Poetry and Prose

From the pen of Ron Keine

Rob Keine

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NOT IN VAIN: R.I.P. TROY DAVIS

Many who have been exonerated from death row across the country have experienced the horror of watching cellmates hauled off and killed by the State. Cellmates they had grown close to by life’s circumstance.

Imagine the shock and horror of this.

Think about how you would feel if this happened to your best friend.

Think of someone who you have intimately shared the last ten years with, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

You know each other's secrets, loves, hates, and opinions on all things and issues, big and small. Think of big, tough men reaching out to you to help them prepare to die, and you know there is nothing you can do to stop their impending murder.

Think about the searing pain of having to listen to grown men crying like children into their pillows, fighting to remain strong and face death with an iota of dignity intact. And all you can do is sit there, powerless to do anything about it. It is also a grim reminder that your own execution date is near.

When Troy Davis was executed by the State of Georgia, it was as if I was on death row with him, sharing those bonds, feeling the helplessness – for I was once on death row, too.

Seven witnesses claimed that Troy Davis, a black man living in the racist South, did not kill a white police officer. Two said he did.

One of those two, many people believe, is the probable killer who got a light sentence for testifying against Troy.

Still, they killed Troy. In the end, they did not even care if he did the crime or not. The State wanted revenge for the death of a police officer. Troy as a public sacrificial lamb would do.

As I read the news about Troy's execution, my eyes welled up. I thought about my own time on death row. I was nine days from facing the same fate as Troy, but then my innocence was proven. I also thought of Sonya (Sunny) Jacobs. Like Troy, she and her husband Jessie were also convicted of killing a police officer. Like me, she was finally found to be innocent when it was discovered that the main witness against them was the real killer.

Sonia was released, but it was a bittersweet victory. Again like Troy, Jessie was executed. It was one of the most horrific state executions ever carried out in the United States. It took him 15 minutes to die in the electric chair. His eyes bulged from his head. His hair caught on fire. All the while he was screaming in excruciating pain.

Troy Davis, like Jessie, was not the first innocent man to be executed, and he will not be the last. Troy has joined the ranks of other innocents executed like Charles Hudspeth, William Marion, Larry Griffin, Rubin Cantu, Carlos DeLuna, and Cameron Todd Willingham.

I am an exonerated death row survivor. When they killed Troy Davis they killed a little part of me along with him. They killed a little part of each of the surviving 139 exonerated death row survivors. They killed a part of the justice system that is supposedly based in fairness and replaced it with moral turpitude. They killed many Americans’ faith in the criminal justice system. They killed the hope of hundreds of thousands of clergy, politicians, former presidents, lawyers, and ordinary concerned citizens around the world who pleaded and protested to spare the life of Troy Davis.

We cannot let Troy's death be in vain. Too many people fought too long and too tenaciously, only to have an arrogant and corrupt system casually extinguish his life. Instead of continuing to kill a part of our humanity every time we kill a Troy Davis, we need to kill the death penalty. Justice against it must be swift, unmerciful, and final. We owe Troy, and those who came before him and those who will come after him, nothing less. On the gurney, moments away from death by poisonous needle, he asked that we all continue the struggle for human dignity. We must honor Troy's request and march forward.

 

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