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Leadership in Legal Defense Projects: Troy Davis Case
BOND: Tell us about Troy Davis.
JEALOUS: So, Troy had been on death row since the early 1990s, for about eighteen years. He was put there by nine eyewitnesses — no other evidence, no physical evidence. In those eighteen years, seven of the nine have recanted, and six more eyewitnesses have come forward to say that one of the two who has not recanted is the actual killer, as do many of those seven. So you now actually have more people saying that one of the two people who put Troy Davis on death row is the actual killer than you had people saying that Troy was the actual killer and, again, seven out of nine of those have recanted.
Well, our lawyers, the lawyers representing the cause of justice and Troy Davis, said that there was a one percent chance that even given all of that, Troy Davis would even be given a hearing of the evidence because he had exhausted his procedural guarantees under the ’96 Effective Death Penalty Act and that the Supreme Court did nothing like this and had not ordered a new hearing of the evidence for anybody who had exhausted their appeals in more than fifty years. And so we decided rather than hiring additional investigators or investing in a legal strategy, that we would do a big media strategy and a local community organizing strategy, the local community organizing strategy to focus on the district attorney, our local NAACP folks. One of the advantages of the Association, you don’t have to do all the work by yourself. You call the state conference president, he calls the local president. The local president goes over and talks to the state conference president, to the D.A. The D.A. says, “Look, I’ve heard from people in the Netherlands, I’ve heard from people at Emory University, how outraged they are by the case. I haven’t heard anything from anybody in Savannah." So we put 12,000 petitions on his desk within two weeks, and in the same time, we went around — went and met with the publisher of the local — the shorthand would say the local white newspaper, the mainstream daily that historically had been a segregationist rag, but obviously has changed its colors in recent years — but who still had only covered this case as a cop killer case for the last eighteen years. We sat down with the publisher and the editor and the coverage improved and they covered the petitions going into the D.A.’s office.
At the same time, we did a national strategy from Bill Maher to NPR and everything in between and we knew that public opinion probably wouldn’t impact the Justices but it certainly would get the attention of their clerks and the fax machine there at the Supreme Court with all these habeas appeals coming in — and they typically kind of just go into the trash can — that if we could get, if you will, just sort of capture the imagination of people in their twenties in their country who cared about social justice, people like Supreme Court clerks, that maybe one of them will just grab it from the fax machine and walk over to the boss and have a conversation.
Well, in mid-August, we got word that a decision was likely to come down. It scared the bejesus out of us, because the Supreme Court wasn’t supposed to say anything until around September 30th. And oftentimes, we hear about something in August, especially a civil rights case, it’s just something that they’re clearing off their docket and they’re basically deciding against you. And so, we kind of waited there with baited breath and we won. We won 6-2 with Roberts and Alito on our side. And the lawyers — I mean, we’re all very proud of them and they’re very proud of the work. They did great work — but they couldn’t explain it without explaining the change in the court of public opinion.