Davis' Execution Continues to Inspire Death Penalty Activists

Barrington M. Salmon | 10/3/2012, 1:06 p.m.

The Davis case attracted a great deal of national and international attention. The Internet was abuzz with concerned individuals encouraging friends and strangers to sign petitions. His story was driven by the power of digital media and evidenced by the one million tweets tapped out by his supporters.

NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous said he remains troubled by elements of the case and said he and his organization would continue to fight for abolition of the death penalty.

"This is a solemn day. A year ago, we were in Georgia fighting, praying, hoping," he said. "The chairman of the clemency board had doubts and he told us that if we could switch one vote, we'd have clemency. We switched a vote but he switched on us."

"There was so much doubt that a former FBI director and a former warden called for Troy not to be executed. The notion that it could go on within that context is what shook public confidence. I hope we can abolish it in our neighbor, Maryland. Only then can we end it in Mississippi, Georgia and Texas."

Lawrence Hayes, who was one of the speakers at the Mount Vernon Square Park press conference, was perhaps the only one present whose experience paralled Davis'. A former death row inmate, he was convicted by an all-white jury for a crime he didn't commit.

"It's my honor to be here today to acknowledge the presence, the still presence of a man and a family who fought courageously," said Hayes, a 61-year-old Brooklyn resident. "Troy was a poster man for reasonable doubt but the [U.S.] Supreme Court made the decision not on the facts, justice or fairness but on state's rights."

"When this country becomes more civilized, when it looks back, people will see that the death penalty is against the Magna Carta, and stands with the Salem witch hunts and McCarthyism. The spirit of Troy Davis will stay with us until we abolish the death penalty in this country."

Laura Moye, director of Amnesty USA's Death Penalty Abolition Campaign in Washington, D.C., said momentum continues to build against the death penalty in this country.

"The building support has caused people to take a second look and move in a different direction," she said. "I want people to know what it means when the U.S. says it is executing someone. The level of support is at a 40-year low. The issue of innocence is what is telling people to look closer." "Conscientiousness has grown - the death penalty doesn't belong in this country."

Moye said Amnesty is currently focused on Reggie Clemons, who was sentenced to death in St. Louis in 1991 as an accomplice in the murders of two young white women.

"The Reggie Clemons case reads like the worst-case scenario," she said. "We're concerned by the injustices we've seen in this case. There has been a laundry-list of problems, including an abusive, boorish prosecutor, abuse by the police and an inept lawyer who made it difficult for Reggie to get a fair trial."

"The key witness was at one point a suspect. It's very troubling especially when you take into consideration the issues of racial bias and the improper exclusion of African Americans [on the jury]. We want to help Reggie get justice."

Moye commended the Missouri Supreme Court for appointing a Special Master who is reviewing the case.

"Our goal at Amnesty is to shine a bright light on Reggie's case. We have to be sure that the process is fair and the outcome is true," she said.