- Kimberly Davisanti-death penalty activist and sister of Troy Davis, who was executed by the state of Georgia in 2011.
- Ben Jealouspresident of People for the American Way and former president of the NAACP.
Tuesday marks 10 years since the state of Georgia executed Troy Anthony Davis for a crime many believe he did not commit. He was put to death despite major doubts about evidence used to convict him of killing Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail, including the recantation of seven of the nine non-police witnesses at his trial. As the world watched to see whether Davis’s final appeal for a stay of execution would be granted by the U.S. Supreme Court, Democracy Now! was the only news outlet to continuously broadcast live from the prison grounds in Jackson, Georgia. We revisit parts of our six-hour special report, featuring interviews with Davis’s supporters and family members who held an all-day vigil and those who witnessed his death by lethal injection, and speak with two people who were there when Davis was executed: Kimberly Davis, Troy Davis’s sister and an anti-death penalty activist, and Ben Jealous, president of People for the American Way and former president of the NAACP. “We know that Troy Davis did make a mark on the world,” says Kimberly Davis. “We want to continue to fight until we demolish the death penalty, one state at a time.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we look back at a major milestone in the fight to abolish the death penalty in the United States, 10 years ago today, September 21st, 2011, when the state of Georgia executed Troy Anthony Davis for a crime many say he did not commit. He was put to death despite major doubts about evidence used to convict him of killing of police officer Mark MacPhail, including the recantation of seven of the nine non-police witnesses at his trial. They say they were threatened.
As the world watched to see whether Troy Davis’s final appeal for a stay of execution would be granted by the U.S. Supreme Court, Democracy Now! was the only news outlet to continuously broadcast live from the prison grounds in Jackson, Georgia. During our six-hour special report, we spoke with Troy’s supporters, family members, who held an all-day vigil, then heard from those who witnessed his death by lethal injection shortly before midnight.
Soon we’ll be joined by two of the people who were with us that night. But first we revisit that day, a decade ago, starting with someone who cannot be with us, Troy’s oldest sister Martina Davis-Correia, his most vocal and steadfast advocate, who endured a decade-long battle with breast cancer and died at the age of 44, a few weeks after this, Martina speaking hours before her brother was executed, when she rose to stand from her wheelchair.
MARTINA DAVIS-CORREIA: So I want to stand with my family and say that my — our lives, and my son’s and my sisters’ and brothers’ lives and my niece’s life, has been richer for knowing Troy. Anybody who’s met Troy has come away with an imprint of him on their soul. I don’t have to tell people what my brother’s life, because once they get to meet him, they can see for themselves. And that’s why they’ve tried to keep him voiceless in the press, because they don’t want you to know who Troy Davis is, because then you couldn’t stand by and allow the state to kill in your name. So I just would like to say that I am Troy Davis.
CROWD: We are Troy Davis! We are Troy Davis! We are Troy Davis! We are Troy Davis! We are Troy Davis! We are Troy Davis!
MARTINA DAVIS-CORREIA: And I just — and I just would like to say that, you know, I’ve been battling cancer for 10 years. And I’m — I don’t have cancer, but I’m reaping some of the effects of the medicine. Several months ago, I couldn’t — I was doing fine. And after that, I couldn’t get up out of the chair. But I’m here to tell you that I’m going to stand here for my brother today.
[with crowd] I am Troy Davis! You are Troy Davis! We are Troy Davis!
Now let’s get to work, and let’s tell Georgia that we will not stand by, and we will defy them. And we need to start with that gold dome. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Martina Correia, standing up in her wheelchair, the older sister of Troy Davis, his most steadfast advocate, speaking 10 years ago today. She would die a few months later of cancer.
As the scheduled time of Troy Davis’s execution approached, hundreds of his supporters rallied outside the prison in Jackson, Georgia. Around 7 p.m. Eastern time, the crowd erupted into thunderous cheers. For just a moment, it appeared the Supreme Court had stayed the execution, like it had three times before.
AMY GOODMAN: What did Troy tell you the last time you saw him?
BEN JEALOUS: The last time he — part of the reasons —
AMY GOODMAN: We are hearing some kind of cheer that has gone up.
BEN JEALOUS: Got a stay!
LARRY COX: My god! Oh my god!
TROY DAVIS SUPPORTER: Allahu akbar! Allahu akbar! Allahu akbar!
AMY GOODMAN: But the jubilation was short-lived. That was Ben Jealous, who will be joining us in a minute. After realizing the execution had just been delayed, not stayed, supporters of Troy Davis waited for news from the Supreme Court. At about a quarter to 11 p.m., the crowd went silent when it was learned the high court would not stop the execution. Prison officials began the lethal injection process minutes later, at about 10:53 p.m. Troy was pronounced dead shortly thereafter at 11:08 p.m.
KRISTEN STANCIL: The court-ordered execution of Troy Anthony Davis has been carried out. The time of death is 11:08 p.m.
AMY GOODMAN: Again, prison official sharing the news that Troy Anthony Davis was executed at 11:08. That was the time of death. I’m standing with…
WESLEY BOYD: Wesley Boyd. And I’d like to say this has been a travesty of justice. And I’d like to tell the — America ought to be ashamed of yourself. And God help America. And if you’re alive in America, please don’t come to Georgia. Don’t come to Georgia. Don’t buy any Georgia pecans. Don’t buy any Georgia peaches. Don’t buy any trade with Georgia. The whole world, don’t buy anything with Georgia. God bless America. God bless Troy Davis.
AMY GOODMAN: Minutes after the state of Georgia executed Troy Davis, a group of reporters who witnessed the execution walked out of the death chamber and onto the prison grounds. They described Troy Davis’s final moments. This is Jon Lewis, a radio journalist at WSB.
JON LEWIS: Basically, it went very quietly. The MacPhail family and friends sat in the first row. Warden read the order, asked if Troy Davis had anything to say. And Davis lifted his head up, looked at that first row, and made a statement, in which he said — he wanted to talk to the MacPhail family and said that, despite the situation you’re in, he was not the one who did it. He said that he was not personally responsible for what happened that night, that he did not have a gun. He said to the family that he was sorry for their loss, but also said that he did not take their son, father, brother. He said to them to dig deeper into this case, to find out the truth. He asked his family and — his family and friends to keep praying, to keep working and keep the faith. And then he said to the prison staff, the ones he said “who are going to take my life,” he said to them, “May God have mercy on your souls.” And his last words were to them: “May God bless your souls.” Then he put his head back down, the procedure began, and about 15 minutes later it was over.
AMY GOODMAN: As Troy Davis’s death was announced, I turned to Ben Jealous, who was standing with the family of Troy Davis in the protest. Ben was then the president of the NAACP.
BEN JEALOUS: You know, my heart goes out. It goes out to the MacPhail family. We’re surrounded by the Davis family. All of our hearts are broken. I’ve known his nephew since his nephew was 3 years old.
And right now it goes out to the guards. You know, there was a moment the other day when my staff was in there and the family was in there, and a guard leaned over to Martina and asked her to hold it together, because, he said, “We’re just barely holding it together.” He said, “My mom’s been praying for you guys for days.” And there was a sense that if she started crying, the guards would start crying. And we have to remember that, you know, these are men, these are working-class men and women, you know, in a rural area, looking for a good-paying job to support their family. And this shouldn’t be part of it. They know they may have to execute somebody, but having to execute somebody in the midst of so much doubt, when the former warden, who used to be the boss here, is saying, “Stay the execution,” former head of the FBI is saying, “Stay the execution,” Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, liberals, all saying, “Stay the execution,” it’s absolutely inhumane. It’s not just a crime against Troy Davis. It’s a crime against our democracy. It’s a crime against those specific men and women who are called to hold down his left leg or his right leg amidst so much doubt, when even their old boss is saying, “Stop this. Don’t do it.”
AMY GOODMAN: And Ben Jealous will join us in just one moment. Just some of the voices from Democracy Now!'s special broadcast, September 21st, 2011, 10 years ago today, when Troy Anthony Davis was executed by the state of Georgia. When we come back, we'll speak with two people who were there that night and who continue to fight to abolish the death penalty: in addition to Ben Jealous, Troy’s sister Kimberly Davis. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “Heaven Help Us All” by Ray Charles and Gladys Knight. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
As we mark the 10th anniversary of the execution of Troy Davis, a major milestone in the fight to abolish the death penalty in the United States, we’re joined by two people who were there a decade ago, September 21st, 2011, on the grounds of the prison where Troy Davis was executed. They continue to work on the death penalty. In Savannah, Georgia, Kimberly Davis is with us, Troy Davis’s sister. She’s an anti-death penalty activist. And Ben Jealous is with us, now president of People for the American Way, former president of the NAACP.
But first I want to go to Troy himself, Troy Davis in his own words. This was May 2009. Amnesty USA activists had a conference call about Troy Davis’s case. Troy’s sister, Martina Correia, patched Troy in from death row.
TROY DAVIS: You know, everything we do today is going to clear the way for a better tomorrow. Everything is coming to a head, and people are starting to wake up more and more. It’s really inspiring, kids to get involved, because that’s what we really need, because they’re going to be our future, and to know that they’re concerned about human rights, you know, about activist work and, you know, the justice system, it really gives me hope that things are going to change, that this is just the beginning of something that’s about to blow up to the point wherein we’re going to see some sort of success. We’re going to win this fight. We’re going to continue to open eyes. We’re going to continue to open these prison doors. We’re going to continue to hold accountable all those that are in charge of these unjust systems. And together, we can realize that if we let our voice and activism work be seen and be heard, that there’s nothing that we can’t change, a positive aspect of this world. You know, we could correct all the wrongs, if we just continue to stand together. And that’s what’s most important. We need to continue to stand together and educate each other and don’t give up the fight.
AMY GOODMAN: That was two years before Troy Davis was executed 10 years ago. We’re joined now by Troy Davis’s sister Kim Davis and Ben Jealous, president of People for the American Way. In March, Virginia became the first Southern state to abolish the death penalty, and President Biden’s Justice Department has ordered a moratorium on carrying out federal death sentences, after a surge in executions under President Trump in his final days. But more than 2,500 people remain on state, federal and military death rows across the United States.
Kimberly Davis, I know this is a hard time. It is 10 years later, but it brings you right back to that moment that your brother was killed by the state of Georgia, even as so many, including the pope, begged for a reprieve, including the Republican congressmember in the area, including former death row prison commissioners. Kimberly, your thoughts today?
KIMBERLY DAVIS: Well, my thoughts today, you know, just looking back over the 10 years, we’ve come a long way. You know, like Troy said, this didn’t start with him, it started before him, and it was going to come after him. And he wanted us to continue to fight. He said — you know, with the injustice, he said that we needed to stand up and make sure we had — make sure our voices are heard. We need to stand up against injustice.
You know, it’s just been so much in the media, while we can see on the news everything that’s going around in the world, but, you know, one thing we know, we can stand on faith, and we will demolish the death penalty, one state at a time.
We were just thinking back over the past years on how we have been able to, you know, just get out and mobilize. You know, it is one thing to mobilize, but then it’s another thing to organize. And with my brother’s case, you know, we had so many people in so many different countries, so many different races, come together for one cause. And that cause was, you know, to prove my brother was innocent. We had so many people, you know, I mean, thousands and thousands of petitions that were actually signed, people that believed in my brother’s innocence. And like he said, he took his innocence to his grave, and, you know, it makes me feel good.
My baby sister, she made a comment. She said that the world today, they’re still talking about Troy Anthony Davis, so we know that Troy Davis did make a mark on the world. And we’re just continuing to continue to make that mark, and we want that mark to stand. We want that mark to stick. We want to continue to fight until we demolish the death penalty, one state at a time.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Ben Jealous, your thoughts today? As we talked to you 10 years ago on the grounds of the death row prison, the point person on the Supreme Court that night deciding whether Troy Davis would live or die was Clarence Thomas, who hails from Pin Point, Georgia, a community founded by freed slaves. There was a moment where it was believed that once again, after three other death warrants were vacated, the fourth one would be, too, but that wasn’t the case. As you reflect back now, your thoughts, and where the movement is today?
BEN JEALOUS: Well, thank you, Amy. And my connection here is breaking up, so I apologize for stepping on yours.
But the — yeah, I was tearing up earlier. It was painful to be brought back to that moment. Troy was innocent. He is innocent. And the deep irony is that the state, Georgia, has no interest in finding the killer for Officer MacPhail. And that is perhaps the greatest tragedy here: They killed in an innocent man, and they really don’t care to find the killer of the police officer who was killed that night.
The movement has to keep pushing forward with abolishing the death penalty. Virginia was a huge victory. It would not have been possible but for this campaign, just like abolishing it in Connecticut the year after and Maryland the year after that, the first state south of the Mason-Dixon to abolish the death penalty, would not have been possible, and really not without — not possible without Troy’s leadership.
I remember sitting with Troy on death row and explaining to him everything we were doing to make sure we had the votes in the Board of Pardon and Paroles. And we did have the votes, until the chairman, who is Black, switched his vote, having voted for a stay before, to make sure that the governor got his execution. And Troy looked at me, and he said, “Ben,” he said, “that’s good.” He said, “This is Georgia. If Georgia wants to kill me, they will. We have to also make sure that the world remembers my name, that they understand what’s happening here.”
And that’s where the hashtag #TooMuchDoubt came from. And about a month after Troy was executed, public support for the death penalty had fallen to an all-time low since it had been momentarily abolished from 1972 to 1976. And the Gallup organization does the polling, credited that hashtag campaign. And it was a reminder, honestly, of what millions of young people, on a new platform back then called Twitter, were able to get done: shift public opinion. This kind of hashtag activism, that us older activists can deride, absolutely played a role in creating the opportunity where we’ve been able to abolish the death penalty in multiple states.
We have a few more to go. When we finally abolish it in 26 states, we’ll have a majority of states opposed and be able to go into the Supreme Court, as we have on the juvenile death penalty since I first met Troy, as we have on the death penalty for people with low IQs, and get the Supreme Court to abolish it in its entirety, having met the standard for both cruel and unusual punishment. And that’s where the movement has to go now.
AMY GOODMAN: Wait, explain that — that’s extremely significant — how you could prove cruel and unusual, and how you can do this at the Supreme Court, given who is on it.
BEN JEALOUS: Yeah. Well, you know, the last part is a bit harder. Donald Trump has packed the Supreme Court. With that said, the Supreme Court has been packed before and have often surprised the conservative movement, when people just halting on basic constitutional principles.
One of those is the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. Now, that’s a high bar. The standard it’s based on, from British common law, is cruel or unusual punishment, meaning if it’s either, it would be unconstitutional. But in America, it’s “and,” so it must be both. The Supreme Court has long held that the death penalty is cruel, just by its nature. You know, executing a human being is cruel. Unusual, the standard is a majority of states opposed. That means you have to get to 26 states.
This is the strategy that we used to abolish the juvenile death penalty. As of like maybe 1999 or 2000, our nation was only one of 10 on planet Earth that was still sentencing children to death. But a couple years later, we were able to abolish it in the Supreme Court, because, as a movement, we got more than 26 states — more than 25, at least 26 states — to abolish the juvenile death penalty. And then the Supreme Court said, “Yes, we’ve long held that the death penalty was cruel for juveniles. We will abolish it.” We did the same thing for people with low IQs — actually, a few years before that, the people at the court refers to as the “mentally retarded” — a terrible term, but that’s the court’s term.
And similarly, the court has held that the death penalty itself is cruel for anyone. We just, once again, got to get to a majority of states. And we are on our way. Virginia, a state with a terrible history when it comes to the death penalty, multiple innocent people executed in that state, a state that even made it possible at one point in its history to literally lynch somebody in the courtroom — to charge, arrest, convict, sentence and execute somebody all in one day — and when you see a state like that abolish the death penalty, you know that the days are numbered in our nation for the death penalty as a whole. We are very, very close.
AMY GOODMAN: Why wasn’t Troy Davis’s execution investigated, the continuation of the investigation into his case, where many pointed to another man who is the one who walked into a police station that night with a lawyer and pointed the finger at Troy Davis, who many say did not have a gun that night that the off-duty police officer was killed?
BEN JEALOUS: Yeah, you know, that’s the thing. That man, Redd, he appears to be a police informant. He’s been in every — it’s like catch and release. Every time he’s been in jail, they let him go. He has a rap sheet longer than the office I’m sitting in right now, in fine print. And it appears that he’s the killer in this case, absolutely. And it is mind-blowing. It is absolutely mind-blowing to look at the two men.
You have to remember that Troy was put on death row by nine eyewitnesses. Seven of them recanted. The only two that wouldn’t were him, Redd — I forget his last name — and a woman who claimed that she recognized Troy from over a hundred yards away on a moonless night when he was standing under a tree in a group of men — this is a dark-skinned Black man — across a dreary, dark long distance in the shadows, and she said without a benefit of the doubt. She was completely not credible.
Meanwhile, six more eyewitnesses came forward and said that it was not Troy, it was Redd. And so, you now have 13 people, including seven who were among the nine that put him on death row, saying that Troy is not the one, those seven saying that they had lied. That’s why there was too much doubt. It is clear that the killer is out there, and it is unclear why the police apparently have protected that man for decades.
AMY GOODMAN: I think his name was Redd Coles. Kimberly Davis, Georgia still has the death penalty. What message do you have for those on death row and for the people of Georgia, as, well, Virginia has just became the first state in the South to get rid of the death penalty, to abolish it?
KIMBERLY DAVIS: Well, we just want the people in Georgia to know that we are still on the battlefield fighting for them, and we will continue to fight for them to get this death penalty abolished.
We have a lot of — there’s a couple guys that’s on death row that actually still reach out to the family, and they just ask us for prayer, because sometimes they say that, you know, that’s something that they don’t get. They just ask us for prayer and for us to continue to stand for them and for us to be the voice of the voiceless. And that’s what Martina always said. She was the voice of the voiceless. And that’s what we’re going to continue to do, to be the voice of the voiceless and stand with them.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you so much for being with us. We’ve been speaking with Kimberly Davis, Troy Davis’s sister, and Ben Jealous, now president of People for the American Way, former head of the NAACP.
Tonight, I’ll be moderating a live-streamed event at 8 p.m. Eastern time to honor Troy Davis’s life and reflect on the movement he helped build, with Troy Davis’s sister Kimberly Davis and his nephew, De’Jaun Davis-Correia. Details at democracynow.org.
Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud, Adriano Contreras. Special thanks to Jon Randolph, Julie Crosby. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.