Rep. John Lewis on Imminent Execution of Troy Davis: "Race is Everything in This Case"
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Amy Goodman: We begin in Georgia, where the struggle to save the life of death row prisoner Troy Davis has come down to its last hours. Davis is scheduled for execution later today. An African American, he was convicted for killing a white police officer, Mark Allen McPhail, in 1991. The case was largely built on witness testimony. But since the trial, seven of the nine non-police witnesses said they were coerced by police and have recanted their testimony. There is no direct physical evidence tying Davis to the crime scene. The murder weapon was never found, and there's no DNA or fingerprint evidence.
Davis's case has attracted international attention, with supporters including former President Jimmy Carter and Pope Benedict XVI.
Davis received two setbacks Monday, when Georgia's State Board of Pardons and Paroles refused to reconsider its decision to deny him clemency. The Georgia Supreme Court also rejected granting a stay of execution, with Justice Robert Benham casting the lone dissent. Davis's fate now rests with the US Supreme Court, which has also been asked to consider a stay of execution.
In a minute, we'll speak to Troy Davis's sister, Martina Correia, who has led the campaign to save her brother's life, as she fights for her own as she deals with cancer. But first I turn to Democratic Congress member John Lewis of Georgia. A veteran civil rights activist, Lewis has been a leading voice for Davis's case. I spoke to Congress member Lewis just before the show.
Rep. John Lewis: This is a very sad and grave day in the state of Georgia, in our nation and in the world. A man that could really be innocent--and all of the evidence tends to dramatize and quantify that this man may go to his death later today as an innocent human being. And when you commit that final decision and later discover that he is truly, truly innocent of the crime that he's been accused of committing, there is not any way to bring him back. I just think it's wrong and it's unfair, and it will be the greatest miscarriage of justice.
The majority of the people that testified in this case have now recanted their testimony and their position. And I don't quite understand how the system of justice in America and in the state of Georgia can come any way close to being fair to this one human being. For the state of Georgia and for our judicial system in America to stand by and see this man executed would be a barbaric act, as far as I'm concerned.
AG: You are a civil rights leader. How does race play in here?
JL: Race is everything in this case. This is a case involving a young African American male and a white--young white male police officer. And the cards are stacked against this young black man. This has a long history. This is not something that just happened in the past few years, but have been a long history in the state of Georgia, and especially in the American South, of being so quick and so apt to electrocute or provide capital punishment for low-income people and for people of color.
AG: The Supreme Court doesn't even meet until next week. How could it intervene?
JL: Well, the Supreme Court, to me--I just don't understand it, and I've been around for a long time. I have fought some battles, and I've been around a long time. The Supreme Court is saying they're not even going to meet, they're not even going to take up the case until the 29th of this month. That's next week. And you're talking about electrocuting the man today.
Justice Thomas, who's from Georgia and from the same city and county where this case originated, could intervene now, today, the next few hours. But I'm not so sure that Justice Thomas, as the designated justice of this circuit, is going to intervene. He doesn't have a history of setting aside cases of this nature.
AG: Is there any other avenue of reprieve?
JL: Well, I think the governor could have and the parole board could have an emergency meeting, but I don't see that happening.
AG: Do you know Troy Davis, Congressman Lewis?
JL: Well, I know of Troy Davis. I've never met him. I know his family, his mother, his wonderful sister, who is a cancer survivor, who's been out there fighting to save her brother but also to save her own life and save the lives of others.
I've testified before the parole board for them to stay, and they did delay the first execution. But he wrote me a very, very long letter thanking me for intervening and trying to help. That's my first and only time testifying before a parole board.
AG: Congressman Lewis, I saw you at Invesco Field in Denver. My question is, here we see the first African American presidential nominee--nominee of a major party, and yet, on the other hand, you have cases like this. On the issue of how far we have come when it comes to racial equality?
JL: Well, as a nation and as a people, we have come a distance. We made progress. When you see a Barack Obama emerging as the likely next president of the United States, it seems like everything is pointing in that direction. But in spite of all of the changes, in spite of all of the progress that we've made as a nation and as a people, we still have so far to go. The scars and stains of racism are still deeply embedded in every corner, in every aspect of the American society, where we see recent polls that are coming out today saying that a large number of people cannot bring themselves, because of racial feelings and beliefs, to vote for an African American.
AG: Actually, Barack Obama is for the death penalty.
JL: Well, it is troublesome. You know, sometime I just wonder, and I have this unbelievable feeling that maybe, just maybe, some place along the way, some of us must have the courage to say -- and I'm moving closer and closer to this point -- that in good conscience, I cannot and will not support people who support the death penalty. I think it's barbaric, and it represents the Dark Ages. It's not in keeping -- I don't think as human beings, I don't think as a nation, I don't think as a state, we have the right to take the life of another person. That should be left for the Almighty to do.
AG: Final words for Troy Davis today, Congressman Lewis?
JL: It is my hope and my prayer that Troy Anthony Davis will find peace in some way and somehow, that his life will be spared. But if not, he is a witness to this unbelievable craziness that still exists in one of the most developed places in the world, in America. And we advanced so far, but at the same time, we're so far behind, when it comes to respecting the dignity and the worth for every human being.
AG: Democratic Congress member John Lewis of Georgia, longtime civil rights leader. Well, activists in Georgia have been waging a round-the-clock effort. On Monday, two people were arrested after they were refused a meeting with Governor Sonny Perdue. Protests and vigils are planned for later today.
I'm joined right now on the phone by the sister of Troy Davis, Martina Correia. She has led the campaign to save his life.
Martina, your thoughts today as you listen to Congress member John Lewis, that quote of Jimmy Carter, and of course this, the day that could be your brother's last?
MC: Well, you know, we are filled with so many emotions. And, you know, we're still fighting, we're still holding on hope. But it's really hard to understand how, you know, I'm expected to raise my son in this state and in the city of Savannah when I know that because of the color of his skin, you know, people feel that his self-worth is less than others. But, you know, I think that we still have to fight. I mean, I'm just so -- I'm just really full of emotion.
I don't understand how we can have a parole board appointed by the governor that's full of prosecutors and former police officers, and people expect us to have a fair shake. I mean, we always knew it was an uphill battle. But the thing about it is that the parole board in Georgia is the only entity, non-judicial, that's able to act in secrecy. There's no transcripts. There's no recordings. There's no media. So, people in the world were not able to hear the witnesses come forward one by one and talk about how they were 15 and 16 years old, and guns were put in front of them in interrogation rooms, and they were told that, you know, not only that Troy killed the police officer or they had something to do with it, and, you know, how the prosecutor would tell people that if you change your story, I will charge you with perjury. And it's amazing that the parole board can sit and listen to that over and over, witness after witness, and still ignore it.
So, I'm at a place where I think that -- you know, my brother said that all they can do is take his physical form and that because of all the national and international attention, that he understands that if they're successful in killing him, that there is going to be upheaval in the death penalty system, not only in Georgia, but the U.S., and that people around the world are watching this state and that they really need to understand that people are going to fight this. They're not going to just allow Troy to die in vain, because you can't bring him back, you know.
And I think the parole board felt like if they were to allow Troy to live in prison, life without parole or life, that eventually he would prove his innocence. But I think that the parole board members are trying to protect their system, because they're friends with the prosecutor. They know about the misconduct and the police misconduct in this case. And if they expose it, then you would have another exoneration yet from the same county. In that county, there's been two out of the five death row exonerations for the state under the same prosecutor, who's run unopposed for almost 30 years. So, there's a lot of deep-seated problems going on in Georgia. And I think the Troy Anthony Davis case is just shining a really big light into what's happening, and I think Georgia is just going to be just a shameful state.
AG: When did you last talk to Troy?
MC: I left Troy at 4:00 yesterday afternoon, and then we talked to him last night. All before, when inmates are on death watch, they can call their families as much as possible. But after our visit at 4:00 yesterday, they took him back to the death cell, and they told him that he was only allowed two 15-minute calls, because so much of the media is calling and people are trying to get in touch with Troy, because they're denying him access to the media.
And then they told him that, you know, each side is allowed five witnesses, if an execution is to go forward. And they told Troy, without any reason, that he could not have his witnesses, only his lawyer. And he said, "How can you just keep changing rules on me?" There are so many police and things on that prison ground, it's going to be a zoo today.
But, you know, it's amazing that they're trying to break his spirit, and they can't do it, because, you know, he's in a place where he says that he's in a secret place with God, and nothing they can do can disturb him or take him out of that place. So I think that they're mad by that. They're mad that he's not afraid, that, you know, he's just standing on faith. And he's so thankful for everything that everyone is doing all around the world. But he's more concerned --
AG:: You're saying that he was told that he cannot not have witnesses at his execution?
MC: Yes, except his lawyer. And so, we have to fight that this morning. That was something he was told last night by some guards. We have no idea why.
AG: Congress member Lewis said that the Supreme Court could intervene, perhaps through Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas -- is this right? -- and the Governor. What are the possibilities you have right now?
MC: Well, they're still -- I mean, people are still faxing and calling the parole board, and I tell them to call the Governor, because the Governor does have some influence over the parole board. He appointed them. And this is the first time where the parole board has come out and said, "Oh, we reviewed the case." Well, you couldn't have reviewed it, when you gave him a stay the first time and you had even more evidence the second time, and then you deny him. I think that there's some backdoor deals being made between the prosecutor and the parole board, and that is -- a lot of people think in Georgia. But the parole board can intervene and give him a stay.
And I don't know why they -- the prosecutor in Savannah waited 'til the court was at recess, knowing Clarence Thomas was up there, knowing his position on the death penalty, and they purposely sought this execution date before the Supreme Court could rule on Troy's case. This was done purposely. So, the Supreme Court could intervene and not only give Troy a stay to give them the opportunity to review it, but they can also take this case and accept the cert petition. I mean, there's legal minds all over the world that are just baffled by this case and why there's a rush to execution when this man can be innocent. Why rush execution before the Supreme Court has an opportunity to rule? And, you know, people have this position with Clarence Thomas, but my thing is, if you are a U.S. justice, I think that the importance of life and the people and the rule of law should be more important than technicalities. And we've been fighting technicalities, not the merits of this case, all these years.
AG:: What did Troy Davis, your brother, tell you yesterday when you last saw him? And will you be with him throughout today?
MC: Yes, I'll be with him from 9:00 to 3:00 today. And, you know, he wants us to keep fighting. He says that he wants us to -- he told my son, who's 14, that he has to be his legacy, if this execution goes through, that he wants him to be successful, to tell his story, so that people will know that this injustice and his life is not in vain. And so, you know, he's still very hopeful, very optimistic, very thankful, but he knows that this is not just about Troy Davis, this is about a bigger system of injustice. And we have to stand up. We have to fight it. And he said we cannot stop. We have to start acting on what is unjust in this nation, because if we don't fight it, they're going to keep continuing with this stuff.
AG: Martina Correia, thank you very much for being with us. I know this is an extremely difficult day. And we'll keep people posted throughout the day on our website at democracynow.org. Martina Correia is Troy Davis's older sister. She is well known around the country as an anti-death penalty activist. She was also honored, along with Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, by the National Breast Cancer Coalition. She is a cancer survivor.
Update: Troy Davis has granted a temporary stay by the U.S. Supreme Court. Go here for further updates.
Amy Goodman is the host of the nationally syndicated radio news program, Democracy Now!