at the Georgia prison where the execution will occur. Amnesty International, the NAACP and numerous other groups have called for clemency. According to Amnesty International, nearly one million people have signed a petition seeking clemency. Among those questioning Davis’s death sentence are former FBI director William Sessions, the Pope, former President Jimmy Carter, and the Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.
Prosecutors and relatives of the slain police officer, Mark MacPhail, say they have no doubt the right man is being punished. On Tuesday, the prosecutor in Davis’s case spoke out for the first time. Former District Attorney Spencer Lawton claimed the doubt about the Troy Davis case has been largely manufactured. Lawton said, quote, "There are two Troy Davis cases. One is the case in court. One is the case in the realm of public relations."
Well, Troy Davis is scheduled to spend six hours with his family today, from 9:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m., at the Jackson, Georgia, facility. He’s declined to have a special last meal. Instead, he will eat what’s on tonight’s menu at the prison: a cheeseburger, potatoes, baked beans, coleslaw, cookies and a grape drink. That’s the information that the prison has put out to reporters.
We’re joined now by two guests: Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA, and Robert Rooks, director of Criminal Justice Department at the NAACP.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! It’s very good to have you with us. Larry, let’s begin with you. There was a major protest yesterday here in Atlanta. We are all now headed to Jackson, Georgia, after this broadcast, where the scheduled execution will take place, unless it is stopped. What are the ways it can be stopped?
LARRY COX: Well, the lawyers are still trying to put in a petition to the courts to try to stop it, to go to the Supreme Court. They are—we are calling on the district attorney to do something to vacate the death warrant, to at least postpone it, so that a way can be found to permanently stop this execution.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you—
LARRY COX: And we are asking the clemency board, of course, to reconsider its position. We’re not giving up.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you quickly, in a nutshell, go through the trajectory of this case? 1989, Mark MacPhail is killed. He was trying to help a homeless man who was being pistol-whipped in a parking lot, and he was shot dead.
LARRY COX: Yeah, in ’91, there was a trial. He was convicted.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Troy.
LARRY COX: But since then, the case—and even then, the case depended heavily—or not heavily, almost exclusively—on eyewitness testimony. There was no forensic evidence linking him, as you’ve already stated. And immediately, the case began to unravel. As you know, seven of nine witnesses have recanted or contradicted their testimony. One of the ones who has not, of course, is Sylvester Coles, who was the one who pointed the finger at Troy Davis, even though he himself admitted that he had—was carrying a gun that was the kind of gun that killed Officer Mark MacPhail. And now, of course, 10 witnesses have come forward—
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Sylvester Coles carrying the gun.
LARRY COX: Sylvester Coles, that’s right. And now Sylvester Coles—10 witnesses have come forward implicating Sylvester Coles, including eyewitnesses who say they saw him do this killing. So, I have been covering—working on the death penalty for more than 30 years. I’ve never seen a case where there is so much significant doubt about the guilt or innocence of the person that the state of Georgia wants to put to death.
RENÉE FELTZ: And Larry Cox, with Amnesty International, a lot of people look at Troy Davis’s case over the case and say the Supreme Court granted him a new hearing. Can you clarify, was that a new trial in which he was able to explain his innocence? Talk us through that.
LARRY COX: No, that was the reverse of the way we would do a trial. Instead of having to prove reasonable doubt in that evidentiary hearing—it was not a new trial, it was an evidentiary hearing—Troy Davis, in effect, had to prove his innocence, and not just beyond a reasonable doubt. He had to almost give an absolute proof that he was innocent. It was an incredibly high standard that probably none of us could meet. And the judge acknowledged that there were doubts that were raised about the case, but he felt there were not enough doubts to warrant—he had not proven his innocence, let me put it like that. So it reversed the normal standard, which is, of course, that you are innocent until proven guilty. This was he had to prove his innocence.
AMY GOODMAN: Robert Rooks, the NAACP has long been involved with this, taken it on as a major cause within the organization. In fact, Ben Jealous, who was just on with us a few days ago, is meeting with Troy today, is that right?
ROBERT ROOKS: That is correct. President Jealous went along with the family to Jackson to meet with Troy, to spend some time with him, to give him counsel and support.
RENÉE FELTZ: And Mr. Rooks, you—perhaps you could explain how some of these eyewitnesses who originally testified—how there has been concern about whether or not they were pressured to give the testimony. And I’ve read about how some of the ways that these individuals were guided might not be allowed anymore due to changes in Georgia law, and if the same procedures were used in the case, say, after those laws were passed, that Troy Davis may not have been able to have been convicted. Can you talk about that?
ROBERT ROOKS: Well, I actually can take it a step further. I met with the district attorney at the end of June, requesting for him to not petition the judge to grant the death warrant for Troy. And in that meeting, the district attorney said that if this case was before him today, that it would not be a death case, that it would be a life-without-parole case for him. However, that’s not the job in front of him, that he had to make the case for death. Now, I don’t understand the difference. If it’s not a death case, then it shouldn’t be a death case. But I think what he was alluding to was the fact that life without parole was not possible in 1991, so therefore he felt he had to advocate for death.
I met with one of the witnesses yesterday. She was scared out of her mind but felt like she had to do the right thing by pointing the finger at Sylvester Coles. She was ran out of Savannah. Her house was trashed. She was threatened because she was coming forward. These are the things that are happening. And we just need to acknowledge that and continue the fight to try to keep Troy from being executed today.
AMY GOODMAN: There was the issue of the eyewitnesses recanting or contradicting their testimony, and then there’s the issue of the jurors, who basically say, if they knew then what they know now, they would have not said that Troy Davis was guilty.
ROBERT ROOKS: Correct.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the significance of this? And does this weigh in, in any way?
ROBERT ROOKS: Well, unfortunately, it seemed to have not weighed in with the Board of Pardon and Parole. But we believe it’s very significant. What the jurors was telling—if you look at the overall story, they were saying that they were being coerced, they were being forced. Some of them was in compromising situation with the criminal justice system already. They did not feel like they had a leg to stand on, so they agreed to fingering Troy as the shooter. So, that’s the overall story that the jurors—I mean, that the witnesses are telling and that the jurors are now responding to.
And if you look at similar situations, like in Dallas with Craig Watkins, where over 20-something exonerations have happened, there are similar stories during this time period, where law enforcement was coercing or zealous prosecutors were identifying the wrong people. This is part of a national narrative that I think needs to come out more about what was going on in our criminal justice system during that time.
AMY GOODMAN: Larry Cox, can you talk about how the death penalty is seen around the world? You are with Amnesty International, an international organization. Where we stand in the United States?
LARRY COX: Well, we stand in a terrible position, and a very isolated position. More than two-thirds of the world’s nations have either abolished the death penalty in law or in fact never use it. Only five nations in the world—five nations—account for more than 90 percent of all the executions that take place in the world, and one of those five nations is the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: The others?
LARRY COX: The others are China, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. That’s the kind of company we are keeping as a nation. Most countries that have looked—all countries that have really examined this issue have come to the same conclusion, that it’s useless in fighting crime, that rather than serve justice, it makes a mockery of justice. And they’ve done away with it. There have been no increases in the rise of homicides because of that. People still feel that justice is done in these cases, so you do not need to kill prisoners to bring justice to a family like the MacPhail family, that certainly deserves justice.
RENÉE FELTZ: And just very briefly, it’s interesting that we’re here in Georgia, and there was a case in 1972 that looked at the unfair application, the unequal application of the death penalty, Georgia v. Furman. Just very briefly, perhaps we could touch on that, since we’re here in Georgia. Perhaps—I don’t know who’s most familiar, perhaps you, Mr. Rooks, or Mr. Cox, with Amnesty International, Larry Cox?
LARRY COX: Well, Georgia is, for some reason, a very significant state. It was the state, as you say, that in that case actually did away with the death penalty for a time.
AMY GOODMAN: For the entire country.
LARRY COX: For the entire country. And it was also the case that—later, that brought the death penalty back, when the court decided that it could be fixed, that somehow there was a way to kill human beings that would be fair. And we know now, from long, painful experience, that that’s not the case. But Georgia has played this role. And I believe, actually, that this case, which has galvanized public opinion all around the world—I mean, it’s not hyperbole, it’s not an exaggeration, to say that the eyes of the world are upon Georgia right now. I believe this case will be, in time, when we look back, the turning point in finally doing away with the death penalty altogether in this country.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, Robert Rooks, you have everyone from the Archbishop of South Africa, former Archbishop of South Africa, retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to the former FBI director, William Sessions; Bob Barr, the former Republican Congress member right here from Georgia; former Democratic President Jimmy Carter. All of them have called for clemency for Troy Davis.
ROBERT ROOKS: Absolutely. And I actually spent some time with Troy yesterday, going to visit him. He said something that stuck with me. He said that on death row it is better for someone that is guilty than someone that’s innocent to be on death row. He has seen so many people that were on death row that have walked out of death row because they’ve admitted to their guilt, while he stands true on his innocence.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain that. I don’t understand.
ROBERT ROOKS: Well, that’s what he was explaining, that he has been there for 22 years, and there have been a number of death row cases and individuals on death row, and he has seen people, that later admitted to their guilt, walk out of death row, people that he’s known, people that he’s communicated with, that have walked out of death row. But he has maintained his innocence, and now he’s facing death today.
AMY GOODMAN: Tell us about this visit you had with Troy yesterday.
ROBERT ROOKS: It was a visit—our team, that has been working on the campaign, felt that it was important to go see Troy. We have a team of senior staff, interns, staff support, a group of about eight of us. And we spent some good time, about 20 minutes, with Troy. It was a contact visit, so we were able to hug him and sit down and talk with him. And, you know, for someone that was facing death the very next day, he was just full of life and wanted to spend time talking to the younger staff, the interns, giving them direction and hope and asking them to hold onto God. And he challenged them. He challenged them by saying, "You have a choice. You can either fold up your bags after tomorrow and go home, or you can stand and continue this fight." He said it doesn’t—it didn’t begin with Troy Davis, and this won’t end if he is executed today. He just asked us all just to continue to fight to end the death penalty, if in fact he’s executed.
AMY GOODMAN: Is he holding out hope?
ROBERT ROOKS: Absolutely.
AMY GOODMAN: And did he talk about the significance of saying he would take a lie detector test today?
ROBERT ROOKS: He did not. He did not communicate that with us. But he absolutely is holding out hope. He mentioned that, you know, it’s really in God’s hands at this point. And he held onto that.
AMY GOODMAN: Did he talk about the MacPhails, the MacPhail family?
ROBERT ROOKS: No, he didn’t talk about the MacPhail family at all. You know, every time you go visit Troy or talk to him on the phone, he does talk about the case and talks about where he was and where other people were, and just how it’s hard to understand how the Georgia Pardon and Paroles would come to this decision. So, he does—he does talk about that a lot, but not about the MacPhails.
RENÉE FELTZ: I want to read an update just filed by the Associated Press. Attorneys for Troy Davis are filing a last-minute appeal to halt his execution later today, which would otherwise take place at 7:00 p.m. Eastern time tonight. Now, his defense attorney, Brian Kammer, has told the Associated Press he’s going to file the appeal in Butts County Superior Court—
LARRY COX: Right.
RENÉE FELTZ: —when it opens later today. Where are we in terms of the final steps that can be taken here?
AMY GOODMAN: Larry Cox?
LARRY COX: Well, if that is rejected in Butts County, it will then go to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the U.S. Supreme Court, of course, could stop the execution. They always can. And they have. You know, Troy was within hours of being executed, you know, when the Supreme Court stepped in and said, "No, there’s too much doubt here," and called for the kind of hearing that we discussed earlier. So it could happen. It’s never too late. This is a planned killing, so there is time for human beings to say, "We don’t want this to happen in our" —
RENÉE FELTZ: And how late could that take place?
LARRY COX: Very—right to the last minute. Right to the last minute.
AMY GOODMAN: Is any member of Troy’s family going to be at the execution, if it is carried out? Do you know this?
ROBERT ROOKS: Inside of the facility?
AMY GOODMAN: Yes.
ROBERT ROOKS: No. No, they will not. We will be all at a church nearby, about a quarter mile from the prison.
RENÉE FELTZ: And is that a choice or a rule by the prison?
ROBERT ROOKS: I believe—that’s their choice. That’s where they want to be, with loved ones and people that care for them.
RENÉE FELTZ: And you mentioned tonight. Can you talk about what’s planned outside the prison in Jackson, Georgia, where he’s set to be killed?
ROBERT ROOKS: Absolutely. There’s a day long of activities. The National Action Network, they’re planning a vigil at 12:00 noon. NAACP and Amnesty will be holding a press conference, where we have called civil rights leaders from across the country to come to Jackson to join us and have a call to action to end the death penalty and to stop the execution of Troy Davis. So, who has—those that have agreed to come has been Reverend Jackson, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Marc Morial, the head of the National Baptist Progressive Convention. And we’re continuing to get names every hour. So we’re glad to see people respond to this call to action, and we hope to make a clarion call at 3:00. At 5:00, the family will only make a statement. And then we will have prayer service from 6:00 all the way up until 7:00.
LARRY COX: And I’d just like to add that I think people who—for whom an execution is something abstract or have never been close to one, don’t realize how grotesque it is and how cruel it is, not only on the family of the condemned man, but also on the family of the victim, if you think of the MacPhail family, who for 22 years have seen this sort of circus come up and down, and back and forth. And so, instead of people having the chance to mourn, really mourn, the loved one and remember him and honor him, they’ve been caught up in this grotesque circus. And that happens all of the time. And whether they—the family is against the death penalty, as many families of murder victims are, or whether they’re for it, it doesn’t matter. It’s also cruel to the family to toy with those feelings, to keep that kind of terrible manipulation of very sincere and genuine feelings.
RENÉE FELTZ: This is the fourth time that Troy Davis has had an execution scheduled.
LARRY COX: That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: Can President Obama weigh in here?
LARRY COX: Well, of course he could weigh in. I don’t think he can, himself, you know, stop the execution. This is now up to the courts. But he could certainly weigh in. I think President Obama’s position on the death penalty is not an abolitionist position, but as you pointed out, there many people who support the death penalty, like Bob Barr, who have said, even if you support the death penalty, this cannot be the kind of case that the death penalty should be used for. So, President Obama could say that. He certainly has spoken out on other issues. And we wish he would.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you both for being with us. Democracy Now! will be covering this through the day. And again, tonight, from 6:00 to 8:00 Eastern time, we’ll be broadcasting live from the prison grounds, just across the street from the church, where those who are for and against the death penalty, and those who are for the death penalty but against the execution of Troy Davis, will be gathered. And we’ll be bringing out those voices. Go to our website at democracynow.org. Our guests have been Larry Cox, director of Amnesty International USA, and Robert Rooks, director of Criminal Justice Department of the NAACP. Robert Rooks has just come from visiting with Troy Davis on death row. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.