[This updated version of the story includes the decision to execute Troy Davis on Sept. 21, 2011]
Sixteen people gathered in the University Forum last Thursday night to light candles, pray and sign a petition to save the life of a Georgia death-row inmate.
Troy Davis was convicted of the 1989 murder of Savannah, Ga., police officer, Mark MacPhail, and is scheduled to be executed tomorrow. His conviction was based on several conflicting eyewitness accounts, and this is the fourth time his execution date has been set in four years.
Today Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles denied Davis clemency after yesterday's hearing. Amnesty International gathered somewhere around 863,000 signatures just in the past week and a half in support of Davis, said Emily Blevins, vice president of UR Amnesty, the University of Richmond's Amnesty International chapter.
"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, said junior Chandana Chava, UR Amnesty president.
UR Amnesty gathered around 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.
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.
In August of 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a federal 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, where she said she had met the Davis family and had seen how the process of appeals had been difficult for both 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 from Blevins early last week.
"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 the City of 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.
They both said they have been interested in prisoner rights and have been going to protests for at least 30 years, since Virginia used 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 has 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 the vigil from the Richmond Peace Education Center listserv.
This was the first event supporting Davis that Wilkerson said she had attended, but that she had been to other vigils including one for an imprisoned man from Va.
"I just see prison activism as apart of a larger movement for racial, economic and social justice," Wilkerson said.
John Gallini also learned about the 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.
Contact staff writer Elizabeth Ygartua at firstname.lastname@example.org.