The Collegian
Tuesday, August 04, 2020

UR Amnesty, community hold vigils for Ga. inmate

At 7:05 p.m. a moment of silence for Georgia death row inmate Troy Davis was interrupted by applause.

UR Amnesty members Chandana Chava, Emily Blevins and other death penalty opponents were attending a vigil in Monroe Park in downtown Richmond for Davis, who was scheduled to be executed at 7 p.m.

Troy Davis was convicted of the 1989 murder of Savannah, Ga., police officer Mark MacPhail. His conviction was based on several conflicting eyewitness accounts, and yesterday was the fourth time his execution date had been scheduled in four years.

At 10 p.m. Blevins, vice president of UR Amnesty, the University of Richmond chapter of Amnesty International, said she had read that the U.S. Supreme Court had denied Davis' stay of execution on Twitter. Davis was executed at 11 p.m.

"I just feel really exhausted," Blevins said. "I'm extremely disappointed. I feel like the whole movement behind him has been for naught."

The execution was delayed while the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed the case after a petition was entered by Davis' lawyers, said Steve A. Northup, executive director of Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

"These things can be pretty dramatic," Northup said. "Often these interventions are last minute. Some interventions last a while, some don't."

During the Monroe Park vigil, Chava and Blevins passed out candles while a letter from Davis to his supporters was read just before 7 p.m. An eight-minute moment of silence, approximately the length of time it takes for the lethal injection to be performed, was being observed when the crowd heard that Davis' execution was to be delayed.

"I was just imagining when I saw 7:05 p.m., imagining the pain," said Chava, UR Amnesty president. "It's inexplicable how unfair it is and how much injustice is going on. Watching the time and the minutes go by really gets to you."

Danielle Kellener said she had been working for justice for Davis for about three years after hearing about the case while working for Open Door Community in Atlanta, a Catholic organization working to eliminate the death penalty.

When she heard about the temporary stay, Kellener said she praised God that there was a chance that Davis might not have to die.

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"This case is exceptional in that so much points to Troy not being guilty," Kellener said.

Blevins said she had first heard about Davis' case in high school when a friend had posted something about it on Facebook.

"I was surprised how something like that could happen in America," she said.

For the last three years she's been working to eliminate the death penalty.

"You just get really invested," Blevins said. "I'm not upset for me, I just had so much hope that people like me could change things and it's a disappointing ending to three years of activism."

Last Thursday night 16 people gathered in the University Forum to light candles, pray and sign a petition to save Davis' life in a vigil arranged by UR Amnesty.

After a hearing on Tuesday, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles denied Davis clemency. Amnesty International gathered somewhere around 863,000 signatures just in the past week and a half in support of Davis, Blevins said.

"We were all really hoping that the Board would have the courage to step up and do the right thing," Blevins said. "I honestly don't know how they will sleep at night. I certainly wouldn't be able to."

UR Amnesty was notified about International Amnesty's petition on Sept. 12 and worked the next three days to put together an information session last Wednesday, the vigil Thursday and a petition signing Friday, Chava said.

UR Amnesty gathered about 150 signatures between tabling in Tyler Haynes Commons last Friday and posting links to the petition on Facebook, Blevins said.

"I think eyewitness testimony is too unreliable to be the only thing that determines whether someone should live or die," Blevins said.

In August of 2009, the Supreme Court ordered a U.S. District Court in Georgia to hold a special hearing to review the evidence of the case. In June 2010, Blevins and other collegiate Amnesty members went to Georgia for the hearing. Blevins said there she had met the Davis family and had seen the negative effects of the appeals process on the Davis and MacPhail families.

Junior Katie Branca said she had heard about the case last year from Blevins.

"I remember they were holding events and vigils, and I couldn't believe that he was still on death row," Branca said. "Meanwhile, I'd gone through two semesters of college. It definitely puts it in perspective."

Branca said she had heard about the vigil last Thursday from Blevins.

"I was interested, but after she said that Troy's family specifically requested prayer, I absolutely couldn't say no," Branca said. "Homework doesn't seem like a very good excuse in that situation."

Alerts about the vigil went out to other groups in Richmond, including Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants, said Marcia Dickinson and Al Simmons, both members of CURE who attended the vigil last Thursday.

They both said they had been interested in prisoner rights and had been going to protests for at least 30 years, since Virginia began using the electric chair.

"We used to go and be on one side and people on the other side would be yelling, 'Burn people burn,'" Dickinson said.

Simmons said he had personal reasons for activism after spending time in prison on civil disobedience charges for trespassing on Fort Benning, Ga., a U.S. Army base.

"They said, 'If you cross this line we'll put you in jail,'" Simmons said. "I did, and they did. That's when I really became invested in reform."

Tiamaba Wilkerson said she had found out about Thursday's vigil from the Richmond Peace Education Center listserv.

This was the first activity supporting Davis that Wilkerson said she had attended, but that she had been to other vigils, including one for an imprisoned man from Virginia.

"I just see prison activism as a part of a larger movement for racial, economic and social justice," Wilkerson said.

John Gallini also learned about Thursday's vigil from the RPEC listserv. He said he liked to support people who oppose the death penalty.

"I believe that living peacefully has an affect that counters the violence of our society, so when I have a chance to do that, I do," Gallini said.

Blevins said she thought this execution would just serve to outrage people and increase the desire to end the death penalty. Instead, today's occurrences diminished her faith in humanity, she said.

"It's been an emotional rollercoaster," Blevins said. "After I've slept a while I hope I get that back"

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