Troy Davis: Life/Death Around the Corner?

Troy Davis

Troy Davis

by Elliot Millner, J.D.

I have faced execution and the torment of saying goodbye to my family three times in the last two years and I may experience that trauma yet again; I would not wish this on my worst enemy and to know I am innocent only compounds the injustice I am facing.”- Troy Davis, from Georgia’s death row, on facing a fourth possible execution date.

For those who are unaware, Troy Davis has been on Georgia’s death row for about 18 years, after being convicted of murdering police officer Mark McPhail(Mr. Davis has maintained his innocence from the very beginning).

It would take pages to give all of the details of Troy Davis’ case, however I will say that there was no physical evidence found(including a murder weapon) connecting Troy Davis to the killing of Officer McPhail; he was convicted largely on the basis of inconsistent and often contradictory eyewitness testimony. The vast majority of those prosecution eyewitnesses have since recanted or changed their testimony implicating Mr. Davis, and one of those who hasn’t is Sylvester Coles, the main alternative suspect presented by the defense during Troy Davis’ trial. In addition, there have been multiple allegations of police coercion and the usage of unethical interrogation techniques.

(For additional information on Troy Davis’ case, or to get information on how to act, check out and

Troy Davis’ ordeal has been going on for nearly two decades now, and is nearing its end, one way or the other. He has had numerous appeals denied(most recently in April 2009), habeas corpus petitions denied, stays of execution granted and expired, and also had one request for clemency denied by the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles(the same board that would decide any future request for clemency regarding Troy Davis).

As absurd as it sounds, relative to many others on death row, Troy Davis is ‘lucky’. He is lucky in the sense that his case has drawn national and international attention, from a broad range of activists and celebrities. He has lawyers and organizations working around the clock to save his life, and draw attention to the injustices present in his particular case, and also to those injustices present in the application of the death penalty in the United States in general(particularly in cases involving Black defendants and white victims, such as this).

Compared to the multitude of nameless, faceless(and disproportionately Black and poor) people occupying death rows across the U.S., Troy Davis has a chance at life, however slim. He is the newest face of the anti-death penalty movement, and the most recent example of a Black man being sentenced to death for the murder of a white person(in this case also a police officer) under very questionable circumstances.

It is often difficult for people to get outraged regarding someone convicted of murder and sentenced to death row. Regardless of whether a person is pro or anti-death penalty, the reality is that many of the people on death row are guilty of murder, sometimes involving extreme mitigating factors, such as the murder of a child, or torture, even cannibalism. That is not the issue here. Even though there is significant evidence raising doubt as to whether Troy Davis murdered Officer McPhail, the ultimate issue is about the fairness of the process and equality of treatment, and in my view there is more than sufficient evidence showing that Troy Davis had the deck stacked against him, as is often the case for Black and poor defendants.

Act in some way to help Troy Davis, whether it be writing a letter or spreading the word. However, do not forget those others who do not have the same publicity. This issue is bigger than Troy Davis, and it is important for us to address anything involving the unjust treatment of a Black person(regardless of where they are), especially when it involves the ultimate penalty.


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