Troy Anthony Davis was all set to join the U.S. military. Instead, he
has been locked up in a Georgia prison for almost two decades.
Davis was convicted and condemned to die in 1991 for killing
a Savannah, Georgia, police officer.
After having exhausted his appeals,Davis was scheduled to die
by lethal injection July 17 until the Georgia parole board granted
him a 90-day stay of execution for “evaluating and analyzing the evidence provided during the board appointment.”
After he was sentenced, seven of nine witnesses who testified in his trial
that he shot Mark Allen MacPhailin 1989 have recanted their testimonies
and now say Davis did not shoot the police officer. Davis has
contended all along that he is innocent of the crime.
Davis’ account of the incident is as follows: He and a group of friends were outside a Greyhound bus station in Savannah where a man was getting beat up on by Sylvester “Red” Coles. After being told by Coles to get away when they tried to break it up, Davis and a friend then left the scene. McPhail, who was off-duty at the time, then came over to offer assistance and was shot twice. He was White.
A few days later, Davis was out of town preparing to join the Marines
when family members called and told him that he was wanted
for the shooting. Davis turned himself in. Two years later he was convicted,
and he has been on Georgia death row ever since.
In an exclusive interview last May, the MSR asked Davis several
questions. The following are his unedited responses:
MSR: Troy, explain how you have kept your composure, patience,
sanity, etc. during almost two decades of maintaining your innocence.
TD: I have been able to remain positive and keep my composure
due to having a strong family and truly believing that my innocence
has to come to light somehow. My mother raised us to believe in God,
so I asked God to keep me safe and help me prove my innocence.
It hasn’t been an easy road trying to be patient, but I am a strongminded
person. I see so many traumas, sadness, fear, and many other emotions in the other death-row inmates, and hatred from some of the people that work here.
MSR: Throughout the entire ordeal, why haven’t the authorities heard your side of the story?
TD: The authorities wanted to find a cop killer. Once Sylvester Coles [who testified against him] and his lawyer pointed the finger at me, they made a secret deal agreeing not to charge him if Sylvester gave them what they wanted. They took
his word at face value and thought it was an open-andshut case. In order for the authorities to even entertain my side of the story, they would have to admit to
lies, coercion, unethical conduct, and threats they made to me.
[Soon after the McPhail shooting, Coles and his lawyer went to the police and made a statement exonerating him and implicating Davis as the gunman. During the trial, Coles admitted that he carried a .38 caliber handgun, the same type
of gun used in the shooting. However, investigators never found the
MSR: Did you do anything to Sylvester Coles that you would think spur him to falsely accuse you?
TD: I have never done anything to Sylvester Coles. Red always has
been a very mean-spirited person who felt as if guns were his power.
I am assuming he thought I might snitch on him because he had the
gun, and he was attacking that man, so he ran to the police station
a few hours after the shooting with a lawyer and pointed the finger
at me. I did not even know anyone was shot, especially a policeman,
until my family told me I was on the news.
MSR: Anything that I didn’t ask that you wish to talk about?
TD: The incident started for me when I tried to stop Red from
pistol-whipping and attacking a homeless man over a can of beer.
The man was struck by a left-handed attacker, as he testified. I am
right handed. I want people to know [that] I voluntarily turned myself in once I knew I was suspected of the murder. I had nothing to hide, and I thought by telling the truth I would be released.
Once at the police station, the only question was, “Tell us where
the gun is and make it easy on yourself.” In their minds, I was already
guilty and convicted. They never asked me what happened
that night, and from then on my life and the life of my family was forever
My prayers go out sincerely to Mr. McPhail’s family. They hate me because of lies, but until a court agrees to view all the new real evidence
of what happened, they’ll never know the truth. They deserve
justice, just like I do. I refuse to hate those who stole
my life from me because that is not who I am. I am angry that I have
missed so much of my life and my family’s life. I have missed my father’s
I just want my freedom back. I want justice once and for all.
The 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, passed
by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, limits the
number of death sentence appeals to three phases, including actions
during pretrial and trial proceedings.
Davis’ appeals have been denied at each phase, including the
U.S. Supreme Court. Martina Correia, Davis’ oldest
sister, has been the leader in the fight for her brother’s freedom.
“Martina is a fighter, and every day she wants to do something to
help her brother,” said Laura Moye of Amnesty International, a group
opposed to the death penalty that initiated a global campaign to
support Davis’ case. “It is completely shameful that the courts have not
heard the new evidence.”
Correia visits Davis in prison every other week. “He always was a
good brother,” she says. “He never was a troublesome child or young
man. He was going into the Marine Corps. So, for people to make him
out as a monster, this is so far away from Troy.”
The 90-day stay that the Georgia parole board granted him last week
is only temporary. If Davis’ lawyers can’t get a new trial, their client still faces execution unless the board commutes his sentence to life in
prison, with or without parole.
“Troy had to give up a lot for our family,” Correia concluded. She and the rest of Davis’ family and supporters sincerely hope that does not include his life.
Information from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Associated
Press contributed to this article. For more information on Troy Davis,
go to Amnesty’s website (www.amnesty.org) and Davis’ website (www.troyanthonydavis.org).
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.