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Rep. John Lewis’ Statement at Troy Anthony Davis Clemency Hearing

July 13, 2007
Press Release

This morning Congressman John Lewis appeared before the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles to speak on behalf of Mr. Troy Anthony Davis, a man who has been incarcerated for 15 years and is on death row due to his conviction in the murder of a Savannah police officer.  Even though seven of the nine witnesses who testified in the Davis case have since recanted their testimony saying that they were threatened and coerced by the police, Davis has never been granted an appeal to allow the courts to hear new evidence in his case.

Over 4000 letters in support of Davis were submitted to the parole board, along with statements made by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, actor and activist Harry Belafonte, and a former head of the FBI William Sessions.  Several jurors also appeared before the board to say that had they heard the testimony now available, they never would have convicted Davis.  The prosecution and state witnesses will appear before the parole board this afternoon.  Davis is scheduled for execution tomorrow, July 17, 2007. 

Following is the text of Rep. Lewis’s statement as written: 

Good morning, Chairperson Hunt and members of the State Board of Pardons and Paroles.

It is a privilege to address you today, and I want to thank you for hearing me.  I will not speak long, because what I have to say is very simple.  I do not know Troy Anthony Davis.  I do not know if he is guilty of the charges of which he has been convicted.  But I do know that nobody should be put to death based on the evidence we now have in this case.Evidence that is dramatically different from what the jury heard. 

Evidence that I understand no court has ever considered, for technical reasons that have nothing to do with the truth.

We sometimes hear that a guilty person has gone free because of some legal technicality, and we understandably feel frustrated when that happens.  Now we have the opposite situation.  A man who may well be innocent may die tomorrow -- all because of those technicalities.  This is much more than frustrating; it is tragic.  It is unjust.  And at a time when we are trying to convince the whole world that our way is best, it does not speak well of us.  I will say only a little about the facts of the case, because you have other witnesses that know them better than I.    

But here is what I understand to be true.  I understand that there is no physical evidence.  No murder weapon.  No fingerprints.  No DNA.   

Just the testimony of a few frightened and confused people who were taken completely by surprise when a tragedy suddenly erupted -- without warning -- for just a few seconds -- in the middle of the night.  And now, the case against Mr. Davis, that rested on that testimony, is a shambles.  I understand that there were nine key witnesses, seven of whom have recanted their testimony.  The eighth witness has left the state and refuses to talk about the case.  And the ninth cannot recant without confessing that he committed the murder.  Indeed, some of the other recanting witnesses have now implicated him.

You must surely know the evidence better than I.  And you know the law better than I.  But I know, with what we have learned since the original jury heard this case, that a reasonable jury today should have doubts -- grave doubts -- since we now know so much more than the original jury.  I am sure the members of the original jury are fine people.  And I am sure they tried to do the best they could with the tools they were given.  But nobody ever gave them the tools to do the job right.  Those tools were offered to the courts years later, but they said it was too late to use them.

So now the tools are in your hands.  Hands that are not bound by technicalities.  And it is not too late to use the tools you have been given.  But I am here now, because I could not stay away.

If executing Troy Davis on the evidence we now have is the best our justice system can do, then that system is not worthy of the word justice.  People of good faith can and do disagree about the death penalty.  But all of us must certainly agree that before we carry out the ultimate penalty, we must be sure.  The only thing I am sure of is that nobody can even come close to being sure that Troy Davis committed this crime. I am, frankly, shocked to think that we could execute anyone under these circumstances.  And I ask you not to let that happen.

Before I sit down, let me say a few words about a man who cannot be here today.  I speak, of course, of the victim of this terrible crime, Officer Mark MacPhail.  And I hope you will think of him too as you make your decision.  Officer MacPhail’s death was a senseless tragedy, and I am sure his loved ones still feel the pain of his loss.  I pray for them and for Officer MacPhail today.  And I ask you to do the same.  For it is a terrible thing to be a victim of a violent crime.

I know, because I am one.  I was beaten senseless by a Coca-Cola crate when I arrived at the Greyhound bus station in Montgomery, Alabama as a Freedom Rider in 1961.  I could easily have died.  I was clubbed nearly to death a few years later on Bloody Sunday at the Edmund Pettis Bridge, and for awhile I looked death in the face, sure that I was about to see God. Indeed, of all the people in this room, I suspect that I am the only one who has any real idea of what Officer MacPhail felt in the last moments of his life.

And I also think I know what he would say if he could speak to us today.  He would tell us not to compound one tragedy with another.  He would tell us not to make another man’s family feel the pain that his family felt.  He would tell us that his killer may still be at large.  And he would tell us that, as an officer of the law, he wants our legal system to do what is right.  That winning cases does not matter.  That only justice matters.  And that he does not want his legacy to be the death of an innocent man.  As a fellow public servant, I believe I know what you should do.  And as a man of faith, I am sure I know what God wants you to do.  Do justice.  Commute the sentence of Troy Anthony Davis.  Thank you very much.