The whole family is on Death Row
by Jackie Jones
Having a loved one on Death Row would be stressful enough for most people. The trial, sentencing, appeals and the wait to see if there is any possibility that the worst you can imagine may not come to pass can take its toll on anyone’s physical, emotional and mental health.
Martina Correia understands that better than most. The sister of Death Row inmate Troy Davis has been on that emotional roller coaster for years and wrestling with a number of health issues, including her own battle with Stage IV breast cancer.
Davis, who is Black, was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1989 murder of white Savannah policeman Mark MacPhail.
No physical evidence has linked Davis to the killing, and seven of the nine witnesses who implicated Davis at trial have since recanted, saying that they were pressured into naming him. Last year, the presiding judge of an evidentiary hearing in the case ruled that Davis failed to establish his innocence, clearing the way to set a new execution date.
In late March, the U.S. Supreme Court did not address Davis’ appeal of the judge’s ruling. Barring any other legal remedies, the remaining option would be getting the state of Georgia’s Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant him clemency.
The pressure definitely took a toll on Davis’ family. His father died six months after he was convicted, an aunt died 16 months ago, and his mother died in April.
Correia told BlackAmericaWeb.com that within 30 minutes of telling Davis that his mother had died, prison officials also told him he could not have his monthly contact visit with his family. Authorities contended, Correia said, that there was concern about how Davis would react with relatives present so shortly after hearing the news about his mother.
So, beyond just working to see that her brother receives justice in the courts, Correia is also monitoring his treatment in prison while undergoing treatment for breast cancer, raising her teenaged son and caring for her husband, who recently began intensive dialysis treatments.
“I just have a strong faith in God,” Correia said when asked how she manages. “Whenever I have something happening, and it’s too much of a burden for me to carry, I just give it over to God.”
She said lawyers for Davis continue to seek legal avenues to have his case heard.
In not hearing Davis’ case in March, Correia said, “They didn’t deny Troy’s case; they didn’t select Troy’s case. There’s a difference,” which may leave an opening for further appeal.
Correia said a new warden was assigned a year ago to the prison where Davis is incarcerated and has taken a hard line on the treatment of Death Row inmates, including limiting or eliminating contact with families, severely restricting inmates’ physical movement and increasing fines for minor infractions.
“For 20 years, there was no problem until the new warden came in,” she said. “They talk real nice to the family on the phone, and then go antagonize the inmates” to provoke them into committing infractions for which they can be punished.
“They put dog cages on the yard so they can’t go out for recreation. They have to go into these cages that are 5-by-9 or 6-by-9 and just stand. My brother said he hasn’t been outside for a year,” Correia said.
At one time, inmates were allowed to have books in their cells, some minimal art programs, “just things to keep them sane,” but all of those things have been eliminated or severely curtailed.
“The morale is so low that they’ve had suicide attempts and one suicide success. We get outsiders to talk (to officials on Davis’ behalf) because it minimizes the punishment,” Correia said, noting the Georgia state NAACP and the Southern Center for Civil Rights have been helpful go-betweens.
Through it all, she said, her brother has shown resilience. “He asks God if it’s his will to use him to make a bigger statement about innocence, then that’s God’s will.”
Beyond getting her brother off Death Row and getting evidence that could prove his innocence heard, Correia said there is a push to change death penalty law in general. The law, as it is written, doesn’t require a confirmation of guilt, just a guilty verdict.
“The lawyers have told us it is not illegal to execute innocent people in this country if the courts feel they got a fair trial.” Correia said.
In the meantime, Davis’ family and supporters are urging people to go to www.JusticeforTroy.org, and sign the petition calling for his release, link the site to their Facebook pages and get friends to sign the petition too.
“Get Troy’s address from the site, and send him words of encouragement,” Correia said. “Not letters of ‘Woe is me’ and ‘the Department of Corrections sucks’ – which we already know.”
Once the execution day is set, a Global Day of Solidarity will be scheduled five to 10 days before the date, with events held in various locations around the world and in Georgia, where Davis is imprisoned.
Correia said she wants people to remember that “both (MacPhail’s and Davis’) families are victims; Death Row families especially because they keep dealing with the uncertainty over the appeals.”
“I just think my mother died of a broken heart, but she made sure we were strong enough to deal with this,” Correia said. “It’s not just the inmate who is on Death Row. That whole family is on Death Row.”