Friday, September 16, 2011

Georgia Death-Row Case Shows Power of Social Media

Ga. death-row case shows power of social media

By Melanie Eversley, USA TODAY

A social media campaign to stop an execution in Georgia next week is drawing support from hundreds of thousands of people around the world.

The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles was given petitions with more than 663,000 names of people asking that Troy Davis be spared from execution, scheduled Wednesday.
from execution, scheduled Wednesday.

Celebrities, Nobel laureates and national leaders have joined the NAACP, Amnesty International and the grassroots group to urge Georgia authorities to grant clemency to Troy Davis, who is scheduled to die by lethal injection Wednesday. They are flooding Twitter with several tweets a minute, signing online petitions and, starting today, planning to rally around the country.

Davis, 42, was convicted of the 1989 shooting death of Savannah, Ga., police officer Mark MacPhail. His supporters say he is innocent, noting that 10 witnesses in the case have signed affidavits recanting their testimony and indicating that police coerced them into implicating Davis. They also point out that nine people have signed affidavits implicating another man.

The case has attracted attention for years. Former president Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI and Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu are among the prominent figures who have urged that Davis' life be spared.

In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court granted Davis a hearing to prove his innocence, the first time it had done so for a death row inmate in at least 50 years.

During that June 2010 hearing, two witnesses said they falsely incriminated Davis, and two others said another man had confessed to being MacPhail's killer in the years since Davis' trial. U.S. District Judge William Moore said the testimony cast some doubt on Davis' conviction, but was not enough to grant a new trial.

The latest effort, triggered when a new execution date was set last week, includes celebrities John Legend, Mia Farrow and the Indigo Girls. All are tweeting under #TooMuchDoubt, a search term or hash tag devised by Amnesty International and the NAACP. Davis supporters also have created Facebook pages.

"In the moment, when our nation stumbles toward complete failure of its justice system, we have to give every citizen the opportunity to express their outrage and their intention that the state not do this in their name," NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous says. "When the state executes an innocent person, every citizen is implicated in that act."

The tweets ask the public to contact the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles — the group with the authority to halt Davis' death — and to urge the panel to grant clemency. They also ask people to sign one of three petitions the groups are circulating online.

"I think the key thing we are trying to express to the Georgia authorities is there are just so many doubts," says Laura Moye, death penalty abolition campaign director for Amnesty International USA.

The board is scheduled to meet Monday to consider the case. If it does not grant clemency, there is no official next legal step, but "we are not going to stand by quietly if that is what happens," Moye says. The NAACP also is calling on Chatham County, Ga., District Attorney Larry Chisolm to move to withdraw the death warrant, Jealous says.

Representatives from Amnesty International and the NAACP presented four petitions with more than 660,000 signatures to the state parole board Thursday. An online petition sponsored by Davis' sister, Kimberly Davis, and has collected more than 233,000 signatures.

The NAACP has declared today a Global Day of Action around the country. Events include a rally at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the church of Martin Luther King. Amnesty International is sponsoring a Global Day of Solidarity in support of Davis.

As the execution date nears, Kimberly Davis says the family has a strong faith and that her brother has not been talking about the execution.

Kimberly Davis says her brother has a strong center. When she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 14, paralyzed and not expected to live, he left high school and signed up for night courses so he could take her to physical therapy and prod her out of her wheelchair.

"When I think of my brother, that's my hero," says Kimberly Davis, who lives in Savannah. "We're standing on our faith."

Members of Congress are also involved in the campaign. Fifty-one lawmakers organized by Reps. John Lewis and Hank Johnson, both Georgia Democrats, signed a letter to the parole board asking for Davis' clemency.

"The 51 members who signed the letter are all deeply concerned about the possibility that the state of Georgia could execute an innocent man," Lewis says.

The decision to employ social media in the campaign was an easy one , says Edward DuBose, president of the Georgia State Conference NAACP.

"Most people communicate now through social media and we needed to make sure we reach every segment of the population, both young and old," DuBose says.

Some of MacPhail's family members blame the advocacy groups for drumming up the worldwide interest.

"I just think they should stay away. They don't know the case, they're just running their mouths," says Anneliese MacPhail, the slain officer's mother. "It's none of their business. They don't know all the circumstances."

No comments: