Former WCADP board member Jen Marlowe’s new book about Troy Davis is on shelves now.
Q: How did you first get involved in Troy’s case?
A: I was watching Democracy Now! right after Troy had just survived his first execution date in 2007. His sister Martina Davis-Correia was speaking about his case. She was so clearly a force of nature, and hearing what she was saying about her brother made me curious to know more about his case. After that, I quickly uncovered Amnesty International’s report on the case and was aghast at what seemed so obviously a travesty of justice. At that point, I just wrote Troy a note to express solidarity. A month or two later, I got a letter back from him, which I hadn’t really expected, but that started a friendship. (Later we became very close friends, but his initial writing back to me was because he wanted to write back to everyone who reached out to him.) Having learned that I was a filmmaker, Troy suggested that I make a film about Martina, and about a year after that (May 2009) I actually met Martina in Seattle, when she mentioned the possibility of writing a book. Because of Troy’s suggestion, I already had that idea in my head of helping Martina tell her story.
Q: How did writing this book influence your views on what happened to Troy and the death penalty in general?
A: I always instinctively understood that there shouldn’t be a death penalty, but my involvement with Troy’s case and his family opened my eyes further. It deepened my understanding of the impact that the death penalty has on a whole range of human beings—obviously on the condemned prisoner, but there’s also all the silent victims of the death penalty. There are many families of death row prisoners that share that pain. I also had opportunities to speak with family members of murder victims who oppose the death penalty, and it was clear that the system actually damaged them further and prolonged their pain. It not only didn’t meet their needs, it interfered with other things that could address their real needs. I’ve heard from corrections officials who are called on to do the task of killing prisoners, and I saw the trauma and the impact that had on them. Yes, this is about Troy and his case and his family, but it’s a lot bigger than that. And Troy always knew it was a lot bigger than him.
Q: Troy’s sister Martina Davis-Correia co-authored the book, and his other sister Kimberly Davis will be touring with you. Can you tell us more about the family’s involvement?
A: It’s really the Davis family’s book and the Davis family’s story. The Davis family lost three warriors for justice within six months (Troy, Martina, and their mother Virginia). The story is primarily told from Martina’s perspective. I just instinctively felt like the window to Troy’s story was through Martina. In the decade before Troy’s execution, she had stage 4 breast cancer, so hers was a double struggle for her own life and her brother’s life. Troy’s perspective is there also, and he contributed to the writing of the book, but it involves the whole family’s perspective. Martina’s son De’Jaun, who is now 19, was four weeks old the first time he met his uncle. He was co-raised by Troy from behind bars. Then there’s the impact of the whole tragedy on Troy’s mother Virginia. Troy’s final appeal was denied by the United States Supreme Court in March 2011, and two weeks later, Virginia, who had gotten a clean bill of health from the doctor a day before, died from “natural causes.” Martina’s response to that was, “There’s nothing natural about dying of heartbreak.” Martina had been in the hospital for the whole summer prior to his execution, and she left the hospital to be there with and for Troy in his final days. Troy was executed on Sept. 21, 2011, and in his last letter to Martina, postmarked the day he was executed, he wrote, “Make sure and finish your book.” In the last two months of Martina’s life, we just dove in. Once Martina died in December 2011, it was like my task was to finish this book.
Q: Sept. 21 marked the two-year anniversary of Troy’s death, and there are any number of innocent men and women sitting on death rows across the nation. What lessons have we learned from Troy’s case?
A: What was exceptional about Troy’s case was that it broke through the mainstream media, and it’s a light that we can use to expose how many Troy Anthony Davis’s there are. Troy’s case revealed a lot of things that are very concerning about the justice system. People want to believe the system is really trying to seek truth and fairness. What we saw play out is a justice system that often emphasizes finality over fairness and procedure over truth. We’ve learned how fallible the system is in the sense of not protecting the innocent. If it happened to Troy, it could happen to others—we know it’s happened to others. 142 people have been exonerated from death row, many of them in spite of the system being determined to see them executed. We have to end the system before it continues to grind up more innocent people and innocent families. And even for people who are not necessarily innocent of their crimes, their families are innocent.
Q: Is there an ongoing effort to exonerate Troy posthumously, and if so, what can members of the public do to help?
A: It’s very important to the family for Troy’s name to be cleared. Unfortunately, the reasons that made the case against Troy so shaky to begin with are the same reasons it’s hard to exonerate him. There’s no physical evidence, there are no fingerprints, there’s nothing for DNA to reveal. It’s very tricky. The Georgia authorities have indicated absolutely zero interest in reopening the investigation, but there have been calls and should continue to be calls to Georgia’s public officials. Another way people can help the Davis family is by supporting the college fund for Troy’s nephew De’Jaun, who is now a college freshman at Morehouse College. If anyone would like to help financially support his continued education, they can e-mail me at email@example.com for more info.
Jen Marlowe, along with Troy Davis’ sister Kimberly Davis, will be speaking at two upcoming book signings in Washington:
Oct. 1 at Village Books in Bellingham
Oct. 2 at The Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle.
Both events are at 7 p.m.