A Year After Troy Davis: What’s Changed?

His execution captured the nation; 12 months later, there's still a spotlight on the death penalty.

Demonstrators outside prison where Davis was executed in 2011(Erik S. Lesser/AFP/Getty Images)
Demonstrators outside prison where Davis was executed in 2011(Erik S. Lesser/AFP/Getty Images)

(The Root) — The crushing image of a sobbing Elijah West captured the collective sorrow of people across the globe a year ago when word spread that a Georgia Parole Board had denied clemency for his cousin Troy Davis.

The photograph of the reedy West being escorted from Georgia’s Towaliga County Line Baptist Church, across from Jackson State Prison, where Davis was executed, became emblematic of the expression of pain and injustice that erupted in the aftermath of his execution on Sept. 21, 2011.

Troy Davis, the round-faced man with the piercing eyes, was put to death by lethal injection — after a last-minute appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court failed — even though the case against him consisted entirely of eyewitness testimony. He had been convicted for the 1989 murder of Mark MacPhail, a white off-duty Savannah, Ga., police officer. Davis maintained his innocence in a case that drew widespread media attention.

A Movement Is Launched

 Indeed, the case captured the zeitgeist of 2011, sparking Amnesty International’s “I Am Troy Davis” movement and prompting a loud public outcry against the death penalty. It also reinvigorated efforts among civil rights leaders, lawmakers and activists to dismantle what they call a flawed system. In California, an initiative to repeal the death penalty will come up for a vote on Election Day; and earlier this year, Connecticut lawmakers replaced the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole for future cases, the Death Penalty Information Center reports.

On Thursday, Amnesty International USA and the NAACP held a press conference and called on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate growing concerns over prosecutorial and police misconduct in capital cases.

“The federal government must take action as case after case corrodes the credibility of U.S. criminal justice,” Suzanne Nossel, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said in a prepared statement. “The death penalty is the ultimate, irreversible human rights violation; we reject it under all circumstances. For it to be carried out in cases like Troy’s where the evidence has fallen apart, witnesses have raised doubts or there are credible allegations of government coercion is an affront to justice.”

NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous agreed, charging that Georgia killed an innocent man. “Troy’s wrongful execution has changed the hearts and minds of millions, and public support for the death penalty is now at an all-time low,” he said in a statement. “We have heeded Troy’s request to not have the struggle for justice end with him.”