ARLINGTON, Texas (ABP) — An American Baptist minister who advocates criminal-justice reform hailed as a “miracle” the latest stay of execution for a black man convicted of murdering a white Georgia police officer nearly 20 years ago.
Alan Bean of the Arlington, Texas-based group Friends of Justice was one of about 600 death-penalty protestors who demonstrated on the steps of the Georgia State Capitol on the eve of the most recent scheduled date for execution of Troy Davis.
The provisional stay was issued Sept. 24 by the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It was the third such stay for Davis, 40. His lawyers were given 15 days to file documents, after which the court will have 10 days to decide if the case should go back to a lower court, which could order a new trial.
Bean, best known for bringing attention to alleged racial injustice related to incidents at a Jena, La., high school in 2006, said the stay of execution was not expected. Davis has lost several appeals based on claims he is an innocent man.
Several public meetings and rallies were held in recent weeks around Atlanta demanding a new trial for Davis. One included about 1,000 people, who marched from a local park to Ebenezer Baptist Church, the historic congregation once co-pastored by Martin Luther King Jr. and Sr.
About 140,000 people signed a petition to halt Davis' execution by lethal injection. Pleas for commutation of his sentence came from former President Jimmy Carter, former Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and Pope Benedict XVI. Other supporters include entertainer Harry Belafonte and Sister Helen Prejean, the nun whose anti-death penalty activism inspired the film Dead Man Walking.
Davis has spent 17 years on death row for the Aug. 19, 1989 murder of Mark Allen MacPhail, a 27-year-old police officer in Savannah.
People close to Davis say he was wrongly convicted. There was no physical evidence linking him to the crime, and a murder weapon was never found. The case against him was solely based on witness testimony implicating him, and seven of the nine witnesses against him have since recanted.
Bean said he doesn't know if Davis is guilty or innocent — which, he contends, is precisely why there needs to be a new trial. What is clear from reading court documents, Bean said in a recent blog, is that “law enforcement shaped testimony through threats and promises.”
“Police officers, outraged by the savage and merciless slaying of one of their own, rushed to judgment [and] then shaped the ‘evidence' to support a hastily-reached conclusion,” he wrote.
Bean said the issue for him is not about Troy Davis or even just the death penalty. “Ultimately, this new movement is about our broken criminal-justice system and the urgent need for sweeping reform.”
Friends of Justice started in 1999 in response to a drug sting in Tulia, Texas, in which half of the town's black males were arrested and convicted on the uncorroborated testimony of an undercover narcotics officer. The group advocates greater due-process protections for poor people of color, who populate the criminal-justice system in numbers disproportionate to their percentage of the population.
Bean labels that disparity the “New Jim Crow” and compares modern-day justice reform to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. He said the Georgia rally on behalf of Davis “felt like the early stages of a religious revival.”