In a little more than four months, we will note the third anniversary of the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia. Already, friends and supporters of Troy are planning events for September 21.
I recently had a Q&A with Jen Marlowe, the co-author of I Am Troy Davis.
Q) This must have been an emotionally difficult book to write. Not only was Troy Davis executed; your co-author - Troy's sister - died shortly after his execution.
A) Writing this book was definitely one of the most difficult tasks I've ever undertaken. Not only was I immersing myself in the pain of three people I loved dearly whose loss I was still deeply mourning (Troy, Martina, and their mother Virgina who passed a few months before Troy was executed)--but I wasn't able to collaborate with the very people whose story I was trying to tell. So--it was difficult on both the emotional and practical levels.
Q) Is the judicial process equipped to handle post-conviction review of actual innocence cases? I think that people believe that every aspect of a death penalty case gets a fresh, top-to-bottom review by different levels of courts, but the reality is much more compartmentalized.
A) From what I've seen, it seems to me that no, the judicial process is not equipped to handle review of innocence cases. Once a defendent is found guilty, getting evidence of innocence even reviewed is an uphill battle, let alone meeting the often impossible bar of "proving" innocence. The appeals process is really about whether there was constitutional errors at trial--not about reviewing the merits of an innocence claim. Appellate courts seem most concerned with procedural issues.
Q) With DNA exonerations pointing to failed eyewitness identifications, there a much greater awareness that innocent people get wrongly convicted. We've seen several cases get attention, but nothing like the level of Troy's case. Why do you think it captured so many people's attention?
A) I think there are many reasons Troy's case captured the attention that it did, but largely because his case was so emblematic about what is so broken about the death penalty system. The enormous problems in his case were so clear, and so egregious--that it attracted the attention of, first, human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and the NAACP, and then, the media, leading to public outrage. The fact that there were 4 execution dates also gave time for a movement to really grow around Troy's case, a movement that grew in strength, numbers, and outrage each time Troy survived a near-miss. And, it can't be overlooked--Troy's family was a central reason that Troy's case broke through at all. Not every wrongfully convicted prisoner has advocates as passionate and relentness and articulate and determined as Troy had in his sister Martina and the rest of the Davis family.
Q) Troy Davis went to his death with extraordinary grace. Is that part of why his memorial service was so moving?
A) I think Troy's going to his death with such extraordinary grace is due to the extraordinary grace that Troy possessed as a human being--and it was this grace that drew so many people to him, that made so many people want to champion his fight. This grace emanated from the entire Davis family. So, I think the connection between that grace and the memorial service was absolutely there--but not just the grace of Troy's parting the world. It was the grace with which Troy lived in the world.
Q) In so many ways this is not simply Troy Davis' story, but the stories of a multi-generational family.
A) Absolutely, and that's exactly the point. The death penalty has a human impact on real human lives. I wanted to reveal that human impact by showing how Troy's situation affected this multi-generational family--a family that I hope readers grow to know and care about through the pages of the book.
Q) And of another family, as well. What can you tell us about the MacPhail family, and their reactions?
A) I can't tell much more about Mark MacPhail's family other than what is already in the book, though I wish very much that I could. I approached Mark MacPhail's mother twice (through a letter and over the phone) and asked if they would be willing to participate in the project, and to talk to me more about Mark as a human being--the son/brother/husband/father that they lost. I wanted very much for Mark MacPhail to be portrayed in his full humanity, and for the pain of the MacPhail family to be honored and treated compassionately. After all, Mark MacPhail was the first victim from the events set into motion that led to the execution of Troy Davis. Unfortunately, Mrs. MacPhail said she didn't want to participate in the book, and said her family felt the same way. I wish the MacPhail family peace, and I hope they never know another tragedy like that which they have already lived through.
Q) Race and racism overlay capital punishment in America. In many ways that relationship is very stark, such as the fact that 80% of American executions happen in the Old South.
A) Absolutely. Race impacts all parties of the death penalty system. Race of the victim plays a role in who gets sentenced to death, as does race of the accused, and race of the jury. Race in sentencing (whether captial cases or not) was determined by the US Supreme Court im the 1989 decision McClesky v. Kemp to be an "inevitable" aspect of our criminal justice system. I believe that we should not accept that it is "inevitable". If race plays a pervasive role in our criminal justice system--which we know that it does--then we must find fundamental ways to address this.
Q) As we move to the third anniversary of Troy's execution, what do you see as the lasting impact of this case?
A) I hope that the lasting impact of Troy's case and Troy's legacy will be that it both reveals our country's broken death penalty system, and the human impact of that system. That is why we are calling for people all over the country to mark the 3rd anniversary of Troy's execution on Sept 21 by hosting Community Book Club events, so that I Am Troy Davis will be a part of expanding and deepening our national conversation about the death penalty. More information about that action is below.
September 21, 2014: Host a Community Book Club Event with I Am Troy Davis
On September 21, 2011, the state of Georgia put Troy Davis to death despite a compelling case of innocence. To mark the 3-year anniversary of this travesty of justice, and to deepen and widen the discourse about the human impact of the death penalty system, we invite you to participate in a worldwide Community Book Club on September 21, 2014.
We find that people who may be uncertain about their views on the death penalty, and may not want to come to a rally, vigil or other public event, are more willing to attend a small, private gathering to discuss a book they were asked to read. Through hundreds of intimate gatherings across the country and the world, Troy's story will reach thousands of new people who may not (yet!) be involved in the movement to abolish the death penalty.
To host an event, you need only:
1. Invite a group of friends, family and colleagues to read I Am Troy Davis ahead of September 21, 2014. These can be death penalty abolition activists, those who are uncertain about their views about the death penalty, those who support the death penalty, or a combination. (If you are already part of a regularly meeting book club, this can be your September book. Or, it can be any of your friends/colleagues you wish to invite for this one-time event.)
2. Invite that same group of friends, family and colleagues to gather on (or around) September 21 to discuss the book. (This can happen as a potluck dinner at a home, in a coffee shop, in connection with an existing church or synagogue book club, at your local independent book store, etc)
3. Use the I Am Troy Davis Discussion Guide developed by Equal Justice USA, in partnership with Amnesty International USA and the NAACP to facilitate the conversation around the book, or develop your own discussion questions!
4. We want to keep track of all the book discussions happening around the world! Register your event by emailing Jen Marlowe at: donkeysaddle @ gmail.com
5. Take photos of your event to be posted on tumblr, linking your event to similar book events that will take place that day all over the world!
Earlier coverage of the book begins at the link.