I imagine it just like a scene out of a movie – a courtroom movie.
Set in a parallel universe.
You’re sitting in the defendant’s box, your lawyer beside you. Gazing out at the room, the judge’s stern face, the weary expressions of the jury members, you try to look relaxed. Confident. Innocent.
After all, you know you’re not guilty. You left the scene long before any shots were fired. There’s nothing to connect you to the crime – no murder weapon, no fingerprints, no motive, nothing. In a few hours you’ll be free, and hopefully they’ll get back to tracking down the guy who really did it. Beside you, your defence lawyer is confident and smiling. This should be an easy case.
The prosecution calls their first witness in, and you blink, surprised. It’s a close friend of yours, a guy you’ve known for years. Why would the prosecution ask him to testify? That’s right, he was there the night the cop was shot – you vaguely remember seeing him before you took off. They must be desperate. Well, he’ll straighten them out soon enough.
Your friend’s being sworn in, and now the lawyer’s ready to ask the first question. He doesn’t waste time. Did he see the shooting?
Yes, your friend answers. He’s oddly nervous, casting twitchy glances around the room. He doesn’t meet your eyes.
And can he identify the murderer?
A pause. Then – “Yes,” your friend answers. Then he points right at you. “It was him. I saw him shoot the officer. He’s guilty.”
For a long moment, you can’t seem to make sense of his words. You must have misunderstood, he must have pointed somewhere else – maybe there’s another suspect on trial that day?
You stare at your friend pleadingly. He doesn’t look back.
The ground seems to lurch and spin beneath you.
And that’s just the start.
The next two hours seem to go by in slow motion as witness after witness comes to the stand. Some are your friends, some you just ran into on the street once or twice, one of them you got in a fight with a few years back. A couple of them you’ve never seen in your life. One of them – a guy who was always looking for trouble – had been there that night, and you’d actually wondered a couple times if he had shot the cop.
But they all agree on one thing as they point to you. “He did it. He shot the officer. Guilty.”
You stare at the judge’s severe, implacable face. You hardly dare to glance at the jury, but when you do you find them watching you coldly. You can tell what they’re thinking – you see it in their eyes. Murderer.
Even your defence lawyer is watching you, brow furrowed. You can practically see the thought written on his face – maybe he did it after all?
You’ve got to be dreaming. Please, let me wake up now. This is insane. This is madness. This can’t be happening. This is a court of justice, for God’s sake.
But as the parade of witnesses continues, and the mountain of evidence continues to grow, even you can’t help but start to wonder if you really are innocent.
I don’t know exactly what it was like to be Troy Davis at his 1991 murder trial. But that’s how I imagine it when I read the evidence now available, from Amnesty International. Of the witnesses that testified against him, all but two later recanted their testimony, citing police coercion as their reason for testifying.
Their affidavits – recanting their testimony – are here, and they make heartbreaking reading. Most said the police wouldn’t stop asking questions, wouldn’t let them go, until they gave the answers they knew the police wanted to hear: that Troy Davis was guilty. Several were given pre-written statements to sign. One of these witnesses, totally illiterate, could not read the witness statement he put his name to.
This is the sort of story I’ve gotten used to hearing about from Iran. A country where torture and arbitrary imprisonment are the norm. A country where your guilt is all too often pre-determined and the security forces won’t stop until they get the answers they want. A country where the innocent are punished and it is the guilty who determine their sentence.
Not the United States of America. I’m not an American citizen but for me, as for so many across the world, the United States has always represented freedom, justice, hope. The world’s first modern democracy, where all are equal before the law. A place where people are always presumed innocent until proven guilty – “beyond the shadow of a doubt.”
What has gone wrong? How has the system failed so badly as to let something like this occur?
I’ve contacted both Gov. Nathan Deal (phone (404) 651-1776, fax (404) 657-7332, email here, web contact form here) and the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles (phone (404) 656-5651, fax (404) 651-8502) asking them to grant clemency on Monday – Troy Davis’ last hope. I urge every reader of this blog entry to do the same. Yes, every phone call, every fax, every e-mail matters.
IMPORTANT: JUST IN (yes, literally as I write this blog entry!) – Please contact Chatham County (Savannah) District Attorney Larry Chisolm as well. He can support Troy Davis’ request for clemency for seeking to have the current death warrant withdrawn. You can contact DA Chisolm here.
If you’re like me, and making phone calls to people in government totally freaks you out, THAT’S OKAY! YOU CAN STILL HELP! Fax (especially) and e-mail are also effective.
The very real truth is that this is Troy’s last chance. If the Board rules against him on Monday, then – barring a miracle – he’ll be executed the following week. Put to death for a crime that, in all likelihood, he did not commit.
Please, let’s do everything we can to stop this atrocity from occurring.
– The Contrapuntal Platypus