Stanley Howard is a victim of torture by Chicago police and a former Illinois death row prisoner who was exonerated and pardoned by former Gov. George Ryan in 2003. While on death row, he cofounded the Death Row 10 along with other police torture victims. Though still imprisoned unjustly, Stanley works with the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and writes regularly for its newsletter, the New Abolitionist.
Here, he reviews the new book I Am Troy Davis, which tells the story of the innocent death prisoner murdered by the state of Georgia in 2011. Though he was killed, Troy Davis’ struggle inspired people around the country to stand up against the racist death penalty.
I AM Troy Davis is an amazing story of one family’s love and its struggle to persevere against a well-known foe of the Black community–the racist, broken and unjust U.S. justice system and its primitive practice of capital punishment.
It’s a story of activism and a sister’s courage and determination to stop the state of Georgia from executing her brother for a crime he did not commit, while fighting for her own life against breast cancer.
The book centers around the aftermath of the August 19, 1989, killing of off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail, who was fatally shot in the Greyhound bus station/Burger King parking lot in Savannah, Ga. Because of a tip from an informant and alleged eyewitness, Sylvester “Redd” Cole, a massive manhunt ensued for the capture of Troy Davis–”dead or alive.”
The police terrorized Black residents of the city, and anybody resembling Troy was getting slammed on the concrete. Furthermore, it was reported that “the cops were kicking in Black folks’ doors–threatening young Black men that they would lock them up and throw away the key if they didn’t give information about Troy’s whereabouts.”
Troy, who was 19 years old, found out about the manhunt from his sister, 21-year-old Martina Davis-Correia, who heard about it from TV news coverage. Believing it was all a mistake and fearing her brother would be killed by cops seeking revenge, Martina arranged for his safe surrender.
Born less than 17 months apart, Martina and Troy were inseparable growing up, and people regularly asked if they were twins. They shared a love so strong that their mother, Virginia, called them “two peas in a pod.”
Based solely on the information provided to them by Redd Cole, the police decided to manufacture a case against Troy. They pressured supposed witnesses to finger Troy as the killer, because there was no other evidence against him–no DNA, fingerprints or weapon. Within days, even before the case was fully investigated, the county prosecutor announced that he intended to seek the death penalty against Troy.
They were so anxious to kill Troy that not too many years before, we would’ve found Troy hanging from a tree.
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THE TRIAL began two years later in August 1991, with the state calling 34 witnesses–eight of whom were supposed to be eyewitnesses. These eyewitnesses either identified Troy as the killer, or they corroborated Redd Cole’s testimony and/or the events leading up to MacPhail’s death.
The case hinged upon two different versions of what occurred at that critical moment–Cole’s versus Troy’s.
Cole testified that he was arguing with Larry Young, a man he didn’t know, over a can of beer that Young had just purchased. When they reached the Burger King parking lot, Cole said that out of the blue and for no apparent reason, Troy (who was walking behind them with Darrell “D.D.” Collins) “came up and blindsided Larry on the side of the face with a .38 snub-nosed pistol.”
Cole claimed that he and Troy started running, and that he didn’t see the police officer until he heard the words “Hold it!” He turned around, and the officer ran past him–that’s when he heard the first shot and then two more.
Cole also testified that he was carrying a chrome long-barreled .38 gun that he kept for protection, but that he hid the gun in some bushes and then gave it to Jeffrey Sims to hold. Others testified that Redd Cole did have a .38 that night. Cole claimed that he kept running to his sister’s house after he heard the shots, where he “changed shirts.” Troy showed up at the sister’s house around a half hour later, topless and asking for a shirt, so Cole gave Troy the same yellow T-shirt he had just taken off.
Six witnesses were called for the defense, with Troy testifying last and on his own behalf. Troy said that he had gone to a pool party on the night in question with D.D. and another guy name Eric. Troy said he heard shots as he was leaving the pool party, but didn’t see who was shooting. Later that night, Troy, D.D., Eric and Jeffrey Sims went to a pool hall.
While they were inside the pool hall, they saw Redd Cole outside, arguing with someone they didn’t know–this was Larry Young. When the argument started escalating, with Cole getting in Larry’s face, Troy went outside to intervene on Larry’s behalf, causing Troy and Cole to exchange some heated words. Larry continued walking with Redd Cole in hot pursuit, and when they reached the Burger King parking lot, Troy said he tried intervening again to no avail.
Troy decided to make his way back to the pool hall after Cole struck Larry, and while he was walking, Troy quickened his pace when D.D. ran past him. Then Troy heard someone say “Hold it!” followed by a gunshot. He instinctively ducked and began running. Troy first thought that Cole was shooting at him.
But a few moments later, after hearing another shot, Cole ran past him. Wondering if Cole had gotten shot, Troy called out to him, “You alright?” but Cole kept running without responding.
Troy later testified that he made his way back to the pool hall, and a short time later, sirens began to wail and police cars started coming from the underpass. Troy said he didn’t know exactly what had happened, but his gut told him to get out of there.
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MARTINA ASKS several questions in this book, and I have a few questions, too. Why weren’t Redd Cole and D.D. included in the lineups conducted by police? Everyone said Cole had a .38 that night (which I think is the only reason why he admitted to having it), but why weren’t efforts made to locate Cole’s .38 to determine through forensic analysis if it was the same gun used to murder Officer MacPhail?
Why did Cole feel the need to change shirts? And why did he wait until the next morning to implicate Troy instead of the night before? On the same day that the bloodthirsty county prosecutor announced he was seeking the death penalty against Troy, Larry Young mistakenly identified Troy from a photo lineup that didn’t include Redd Cole. But when Cole walked in the station minutes later for a witness reenactment, Larry corrected the mistake by identifying Cole as the person arguing with him.
I am really astonished that Cole was never considered as a suspect in the case. It’s so obvious that the investigators were suffering from a severe case of tunnel vision from the moment Cole walked in and incriminated Troy.
Even in the face of so much uncertainty and doubt, the jury took less than two hours to convict Troy of all counts.
While reading the book, I couldn’t help wondering what would have happened had the jury found Troy not guilty in such a highly charged atmosphere–a Black man accused of killing a white cop in the South. Someone had to pay for the murder of Officer MacPhail. And in my opinion, the guilty verdict had to be an attempt to give justice to Officer MacPhail and/or his grieving family and colleagues, who sat prominently in the courtroom throughout the trial–because the verdict was not based on the legal standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Since the evidence didn’t prove Troy guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, I’m sure the jury used America’s heavily relied upon “any nigger would do” standard to find him guilty.
In Georgia, like in most states in the U.S., it’s clear that a Black defendant convicted of killing a white victim (especially a cop) is much more likely to be sentenced to death than a white defendant convicted of killing a Black victim. Therefore, it was no surprise the jury ignored the mitigating pleads to spare Troy’s life by unanimously deciding (while his family sat hopefully behind him, with his mother clutching her Bible) that Troy should “be punished by being put to death.”
To stop from going completely insane–and I know all about this from the 16 years I spent on death row and 29 years of incarceration–Troy had to block out almost everything that was happening on the outside, especially family events and crises which could weigh heavily on the mind and push him over the edge.
The family visits he received every Saturday kept him strong and full of hope, and gave him something to look forward to. And in turn, it kept the family strong and hopeful also, because not only was Troy on death row, but his entire family was on death row with him. “I would rather die,” his father Joseph said shortly before Troy was moved to death row, “than bury a child I love.” Joseph stopped eating and taking his insulin, and eventually ended up dying in February 1992 after having been in a diabetic coma for months.
The book goes on to expose the ups and downs of the long and inadequate appeals process–a process that’s not only not worthy of determining who should remain incarcerated, but definitely not worthy of deciding who should live and who should be put to death.
Court after court denied Troy’s appeals, and every time a court did so, it moved him one step closer toward execution. Nevertheless, Troy and the Davis family remained firm in their belief that justice would prevail–his innocence would be proven, and he would be released.
In March 2001, Martina was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer and given six months to live. The cancer was so advanced that some of the doctors in the practice didn’t think there was any sense in treating her. But one doctor insisted on doing whatever could be done.
It was really touching reading that, at the very moment when she was told she had only six months to live, this loving woman didn’t think of herself. Her immediate thoughts were: Who is going to take care for my 7-year-old son De’Jaun and who will fight for Troy?
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EVENTUALLY, seven of the nine eyewitnesses who testified against Troy came forward and swore that they were pressured or coerced into implicating him. This newly discovered evidence also implicated Redd Cole as the killer.
Unfortunately, the court system in the U.S. doesn’t acknowledge innocence. After conviction, the appellate process focuses exclusively on whether proper procedures were followed and any constitutional violations occurred that could warrant overturning the conviction or sentence.
The witnesses’ recantations clearly established Troy’s innocence–proving that he was framed by overzealous cops and prosecutors. But citing senseless laws like the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEPDA), the courts were blocked from even considering the new evidence six months after the conviction.
I called for the repeal of the AEPDA in 2006 after the state of California executed/murdered Stanley Tookie Williams. I wrote in my column “Keeping It Real” for the Campaign to End the Death Penalty’s newsletter The New Abolitionist in February 2006:
The Constitution and innocence means nothing in the eyes of the courts or prosecutors. They’re more concerned with procedures than assuring that justice prevails. This is irrefutable evidence that our system is out of control. Americans should be appalled and start demanding that common sense safeguards be put back into place, instead of washed away. Demand the repeal of the deadliest of all procedural barriers: the so-called Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.
As a certified paralegal and someone who has practiced jailhouse law over the last 17 years, I can attest to the fact that Troy’s case is a prime example of why this system is broken beyond repair and needs to be totally dismantled and put out of the business of killing people.
It’s shocking that in one of the major rulings in Troy’s case, a federal judge declared that the witnesses who said under oath that they were intimidated and coerced by police were less credible than the police officers who had testified that nothing “inappropriate” occurred. Did the judge really expect the officers to testify that they threatened and coerced the witnesses? I don’t believe an officer has ever in the history of American jurisprudence testified that he threatened, coerced, beat or tortured a witness or suspect in a case.
Even more shocking is the fact that this same judge admitted on the record that the case against Troy “may not be ironclad,” but still permits his execution. Moreover, it was sickening to read that the county prosecutor said the witnesses were credible during the trial, but were liars when they recanted their testimony.
The book highlights the need to put the system out of the business of killing people by quoting a dissenting opinion written by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (who was joined by Justice Clarence Thomas):
This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial, but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is “actually” innocent.
In other words, these two dishonorable bastards said that even though Troy had evidence he was actually innocent, he should still be put to death because he had a full and fair trial.
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WITH THE courts reluctant to grant Troy relief, Martina decided to seek assistance from outside the legal community to pressure the court and the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles to stop his execution.
What followed is a textbook lesson on activism and how an ordinary person, Martina, was able to conjure up superhuman strength and extraordinary activist skill to fight off breast cancer and try to stop her brother from being put to death.
The first turning point came when she was able to get the human rights organization Amnesty International to issue a report in February 2007 on Troy’s case calledhttp://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR51/023/2007″>Where Is the Justice for Me? According to the book, “expressions of outrage and offers of support began piling in” as soon as the 40-page report hit the Internet.
Then, on July 9, 2007, eight days before a scheduled execution date for Troy, Martina helped arrange a conference call where Troy was able to talk with reporters who were unwilling to do a story on the case. She was hoping that by talking directly with Troy, they would “hear how honest and genuine” he was, and when they did, she knew they would tell his story.
She was right. They woke the next morning to find Troy’s story was covered by the Associated Press, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and NPR’s All Things Considered. In the following days, it was covered by the Los Angeles Times, New York Times and Washington Post.
With Martina leading the charge–like a one-woman army–there were protests and rallies held all over the country on Troy’s behalf. And before long, the fight to save Troy’s life grew to the point where millions of people from around the world signed petitions trying to stop his execution–including South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former President Jimmy Carter, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton and former FBI Director William Sessions.
Even though she was gravely ill from the effects of cancer treatments, with long nights of vomiting, retching and diarrhea with her hair falling out in clumps, Martina always found the strength to get out of bed, raise her son De’Jaun, and travel around the world fighting for Troy and against the death penalty.
I was so moved by Troy’s story that I also sent a letter to the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Parole requesting clemency in 2007. Family and friends of mine participated in an “I Am Troy Davis” rally in downtown Chicago–both of which were organized by the Campaign to End the Death Penalty.
The book goes on to reveal the incredible emotional roller-coaster ride that Troy and his family were forced to endure as they successfully fought off three different execution dates: July 17, 2007; September 23, 2008; and October 27, 2008. He came within 23 hours from being executed on one date, two weeks on another, and as close as 90 minutes on another.
After the emotional and psychological trauma of facing down three execution dates, with a fourth possible date forthcoming, the family’s matriarch, Virginia, passed away of natural causes on April 12, 2011. As long as I live, the image of her praying, “Please don’t let them kill my child. Please don’t let them kill my child,” will forever be etched into my memory bank, knowing that my mother most likely prayed the same prayer during the 16 years I spent on death row.
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BEFORE THE family had the chance to finish mourning her passing, Troy’s fourth execution date was set for September 21, 2011, throwing them back into yet another state of emergency.
Like for a previous scheduled execution, a small group of family and friends filed in and out of a room saying their painful goodbyes to Troy. And after being forced to leave by prison guards, they eventually joined the hundreds of other people–friends, supporters and media from around the world–outside of the prison for a pray vigil and to protest the execution.
I remember it like it was yesterday. The execution was scheduled for 7 p.m., and I was watching the TV news coverage from my prison cell here in Dixon, Ill.
As was pointed out in the book, there was some kind of unexplained commotion going on in the crowd. No one knew what was happening, not even the TV talking heads, until there was a roar from the crowd: TROY GOT A STAY! The crowd started cheering, jumping, shouting and hugging each other in pure jubilation. I even let out a loud scream: YEAH! I screamed hoping Troy would receive more time to fight with, because I knew where there is life, there is hope.
Someone called out minutes later that he didn’t get a stay–it was merely a delay from the U. S. Supreme Court until the court rule on the last-ditch effort to stop the execution. Unfortunately, no one knew how long the delay would last.
I didn’t believe they would kill him with the whole world watching, with millions of devoted supporters standing with him, and especially in the face of so much uncertainty.
The delay was nerve-wracking, as minutes turned into hours. Martina wondered what they were doing to Troy as the delay lingered on and on. Was he lying on the gurney in the execution chamber, with the IV needle still in his vein. Was he in pain?
No one knew until word came around 10 p.m. that he was in a cell, unafraid–he wanted his family to know he was okay. The suspense of the delay was really stressful on everyone’s mind–including mine, and I was hundreds of miles away.
“The court-ordered execution of Troy Anthony Davis has been carried out.” A prison spokeswoman came out and announced. “The time of death was 11:08 p.m.”
As the book described, “Everyone around her was weeping. But Martina’s eyes were bone dry.” Some of the people wanted to express their outrage and sorrow, but Martina just wanted to leave. I immediately turned the TV off in frustration and laid in bed tossing and turning–my mind wouldn’t allow me to sleep.
Someone had to pay for the killing of Officer MacPhail, and it’s sad that they vengefully murdered the wrong man in front of an international audience and with millions of people pleading with them not to.
Keeping It Real: Troy wasn’t the first Black man lynched by an angry mob. This angry mob was dressed in black robes, suit and ties, and uniforms. And to honor Troy’s last wish of ending the death penalty, I’m going to continue fighting this unmerciful system until we bring this sick madness to an end.
Over 2,000 people attended Troy’s funeral on October 1, 2011. And exactly two months after that, on December 1, 2011, Martina Davis-Correia passed away and was laid to rest next to Virginia and Troy on December 10, 2011–fittingly, that was International Human Rights Day.
She lived for 10 years after being given only six months to live.
My review cannot give this book its proper credit, but I can say I really enjoyed it and hope others will read it to find out how America murdered an innocent man and why we don’t need a death penalty. The Civil War and the so-called end of slavery may have occurred well over 150 years ago, and Jim Crow was marched out of existence century later, but America’s love for lynching Black men seems to be a thirst it cannot quench.
My name is Stanley Howard, and I AM TROY DAVIS!