- Ben JealousPresident and CEO of NAACP.
Thousands of people who believe the state of Georgia is about to execute an innocent man are rallying behind the high-profile death row inmate Troy Anthony Davis. Davis was convicted of the 1989 killing of an off-duty Savannah police officer, Mark MacPhail, but has always maintained his innocence. His case has become a focal point for anti-death penalty activists in the United States and abroad, attracting supporters such as Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. The Georgia Superior Court has scheduled Davis’s execution for next Wednesday, Sept. 21. Seven of the nine non-police witnesses who implicated Davis have recanted their testimony, and there is no physical evidence that ties him to the crime scene. With his legal appeals exhausted, the fate of Troy Davis rests largely in the hands of Georgia’s Board of Pardons and Parole, which could commute his death sentence and spare his life. Yesterday, supporters delivered a petition containing more than half a million signatures to a state parole board in support of clemency for Davis. We speak with Benjamin Jealous, president and CEO of NAACP, a leading organization in the campaign to stop Davis’s execution. “It’s been activism that has kept Troy alive to this point,” Jealous says. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: Thousands of people who believe Georgia is about to execute an innocent man are rallying behind the high-profile death row inmate, Troy Davis. Davis was convicted of the 1989 killing of a Savannah police officer but has always maintained he did not commit the murder. His case has become a focal point for anti-death penalty activists in the U.S. and abroad, attracting supporters such as Pope Benedict, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. The Georgia Superior Court has scheduled Davis’s execution for next Wednesday, September 21st. Yesterday, supporters delivered a petition containing more than half a million signatures to a state parole board in support of clemency for Davis.
AMY GOODMAN: Troy Davis’s older sister, Martina Correia, is one of the staunchest defenders of Troy. Speaking on WSAV-TV in Savannah, she reacted to the news of Troy’s impending execution.
MARTINA CORREIA: I’m very disappointed in Georgia, because there’s still doubt. But I’m holding the parole board to their standard, that when there is doubt, that they won’t execute.
AMY GOODMAN: Troy Davis was convicted in 1989 of killing off-duty white police officer Mark MacPhail. Since then, seven of the nine non-police witnesses who fingered Davis have recanted their testimony. There is no physical evidence that ties Davis to the crime scene.
With his legal appeals exhausted, the fate of Troy Davis rests largely in the hands of Georgia’s Board of Pardons and Parole, which could commute his death sentence and spare his life. The officer’s family believes there’s no doubt that Troy Davis killed MacPhail, and prosecutors say the right man was convicted.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Earlier this month, Democracy Now! spoke with Benajmin Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, a leading organization in the campaign to stop Davis’s execution.
BENJAMIN JEALOUS: This is a case that, whether you support the death penalty or you oppose it, should make you stop dead in your tracks. We hear from death row inmates each year. It’s very rare that we get involved like this. But when you hear that seven of the nine people who put him on death row have since recanted, that several more have come forward and say that one of the two who have not recanted is the actual killer, and when he has been so consistent in his story again and again, it really gives you chills.
You know, I’ve sat down with folks in Georgia, with the warden, asked them why they won’t let Troy speak, why they won’t let one of the witnesses who has come forward after the fact, who’s behind bars but was 15 at the time and whose parents wouldn’t let him testify at the time, who’s since come forward to say that this other man is the killer, speak. And what they said back was simply, “We don’t want to cause any more concern. We don’t even want any more stress about this case.”
Well, you know, there’s a couple ways to deal with that. One is to silence Troy, silence the witnesses. The other is to let the truth out and make sure that the right person gets behind bars. And that’s really what this is about. You know, at the very end of the day, we want to make sure that the right person is punished for the crime. And Troy clearly—there’s so much evidence of his innocence, it just seems to be no way that the state should be rushing, as they are so, to put him to death.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Ben Jealous, Brenda Forrest, one of the jurors in Troy’s original case, told CNN that she initially didn’t have any doubts that he committed the crime. However, Forrest has since changed her mind.
BRENDA FORREST: If I knew then what I know now, Troy Davis would not be on death row. The verdict would be “not guilty.”
JUAN GONZALEZ: Ben Jealous, have jurors reassessments factored into Troy’s case at all at this point?
BENJAMIN JEALOUS: You know, certainly, by us, by the media, I mean, it’s part of why there is so much doubt. And really, frankly, I have no doubt. I mean, having dealt with hundreds of death row cases over the past 20 years, I have no doubt that Troy is telling the truth. So many others have come to the same conclusion.
But with regard to the Board of Pardons and Parole, we just need them to recognize that there is doubt, that this is an exceptional case, and they should do the exceptional thing and spare his life. And, you know, if folks want to do something, they can go to NAACP.org and sign the petition to the board that we’re going to bring them later this week, or I guess late next week.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to another clip, and this was of Troy himself. This was a clip that was done in 2007. He was interviewed by Naji Mujahid of DC Radio Co-op, a reporter with Free Speech Radio News. This is Troy Davis in his own words.
TROY DAVIS: I just want to tell everybody how thankful I am for their prayers, their support, and want them to continue to stand up for me, because anybody can be put in my particular situation.
It’s time for the young brothers out there in the street to do what’s right, to educate themselves and the younger brothers and teach them how to turn their life around in the right direction, open up your own businesses, make sure that you’ve got yourself in check so that you will have a better chance in life to survive and won’t be no product of a system.
It’s time for the sisters to embrace their brothers, the ones who are doing wrong, to talk to them and encourage them to do right.
But most of all, it’s time for people in general to stand up for everything that they feel is not right and to speak out and let their voice be heard.
My situation is a situation that should have never happened. But together, if we pull together as a people, I’ll be coming home. And when I come home, we can bring more brothers and sisters out, bring them home, gather them together, and, as one people, we can make a change in this wicked world.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Troy Davis in prison on death row. Ben Jealous, this case went to the Supreme Court in 2009. It has been rejected at every level. Can you talk about what activism means at the grassroots level outside of the courts?
BENJAMIN JEALOUS: Sure. You know, quite frankly, it’s been activism that has kept Troy alive to this point. The Supreme Court did an extraordinary thing in 2009 and actually, for the first time in more than 50 years, granted an inmate a new hearing of the evidence, even though he had exhausted his appeals. That standard, the burden is still on the inmate. They actually have to prove that they did not do the crime, as opposed to the state proving that they did. And the judge in that case said that it was clear that the case against Troy was—you know, had holes in it, was not sound. But he said that he had not met the extraordinary high bar that it is to actually have to prove that you were—you know, when it’s reversed, it’s just—it’s just much—it’s just much harder.
Right now, people turning out, lifting up their voice, signing the petition at NAACP.org, making sure that the state of Georgia hears from them, especially if you live in Georgia, making sure that your state government understands that you don’t want them to kill people when there’s this much—this sort of compelling case of their not having done the crime. I mean, for seven out of nine people who put him on the row to come forward and say that Troy didn’t do it, you know, to recant, and then for more to come forward and say that actually one of the two who won’t recant is the actual killer, it just doesn’t happen every day. And so, again, regardless of whether you’re for the death penalty or you oppose it, this is a case to lift up your voice and just simply say, “Not this time. Not this time. This is too extraordinary. It’s too disturbing. There’s too much doubt. Don’t kill Troy.”
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Ben Jealous, I want to ask you, because the death penalty came up last night at the Republican presidential debate at the Reagan Library. Brian Williams posed a question about it to Texas Governor Rick Perry.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Your state has executed 234 death row inmates, more than any other governor in modern times. Have you—have you struggled to sleep at night with the idea that any one of those might have been innocent?
GOV. RICK PERRY: No, sir, I’ve never struggled with that at all. The state of Texas has a very thoughtful, a very clear process in place, of which, when someone commits the most heinous of crimes against our citizens—you kill one of our children, you kill a police officer, you’re involved with another crime and you kill one of our citizens—you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas. And that is, you will be executed.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: What do you make of—what do you make of that dynamic that just happened here, the mention of the execution of 234 people drew applause?
GOV. RICK PERRY: I think Americans understand justice. I think Americans are clearly, in the vast majority of cases, supportive of capital punishment, when you have committed heinous crimes against our citizens. And it’s a state-by-state issue, but in the state of Texas our citizens have made that decision, and they made it clear. And they don’t want you to commit those crimes against our citizens, and if you do, you will face the ultimate justice.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Ben Jealous, your reaction to not only Governor Perry’s remarks, but the applause, which I think was the strongest applause, on the mention of how many people Texas had executed?
BENJAMIN JEALOUS: You know, the death penalty has long been a pillar of a certain type of politic in this country. The last live execution, you know, visible to the public, was in Owensboro, Kentucky. It attracted, I believe, 36,000 people. And so, it’s a sort of populism.
But the reality is that with regards to this case, in Georgia—you know, his words were very important. He said, “If you kill somebody.” The problem with Troy Davis is that now seven of the nine people whose testimony was the only thing that put him on death row say he didn’t kill anybody. The jurors say they would not have voted to kill him today; if they knew what they knew now then, they wouldn’t have done in it. The prosecutor has come forward and said that he has concerns. You know, the judge, in the last hearing, said the case against Troy was not ironclad. So, you know, in a way, Governor Perry makes the argument for why this case should not result in somebody being put to death. We don’t know that Troy Davis killed anybody. In fact, the preponderance of the evidence suggests that he is absolutely innocent of this crime.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Ben Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, one of the leading organizations in the campaign to stop the execution of Troy Davis, scheduled for the 21st of September.