She entered with her head held high. I watched her as she made her way around the table hugging well-wishers. She was the epitome of strength and poise, a self-possessed woman on a mission. She looked in my direction, immediately aware that I was a newcomer. I had only learned of Troy Davis two weeks before our meeting. Martina approached and extended her hand, “I’m Martina, Troy’s sister. Thank you so much for coming.”
One had only to look into Martina’s eyes to want to become a better person.
It was July 17, 2007. The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles had just granted a 90-day stay of execution for her brother Troy Davis the previous day. We were at a restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia celebrating the momentary victory. As I would come to experience in the four years that followed, we would have to be content with intermittent good news, doled out sparingly–never enough to give any of us a sense of true accomplishment but enough to recharge our batteries as we prepared for the next round.
You could not spend any time with Martina Correia and leave without knowing that she was the driving force behind the campaign to save Troy Davis. She could hardly be described as the family spokesperson. Nor was she a figurehead for Amnesty International or any other organization. Indeed, Martina was not only at the helm of the public advocacy campaign to save her brother, she gave birth to it. Martina led the charge to keep Troy alive. She was the reason he lived.
In 2007, with the setting of the first execution date, Martina’s sixteen-year-effort began to pay off. That year, she recruited Amnesty International, the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Georgia for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, the NAACP, and the Innocence Network to join the cause– not to mention untold numbers of students, teachers, lawyers, and religious leaders. It was Martina’s unwavering insistence on her brother’s innocence–spanning a decade and a half–that filled all of us with the desire to learn more about Troy’s innocence. It was Martina’s steadfast determination and her belief that the truth would ultimately prevail that inspired us to persist–to dig a little deeper–in our efforts to save Troy. Martina taught us to ignore the overwhelming odds against us and to keep going until the job was done.
A sister like no other: Martina stood by her brother and protected him every step of the way.
Martina’s life is a lesson in perseverance. Martina stood by her brother his entire life– for the last twenty-two years of both their lives, she stood by him on death row, trying to get people to listen, to get them to even entertain the possibility that he might be innocent. She did it while simultaneously battling cancer and raising her son De’Jaun as a single parent.
Martina had countless opportunities along the way to say “enough is enough.” Instead, she and her family withstood many defeats–and precious few victories–throughout the years. Far more than any single family should be forced to endure.
- August 28, 1991 – Jury found Troy guilty
- August 30, 1991 – Jury recommends and judge sentences Troy to death
- March 16, 1992 – Trial court denies Troy’s motion for new trial
- March 23, 1993 – Georgia Supreme Court denies Troy’s direct appeal (actual innocence not litigated)
- November 1, 1993 – US Supreme Court denies cert.
- September 5, 1997 – State Court denies Troy’s state habeas petition
- November 13, 2000 – Divided Georgia Supreme Court (4/3 split) affirms state court’s decision (Court divided on procedural issue regarding claim that death by electrocution was unconstitutional; court was not asked to decide issue of Troy’s actual innocence)
- October 1, 2001 – US Supreme Court denies cert.
- May 13, 2004 – Federal District Court denies Troy’s constitutional claims without hearing evidence of actual innocence.
- September 26, 2006 – 11th Circuit affirms federal district court
- June 25, 2007 – US Supreme Court denies cert and clears way for first execution date of July 17, 2007.
- July 16, 2007 – Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles issues a 90-day stay of execution.
- August 3, 2007 – Georgia Supreme Court, by a 4/3 vote, agrees to hear Troy’s appeal
- March 17, 2008 – Georgia Supreme Court, by a 4/3 vote, affirms trial court’s denial of Troy’s extraordinary motion for new trial
- September 3, 2008 – Georgia sets SECOND execution date for September 23, 2008 for Troy (state refuses to wait to US Supreme Court to rule on pending petition)
- September 12, 2008 – Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles denies clemency for Troy
- September 22, 2008 – Georgia Supreme Court denies stay
- September 23, 2008 – US Supreme Court stays execution 90 minutes before scheduled execution to allow the Justices more time to consider the pending petition for certiorari
- September 29, 2008 – Third unofficial execution date! The execution warrant still in effect gave the state until midnight on September 30 to execute Troy. Jackson state prison prepared for execution on the night of September 29 in hopes that the Supreme Court will deny petition that day. Family and friends are given final visits with Troy. However the prison was unable to go through with its plan to kill Troy because the Supreme Court did not rule on petition.
- October 14, 2008 – US Supreme Court denies petition for cert without dissent.
- October 15, 2008 – Georgia sets Fourth execution date for October 27, 2008.
- October 24, 2008 – 11th Circuit issues a stay.
- April 16, 2009 – 11th Circuit denies habeas petition by a 2/1 vote Judge Barkett, dissenting, “I do not believe that any member of a civilized society could disagree that executing an innocent person would be an atrocious violation of our Constitution and the principles upon which it is based.”
- May 19, 2009 – Troy’s lawyers file original petition in US Supreme Court seeking hearing on evidence of actual innocence
- August 17, 2009 – US Supreme Court orders the District Court to conduct a hearing on Troy’s evidence of innocence. “The substantial risk of putting an innocent man to death clearly provides an adequate justification for holding an evidentiary hearing.”
- June 23 & 24, 2010 – Federal District Court hears evidence.
- August 24, 2010 – District Court Judge finds that Troy has not proven his
- March 28, 2011 – US Supreme Court denies Troy’s appeal.
- April 12, 2011 – Troy’s mother Virginia Davis dies in her sleep.
- September 6, 2011 – Georgia sets Fifth execution date and time for 7 p.m. on September 21, 2011
- September 23, 2011 – at 11:08 p.m., Troy Davis is pronounced dead
Many would have given up long ago. Not Martina. She was not looking for a way out of this mission. Martina would not rest until Troy was free. Denial after denial after denial after denial, Martina never faltered. Through it all, Martina was there, by Troy’s side.
Finally, it seems, the time has come for Martina to rest. She has returned to her brother’s side. Together, they will watch to see if we have the courage to get the job done.
As the world prepares to say its final goodbye to Martina, I will be forever grateful to have had the opportunity to know Martina and to have joined her in her fight to save her brother. When I find myself frustrated by the challenges of this work, I will find strength in my memory of this heroic woman and the brother she loved so dearly.
I end this post where Martina and I began: this video, shot in the summer of 2007, was our first of many efforts to tell the world Troy’s story. (Apologies for the less than perfect sound quality and editing.)