Yesterday I visited Troy Anthony Davis on Georgia’s death row, a little over 48 hours before the state plans to put him to death for a crime he didn’t commit. As I traveled the highway, through the red clay and green pine trees of Georgia this mild autumn Sunday morning listening to Bob Marley, I pondered what it might be like as an innocent man facing an execution in two days. Soon enough I arrived at the front wall of the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, located in Butts County, GA. The scenery just inside the front gate on Prison Boulevard, with pond, trees, flowers, and chirping birds belies the heinousness of what lies at the end of the road – a massive penitentiary housing the state’s death chamber for it’s ritual execution of prisoners.
After parking, I stood outside the entrance area with a small group of people who were waiting to visit other prisoners. One of those waiting referred me to the sign-in sheet, then added, “they’ll get you when they feel like it”. While I waited for the next 20 minutes I conversed with the group awaiting entrance, all of them upset and shocked that Troy was denied clemency. Biding my time, I stared at the words “wisdom”, “justice”, and “moderation” etched on Georgia’s state seal.
One of the first couple of his visitors to arrive, I met Troy Davis for the first time. Thanks to the relentless campaign waged by Troy, his family, and supporters, the name Troy Davis is known around the planet. Yet the person I met was humble and down-to-earth, quick to begin talking about the help that other death row prisoners need. Troy struck me immediately as a warm and compassionate person. He spent almost as much time talking about the injustice of other cases as he did about his own, repeatedly saying “this is much larger than Troy Davis.”
Troy told me that he wanted me to tell people that it’s time to say “enough is enough!” and to “demand a complete change in the system”. We talked about all the support he has on the outside, with people around the world fighting for his life. Troy then spent time talking about some of the many injustices of his case, a legal lynching to be sure. He said that he, like so many others stuck on death row, were legally incapacitated by “procedural defaults” from their attorneys, many of them the fault of the Georgia Resource Center. Once an attorney with his legal team returned to court after lunch so intoxicated that her eyes were bloodshot and she reeked of alcohol.
At his habeas hearing held in a prison shack-turned-into-a-courtroom just off death row, Troy anxiously awaited the arrival of his family, who had spent their own money to rent vans to transport witnesses from Savannah. But as Troy walked into the shack-courtroom, his attorney was saying that neither his family nor his witnesses would be allowed to appear, given that it was “too expensive” to transport the witnesses.
By the time effective legal counsel got on board with his defense, Troy’s case was too far gone. In fact, one attorney with his private Washington, DC law firm told him that had they gotten the case five years earlier, Troy would be home by now.
“And even if none of those witnesses recanted”, Troy emphasized with his southern drawl as he leaned closer to me, “my fingerprints still don’t match”.
Troy also gave his analysis of why the Parole Board refused to grant clemency. Given that the board, appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue, is stacked with “ex”-law enforcement and prosecution types, it’s no surprise. “The police and prosecution tactics used in my case are the same ones they used and that are used all over. If they stop my execution because of the police interrogation methods and prosecutor misconduct, it exposes their entire system.”
Over the course of the next hour, Troy’s mother, sisters, brother, niece, nephew, and numerous supporters joined us in the caged visiting room. The six hour visitation flew by with a positive atmosphere of love and support. Most of the time was spent laughing, joking, and telling family stories that included childhood nicknames, teenage dating escapades, high school prom dates, and more.
Eventually visiting hours wound down, and Troy was handcuffed then taken inside the entrance to one of the prison corridors, where we were allowed to join him for photographs. As a fellow prisoner snapped pictures, Troy arranged different combinations of his family and supporters for each picture, as prison guards observed from the perimeter.
When the photo session ended, it was time for us to hug Troy goodbye.
In a stirring and emotion-packed series of hugs, we all took turns saying goodbye. Two prisoners began printing the pictures as guards led Troy away. “Troy is such a good guy” one of them commented while we waited. Then suddenly someone yelled, “He’s waving”, and family members all strained to look through the prison bars down the long hallway to death row, seeing Troy’s smiling face as his handcuffed hands waved goodbye.
PATRICK DYER is a Campaign to End the Death Penalty (CEDP) activist and teaches at Kennesaw State University in Georgia.