Special to The BRAD BLOG by Emily Levy
"The part what really makes me mad is the part that I don't know who hit me. You know, it might sound weird, but that'd be a little bit of closure for me to know who done it. You know, because when I got hit, and I hearin' somebody clicking a gun by my head about three, four times, and that gun not going off. You know, for a lot of years I've been hearing that click and I've been hearing that gun going off. Jumping up out of my sleep."
--Larry Young, July 2007, 18 years after he was attacked in the parking lot of a Savannah, Georgia Burger King.
You might think Larry Young would know who hit him, because two weeks ago the man who was convicted in the case came within 24 hours of being executed by the State of Georgia. But Larry Young doesn't know because he, like nearly all the witnesses whose testimony originally convicted Troy Anthony Davis of the assault on Young and the murder of a white police officer that night, doesn't believe Davis is guilty. Next week, the testimony these witnesses want to give, testimony that will show their original "witness statements" were coerced by police, will finally be heard.
On August 19, 1989, Larry Young, an African American man who was then homeless, was assaulted in a Burger King parking lot by two or three men. He was hit in the head by what is believed to be a gun. As Young described to The BRAD BLOG in a phone interview, he fell to the ground, bleeding. Someone held a gun to his head and tried to shoot him, but the gun didn't fire. Young's friend dragged him away from the assailants. Before they got far, they heard two gunshots. Police officer Mark Allen McPhail had been killed.
Young himself was detained that night, he told The BRAD BLOG. "The blood was just steady fallin', sort of fallin' … The police grabbed me, threw me on the car, handcuffed me and threw me in the police car. And I was back there for about a hour and a half, maybe about a hour and a half. And I kept telling 'em, you know, I needed some medical attention."
The police took him in for questioning, refusing him medical care until he signed a statement implicating Troy Davis, a man he says he never saw that night, in his attack and the killing of Officer McPhail.
Young told The BRAD BLOG, "So whatever statements that they made me take, I mean, it was just a lot of statements made like, 'Well, you give me a statement of what you need, what we need, and then you'll go to the hospital.' So therefore whatever the statements were that was given was not accurate statements. ... I'm concerned ... about my health, you know. And I'm hearing these clicks in my head still, you know what I'm saying, sitting up there, I'm pretty much kinda scared. So I just pretty much signed what they wanted me to sign and whatever went on the courtroom, you know, I mean it was all pretty much like coerced."
On evidence like this, the State of Georgia may send Troy Davis to his death?...
There was no physical evidence linking Troy Anthony Davis, an African American man, to the crimes; the entire case was based solely on witness testimony. Now seven of the nine non-police witnesses have recanted or contradicted their testimony. While Young was the only one bleeding and denied needed hospital care, the police apparently used similar powers of persuasion to get statements out of the others.
Amnesty International's report on the case, "Where Is the Justice for Me?" presents witness after witness detailing how the police used threats to get them to sign statements implicating Davis. One was pregnant and on parole; she was afraid she'd be locked up again if she didn't tell police what they wanted to hear. Another reports that he signed the statement the police gave him without reading it, "because I cannot read." Another said the police told him he was "going to the electric chair" if he didn't cooperate. One witness who has not revoked his statement is Sylvester "Red" Coles, identified by several witnesses scheduled to testify on August 9 as the true culprit in the crimes.
Troy Davis' sister, Martina Correia, has fought for years to exonerate her brother. Amnesty International USA and the Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (GFADP) have intervened on behalf of Davis as well. Thousands of letters in support of Davis have been delivered to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles (BPP), including from The Indigo Girls and Pope Benedict.
Sam D. Millsap, Jr., former District Attorney from San Antonio, TX, wrote:
I fervently hope that there are only a few prosecutors and former prosecutors in America today who find themselves, as I do, in the position of having to admit an error in judgment that may have produced an unfortunate result in a criminal prosecution. I believe that prosecutors whose very best efforts may have produced unintended results in capital murder cases have a moral and ethical duty to accept responsibility for their mistakes.
Without going into greater detail than is necessary, it is clear that there are haunting similarities between the Cantu and Davis cases: the absence of physical evidence, recanting witnesses, witnesses alleging police coercion; the implication of another man in the crime. ...
Some suggest that it's good enough if we get it right most of the time--that good intentions, strong procedural safeguards, and a fair trial provide sufficient protection. If you believe that we MUST ALWAYS GET IT RIGHT in capital murder cases, that the system MUST do what is intended—guarantee the protection of the innocent—you will commute the death sentence that has been imposed in this case.
It is deeply troubling to me that Georgia might proceed with this execution given the strong claims of innocence in this case. It has been repeatedly demonstrated that our criminal justice system makes mistakes. ...
On July 16, just 24 hours prior to his scheduled execution by lethal injection, the BPP issued a 90-day stay of execution. They have now scheduled a hearing in the case for August 9, where witnesses will be able to tell their stories. The Board has the power to commute Troy Davis's death sentence to life in prison with the possibility of parole or life without the possibility of parole. Either of these actions would give Davis time for success in his appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court, which could result in a new trial. Meanwhile, the stay of execution could be lifted at any time. Public pressure has been instrumental in creating the opportunity for witnesses to testify on behalf of Davis. If public pressure falls off, it is more likely the BPP will execute Troy Davis.
Surely even those who believe in the death penalty don't want to see a prisoner executed who seems likely to be innocent. Amnesty International has set up a webform to make it easy to send letters to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles. Let them know what you think. And please help spread the word.
Amnesty International USA's Call to Action: http://takeaction.amnestyusa.org
Background on the case: WaPo: "Execution Of Ga. Man Near Despite Recantations"
Media links and related coverage: http://www.savetroydavis.net/
Troy Anthony Davis's website, including letters from The Indigo Girls, Pope Benedict, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and others: http://www.troyanthonydavis.org