Death penalty opponents bring message to campus

The sister of a man executed for the killing of an off-duty Georgia police officer, and the author of a book about the controversial case, shared with Elon University students on Thursday details of a homicide investigation they say prove an innocent man died for the crime. 

By Kaitlin Dunn ‘16

Troy Davis spent two decades on Georgia’s death row before his execution by lethal injection for the killing of an off-duty police working as a security guard for a Savannah fast food restaurant. 

His conviction, however, was largely based on testimony from several witnesses who later recanted their statements and, in some instances, identified another man as responsible for shooting Mark MacPhail in the early morning hours of Aug. 19, 1989, when the officer attempted to stop a parking lot scuffle. No physical or DNA evidence linked Davis to the crime.

Despite international protests and pleas to spare his life from such dignitaries as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Pope Benedict XVI, Troy Davis was pronounced dead at 11:08 p.m. on Sept. 21, 2011, having gone to his death proclaiming innocence.

Davis’ sister Kimberly, along with Jen Marlowe, author of the book “I am Troy Davis,” visited campus on Thursday to share Troy’s story with the community and to encourage students to speak out against injustice. Criminal Justice Studies, Pre-Law Program, African and African-American Studies, and Peace and Conflict Studies sponsored the Yeager Recital Hall program.

Kimberly Davis spoke about the injustices against her brother and the pain her family experienced. The warden at the prison was a former police officer, she said, who took away most of Davis’ freedoms and limited him to an hour a day out of his cell. Visitation rights were rescinded and the warden taunted him with information about his case that Davis’ own lawyers lacked.

Marlowe and Kimberly Davis also described prosecutorial misconduct. One witness admitted he couldn’t read or write at the time and was refused medical care until he admitted he saw Davis shoot MacPhail. The police then forged his signature on an affidavit, they said.

Throughout the entire ordeal, the Davis family stood together. Kimberly recalled a conversation she had with her brother before he died. Troy said the state was only taking his body, because he gave his soul to God long ago.

Troy Davis’s last wish was that his family continues to fight and spread the news about injustice.

“We need to take information out into the community and stand up for something that’s right,” Kimberly Davis said. “If elected officials are not doing what we want, we can vote and get their butts out of their seats. We need to stand up for what is right and stand up for justice.”

Marlowe got involved with the case after seeing Troy Davis’ other sister, Martina, on television. Marlowe reached out to Troy and developed a friendship with him, and after meeting Martina, the two decided to write a book.

“What was so horrifying was that (this case) was not the exception,” Marlowe said. “It was emblematic about was is unjust about the death penalty system.”

After Troy was executed, Martina received a letter in the mail from her brother, postmarked the day he died. In it he told her he wanted her to continue to work on the book, and so she and Marlowe set to work. Two months later, Martina passed away of cancer, leaving it to Marlowe to tell the Davis family.

At the evening program, Elon students Alex Dawson and Tucker Kelly; Kimberly Cook, a professor of sociology at UNC Wilmington; and community activist Tory Brown read passages from Marlowe’s book. Readings told of Troy’s friend being executed by the state, Martina Davis’ relationship with other inmates, Troy’s nephew comparing his dog being to sleep to the state executing his uncle and Troy’s elation when he was granted a stay of execution.

Marlowe and Davis ended the presentation with a recording of Troy Davis.

“Everything we do today is going to clear the way for a better tomorrow,” he said. “We can correct all the wrong if we just continue to stand together.”