Remain Free Part III Section XVI

In August, the Supreme Court responded to the Davis team’s appeal. In a 6-2 vote, with newly seated Justice Sotomayor abstaining and Justices Scalia and Thomas dissenting on a “sure loser” innocence claim, the Court granted an evidentiary hearing to determine if Troy Davis could “clearly establish” his innocence. The hearing would take place in Troy’s hometown and Georgia’s oldest city, Savannah.

Savannah, located on the coast of southeast Georgia, was founded in 1733 by James Oglethorpe. Oglethorpe had just established the colony of Georgia with hopes of making it an outlet for impoverished debtors languishing in British prisons. He set about creating a planned, egalitarian city replete with self-sustaining yeoman farmers, optimally placed town squares, and a prohibition on slavery. But few debtors ended up in Georgia, and once Oglethorpe returned to England, the colony quickly began importing slaves. During the Civil War, General William Tecumseh Sherman’s destructive March to the Sea ended with the capture of Savannah, inspiring hatred in Southerners even to this day. An acquaintance, born in a town razed by Sherman’s troops and steeped in the culture of the Deep South, despised Louisiana State University solely because Sherman had been its founding president. I had only been to Savannah once when I was seven years old and retained little from the trip other than hazy memories of the beach.

Troy’s voice crackled through the phone. We’d just spoken about the Supreme Court decision, but I wanted to know about Savannah.

 

Troy: “When I left the street, drugs were beginning to get big, but Savannah didn’t have no gangs. Now it probably has a dozen. They gave me the death penalty with the idea that it would deter crime. If that’s the case, how come you got more drugs in Savannah than ever before? How come you have more gangs in Savannah than ever before? How come you got more robberies, more burglaries, more rapes? Since I’ve been on death row, Savannah has gotten so bad that people are moving out to the suburbs, to the edge of the county. Drugs and violence have captured and suffocated the whole city. This whole state is filled with drugs, murder, gangs, and chaos. The death penalty isn’t deterring anything.

“I grew up in a neighborhood called Cloverdale. It was a young middle-class neighborhood, full of good people. We had teachers, police officers, nurses . . . it was a fairly privileged place. Everyone in our community knew each other. It was the kind of place where parents would watch each other’s kids. We used to be real close with many of the neighborhood kids, but as we grew up and drugs started seeping in, they started getting involved in the wrong things. As Savannah became more violent and drug-infested, the violence came to us as well.”

Gautam: “How did drugs change day-to-day life?”

Troy: “When drugs hit Savannah, it was like everyone I knew started selling or using. Every time I went out with friends, somebody was trying to jump them. One time I was riding in the car with some friends and all of sudden somebody started shooting at us. I got out of the car and ran as fast as I could. When I got home, I told my mama, ‘One of these days I’m going to get killed. I gotta leave Savannah.’ For four months I said I was going to leave Savannah. I was constantly working and saving my money so I could move. Now it seems like I stayed in Savannah one day too long.”

 

I struggled to understand Troy’s words, as the new “upgrade” to the GDCP phone system had caused the already-poor audio quality to further disintegrate. Troy believed it was an intentional attempt of the prison to restrict communication with the outside world.

Gautam: “What’s the neighborhood like now?”

Troy: “I asked Lester a few weeks ago if kids play outside in the neighborhood like we used to. He said parents don’t let their kids outside. He knows there are kids around because he sees them in the morning waiting for the bus. When I was coming up, every kid on our street played hopscotch, basketball, football, basketball, even tennis. We used to play at the baseball diamond at the park. Martina said she doesn’t go to that park now, because it’s too violent, too dangerous. She don’t know the kids there, and they’re always starting trouble. The neighborhood is going downhill and there’s so much crime, so much lack of trust, that it’s hard for parents to feel comfortable.”

I thought about my own neighborhood in Alpharetta. We had a pool, tennis courts, and basketball hoops. My house was nestled in a cul-de-sac that insulated my friends and me from traffic, allowing us to play baseball and Frisbee on the street.

Our early youth, from age five to ten, was the sunrise of our lives. We were pioneers, exploring the grounds of our neighborhood, trying out a new video game during a sleepover, reading a new book, making up a new game with tennis balls and chalk, or chasing wild animals into the creeks running through our back yards.

Each day we awoke wiser from previous day’s adventures. We never worried about our safety and neither did our parents. There were no drugs, no gangs, no robberies, no guns or murders in Alpharetta.

Gautam: “Do you still talk to any of the people from your neighborhood?”

Troy: “Martina has been trying for years to reach out to Savannah communities, communities of color, and the African American community. They would always reject her and threaten her for leaving pamphlets. Now that I’m famous, they’re reaching out to her and saying they want to help.”

            Gautam: “Did you ever think in the years before you were arrested that your life could lead to this?”

Troy: “When I tried to rejoin the church to get my spiritual body set right, I looked at it as though Satan said, ‘Wait a minute, you were doing everything I wanted you to do and ignored God all these years, and now you’re going to turn away from me and turn to God?’ And that’s when roadblocks were put up in front of me. And here I am, on death row. I should’ve known something like this could happen. God gives you signs, and if you never slow down and pay attention to those signs, bad things are gonna happen.”

Gautam: “How did you meet Redd Coles and people like him?”

Troy: “Redd stayed in the neighborhood where my aunt lived. I didn’t really know him that well personally, but I knew his younger sister because we went to the same high school. He came from an underprivileged family and lived in the projects. There were rumors that he was involved in another shooting in the late seventies. But rumors are all it ever amounted to.”

Kavita: “How did you start moving around with these kinds of people? Priya hangs around with a bad crowd . . . most of them grew up with single parents, and many were pregnant by fourteen. She says they’re not bad people, just that they’ve grown up in tough circumstances.”

Troy: “I was a straight-A student. But I wanted to hang with the cool crowd because they got all the attention. That was one of my biggest mistakes. I started slacking off in class. But growing up I was very shy and very quiet. I seldom had something to say when people were cracking up. Priya needs to realize that as kids we can’t make all the right decisions, and that you, her father, Gautam, and your other daughter are her true friends. Soon she’ll realize . . .”

Gautam: “She makes friends easily, but they’re all shallow relationships. I prefer a few close friends to a bunch of distant ones.”

Troy: “Gautam, you remind me of myself when I was younger. I was a quiet kid like you. I was shy. The difference is that you have a way to express yourself through your writing. I, well, I made some poor choices because I wanted to be accepted. I didn’t make good choices of who to run around with. And now all of my friends are either dead or in jail. You should surround yourself with better and more intelligent people. That’s why, when I get out, I want to mentor young people. I don’t want them to make the same mistakes I did. Most of my so-called friends weren’t true friends. Gautam, the question you should ask yourself is whether your friends will talk behind your back when you hang out with someone else. When I had a car, plenty of friends wanted to hang with me. But after I was arrested, they all left. And my so-called friend Redd Coles was the one who got me into this mess in the first place.”

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Remain Free Part III Section XV

May 26, 2009

Hi Gautam,

            Thanks for writing! How’s life treating you today? I hope things are getting a little smoother for you. Have you given any thought to what you may want to do in your future? You and Priya have so many options because of how smart you are.

            I hope the two of you will embrace your gifts. You seem to have a compassionate side when it comes to how you see others in need.

            Use that to build on because you’ll definitely have people flocking to you for help in the future. You have a determination to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves.

I realized that by the dedication you’ve shown to me. To you it might seem small but to me, you are chipping away at a mountain that has begun to crumble fast.

            Your passion is clear but do you know where it will take you? As far as you let it! People already follow you so embrace this gift to give back. The work you are doing now has motivated so many. Just don’t let the pitfalls in life deter you in any way.

            Take the time to explore new things, new goals because only then can you see exactly what you really want to do in the future. Keep learning, keep leading and keep believing in a better life. I’m proud of you already!                                                                                                                                   

Your only,

Uncle Troy!

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Remain Free Part III Section XIV

May 15, 2009

From: Gautam Narula

To: Members of “Alpharetta High School For Troy Davis”

Subject: Recantations of Witnesses

As you all know, the whole premise of our support for Troy Davis is based on the fact that 7/9 witnesses who testified against him in his trial recanted their testimonies. I have managed to acquire these recantations; there appear to be more than seven, but I believe they were from other witnesses who testified against him in 1989 when he was arrested but were not present at his trial, though I am not completely sure about that. Today, Friday May 15th, is the expiration of his stay of execution,

AFFIDAVITS RECANTING TESTIMONY OR STATEMENTS GIVEN IN THE TROY DAVIS CASE:

Kevin McQueen
The truth is that Troy never confessed to me or talked to me about the shooting of the police officer. I made up the confession from information I had heard on T.V. and from other inmates about the crimes. Troy did not tell me any of this… I have now realized what I did to Troy so I have decided to tell the truth… I need to set the record straight.

Monty Holmes
I told them I didn’t know anything about who shot the officer, but they kept questioning me. I was real young at that time and here they were questioning me about the murder of a police officer like I was in trouble or something. I was scared… [I]t seemed like they wouldn’t stop questioning me until I told them what they wanted to hear. So I did. I signed a statement saying that Troy told me that he shot the cop.

Jeffrey Sapp
I got tired of them harassing me, and they made it clear that the only way they would leave me alone is if I told them what they wanted to hear. I told them that Troy told me he did it, but it wasn’t true. Troy never said that or anything like it. When it came time for Troy’s trial, the police made it clear to me that I needed to stick to my original statement; that is, what they wanted me to say. I didn’t want to have any more problems with the cops, so I testified against Troy.

Dorothy Ferrell
From the way the officer was talking, he gave me the impression that I should say that Troy Davis was the one who shot the officer like the other witness [sic] had …I felt like I was just following the rest of the witnesses. I also felt like I had to cooperate with the officer because of my being on parole … I told the detective that Troy Davis was the shooter, even though the truth was that I didn’t see who shot the officer.

Darrell “D.D.” Collins
After a couple of hours of the detectives yelling at me and threatening me, I finally broke down and told them what they wanted to hear. They would tell me things that they said had happened and I would repeat whatever they said. …It is time that I told the truth about what happened that night, and what is written here is the truth. I am not proud for lying at Troy’s trial, but the police had me so messed up that I felt that’s all I could do or else I would go to jail.

Larry Young
I couldn’t honestly remember what anyone looked like or what different people were wearing. Plus, I had been drinking that day, so I just couldn’t tell who did what. The cops didn’t want to hear that and kept pressing me to give them answers. They made it clear that we weren’t leaving until I told them what they wanted to hear. They suggested answers and I would give them what they wanted. They put typed papers in my face and told me to sign them. I did sign them without reading them.

Antoine Williams
They asked me to describe the shooter and what he looked like and what he was wearing. I kept telling them that I didn’t know. It was dark, my windows were tinted, and I was scared. It all happened so fast. Even today, I know that I could not honestly identify with any certainty who shot the officer that night. I couldn’t then either. After the officers talked to me, they gave me a statement and told me to sign it. I signed it. I did not read it because I cannot read.

Robert Grizzard
I have reviewed the transcript of my testimony from the trial of Troy Davis… During my testimony I said that the person who shot the officer was wearing a light colored shirt. The truth is that I don’t recall now and I didn’t recall then what the shooter was wearing, as I said in my initial statement…

Michael Cooper
I have had a chance to review a statement which I supposedly gave to police officers on June 25, 1991. I remember that they asked a lot of questions and typed up a statement which they told me to sign. I did not read the statement before I signed. In fact, I have not seen it before today. …What is written in that statement is a lie.

Benjamin Gordon
I just kept telling them that I didn’t do anything, but they weren’t hearing that. After four or five hours, they told me to sign some papers. I just wanted to get the hell out of there. I didn’t read what they told me to sign and they didn’t ask me to.

 

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Remain Free Part III Section VIII

Troy: “We got good news from Martina’s oncologist. He said she’s clean and cancer free.”

Kavita: “Good, she better live to a hundred because she’s got many more butts to kick.”

Troy: “Everything’s going to be alright, eventually. I only got a chance to talk to Martina yesterday, when she finally got home from the hospital.”

Kavita: “What was she doing in the hospital?”

Troy: “Nobody told you? She had a surgery where they put a tube in her thigh to shoot medicine inside her kidney and liver. Two days after, she kept throwing up. She went back to the hospital and her blood pressure had skyrocketed. They were pumping her with morphine and one of the pellets got inside of her stomach. She got back yesterday and she’s doing okay, but I’m still trying to convince her that she needs to rest. Kiersten kept crying and beating on Martina’s door, yelling, ‘Tina, Tina, let me in!’ while Martina was recovering from chemo.”

Kavita: “I think she’s stressed out after the oral arguments. ‘How many times are they going to try to kill Troy?’ she asked me. She tried to talk to the MacPhails in the courthouse and they wouldn’t even look at her.”

Troy: “All of us have to die someday. You have to pray. There’s a God, and He listens. When people die, there is a reason. And when people live, God takes care of them. But I worry about Martina. De’Jaun was complaining that she don’t get no rest. If somebody calls, she immediately gets ready to go. She often goes to bed late, wakes up at three or four in the morning, and jumps right back on the internet. That attitude is why she has received twelve different awards for her breast cancer awareness, her outstanding commitment to the judicial system, as a mom, and for fighting against the death penalty. She should be on Oprah because she’s a woman who’s changing the world.

“It’s an up and down rollercoaster for my family. I can deal with it, but I can see it in my mother’s eyes, in Martina’s eyes, that it’s really wearing them down emotionally. They’re getting scared. Even De’Jaun is getting scared. He can’t concentrate in school. Death row is eating away at my family’s peace of mind.”

Kavita: “Martina is very determined. The love you all have for each other will keep you strong no matter what happens.”

Troy: “We’ve both been having a rough time. I’m waiting on medical call. I have a herniated disc, so they call me out every so often to see if the medication is working. I tore my Achilles tendon playing basketball the other day. The pain is so excruciating that I can’t walk and am now wheelchair-bound. I needed surgery, so they took me to a medical center in Augusta. That was the worst car trip of my life. They shackled my arm, hands, and legs so I couldn’t move. I had to remain perfectly still, hunched over in the car, while my foot throbbed in pain. The doctor said if my foot didn’t heal soon I may have to come back for a follow-up surgery, which means another car ride.”

Gautam: “They forced you to hunch over for hours when you had a herniated disc and back pain?”

Troy: “The whole system just frustrates me. Spencer Lawton is the perfect representative of the justice system. He’s known as a hard-nosed, no-nonsense kind of guy. He doesn’t care what you can prove. Once he gets you he wants to keep you locked up. He don’t like none of his cases to get overturned. If you can prove your innocence, he’s not gonna exonerate you. He’s gonna try to find some way to keep you locked up. It seems like everyone is scared to do the right thing. Politicians vow to be tough on crime, and they’re afraid of what might happen to their political careers if they free an innocent man. The prison system is connected to the corrupted political and legal system.”

Gautam: “How would you make it better?”

Troy: “This is how I think prison should be run: Rehabilitation should be brought back, and all prisoners serving more than two years must learn two new trades before being allowed to leave. While they’re in there, the prison works as a temp agency where they network with companies and give them tax breaks to hire inmates. Create a setup where the company pays $14 an hour per worker. Half goes to the inmate and the other half goes to the prison to pay for its expenses. Forcing inmates to learn trades will help them get and create jobs when they’re released instead of going back and forth between prison and the outside. It will give them a work ethic and a sense of responsibility.”

Gautam: “How has the prison handled the whole Brian Nichols case?”

Troy: “It’s kind of funny, isn’t it? He was on trial for rape, openly murdered a judge and a police officer, and went on a rampage. He ended up with life in prison. I had never committed a crime and my case is riddled with doubt, but I get the death penalty. There are plenty of guys in this same prison who have two or three life sentences, and the prosecutor never even sought the death penalty. The real difference is that his crime was committed in Atlanta in 2005 and mine was committed in Savannah in 1989.”

Kavita: “What did they do when the sentence was announced?”

Troy: “They brought him here within an hour of the announcement. He’s in the G2 unit. That’s upstairs, behind a door, with four cells. He’s in there by himself. If we speak to him or try to pass him something, we’ll get written up. If the guards speak to him, they get fired. The unit manager on up to the warden are responsible for feeding him and bathing him.”

Kavita: “Is that normal? Do they isolate new inmates until they get adjusted?”

Troy: “There are three dormitories: G2, G3, and G4. The top four cells are blocked off by an extra door. Two of them are segregation where they put people who just can’t live with other death row inmates because they’re afraid, or they’ll put you there for three weeks when you first arrive here. They cleared one space in G2 just for Brian Nichols to be by himself. Most of us haven’t actually seen him because every time they bring him out they lock down all of death row. Even when he’s eating, they put the place on lockdown. They’re burning cornbread on this guy, as they call it, just trying to throw bad luck on this guy. I’m glad he didn’t get the death penalty.

“It’s been months and he’s still back there on G2. Since the federal government isn’t going to try him, we thought he’d be in general population by now. The DA wanted the federal Attorney General to take action so they could apply the federal death penalty, but the AG didn’t want any part of it. They keep Nichols in solitary confinement. They don’t let him come out of his cell to go to the yard, go to the shower, or talk to his attorney. No inmate is allowed to talk to him. Only the lieutenant on up to the warden can talk to him, and they only come to take him to the shower or bring him food. I’ve managed to see him a few times over the months. He gained a lot of weight and he’s always looking at the ground. They might have put him on medication. They’re not giving him any leeway, because while he was awaiting trial he got women to do all sorts of stuff for him and help him escape. In his own twisted way, the man’s a genius.”

Gautam: “Many people were upset when he didn’t get the death penalty.”

Troy: “When he didn’t get the death penalty, the prosecutor wanted to rewrite the law that requires a unanimous jury decision for the death penalty. They want it both ways. You’re supposed to respect the decision of the jurors you pick. But since you’re not always getting death sentences, you want to change the law? What about the integrity of the system? You agreed and the judge agreed that they were qualified to make the decision and now you want to disqualify their opinion. The DA needs to accept the fact that he blew three million in taxpayer money because the man got the same sentence he tried to plead out to last year. It’s cheaper to lock a man away for the rest of his life than it is to give him the death penalty.”

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Remain Free Part III Section VII

Emailing Obama wasn’t enough. I needed to take action here, in Georgia before it was too late. By this time Troy Davis had become well-known amongst the students of Alpharetta High School. I spent the last few weeks of the school year gathering signatures for a hastily written petition to Governor Sonny Perdue.

 

May 12, 2009

To the Honorable Governor Purdue

            As we are sure you are aware of, one of the most prominent criminal cases in Georgia history has been the Troy Davis case. In 1989, Troy Davis was arrested for the murder of police officer Mark MacPhail, and in 1991 he was convicted and sentenced to death. However, there was no physical evidence, no gun, and no DNA to link Davis to the crime. Davis was instead convicted on the sole testimony of nine eyewitnesses. Now seven of those nine witnesses have recanted. Some of them cited police intimidation and coercion, and of the two who did not recant, one is the primary alternative suspect, and the other initially stated he could not tell who the shooter was, and then changed his story at the trial two years later and pointed out Davis. One witness who recanted stated, “I told them I didn’t know anything about who shot the officer, but they kept questioning me. I was real young at that time and here they were questioning me about the murder of a police officer like I was in trouble or something. I was scared… it seemed like they wouldn’t stop questioning me until I told them what they wanted to hear. So I did. I signed a statement saying that Troy told me that he shot the cop.”.

            This raises grave doubts about Davis’s guilt and about whether Officer MacPhail is truly receiving justice. All of this evidence has not been looked at in a court of law, and to allow Davis to be executed when such an enormous doubt to his guilt remains is a true travesty of justice. One of the truly great things about this nation is that it is based on a system of justice and liberty, and that in the chance that someone is unfairly convicted, there are institutions in place to ensure that justice is delivered. The powers vested in you and your office, Governor Purdue, is one of those institutions. You have the power to stop this injustice. You missed several opportunities; in 2007, and multiple times in 2008. Now you have one, in 2009. Davis’s stay of execution, issues from the Eleventh District Circuit Court, Expires on May 15th. You can tell the Georgia Board of Paroles to issue a stay of execution and to allow for a new trial for Davis.

            Davis’s legal resources are running out. After a narrow 4-3 decision in the Georgia Supreme Court denied his appeal, the US Supreme Court and Eleventh District Circuit Court denied his appeal (in a 2-1 decision), there aren’t many more legal resources. In the Georgia Supreme Court decision, Chief Justice Sears stated, “If recantation testimony, either alone or supported by other evidence, shows convincingly that prior trial testimony was false, it simple defies logic and morality to hold that it must be disregarded categorically.” There are only days left in Davis’s stay of execution, and if action isn’t taken soon, an irreversible mistake could occur.

            We are not arguing for or against the death penalty. We only want justice for Troy Davis and for Officer MacPhail, and there are grave doubts that either will be achieved by Davis’s execution. As the younger generation, as tomorrow’s leaders, we urge you to take a stand for justice by stopping this. A true visionary, and a true leader, does what’s right, now what is politically popular. It is not so often that we find ourselves in the position to save a life, to truly be a hero and help someone desperately in need, but you have the power and to make a great change in the way people see you, the State of Georgia, and our justice system. All of us at Alpharetta High School urge you not to miss this opportunity.

After gathering over one hundred signatures, I mailed the petition to the Governor. I never received a reply.

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Remain Free Part III Section VI

Now that the Eleventh Circuit Court had denied the appeal in a 2-1 decision, I didn’t know what to do. Who had the power to save Troy, and the courage? I could think of only one person: Barack Obama. Yes, Barack Obama! The man whose speeches electrified the nation. The man who proved that race and a foreign name were no obstacle to greatness. The man whose brutally authentic memoir showed that a thoughtful, reflecting intellectual now resided in the White House. If anyone could save Troy Davis, if anyone would save Troy Davis, it would be him.

 

April 29, 2009

To President Barack Obama                                                                                                 

Executive Office of the President of the United States of America

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, D.C.

 

 

Dear President Obama,

 

            Throughout your historic campaign, you promised change; a change from the partisan politics of the past; a change from an administration dedicated to secrecy and corruption; a change for a better America. In the area of human rights, you have made remarkable progress in your first one hundred days as President. You revealed the abuses made by the CIA during their interrogations of suspected terrorists. You promised to end America’s shameful treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and close down the prison once and for all. You showed the world that America is not afraid to admit that it made mistakes, but that it is ready to look to the a brighter and better future. Yet we often forget that there are still human rights issues within our own nations that need to be addressed.

            I write to you on behalf of Troy Davis. As you may already know, Troy Davis has been part of a recent high profile death penalty case. In 1989, police officer Mark Macphail was shot and killed while attempting to break up a fight, and in 1991 Troy Davis was convicted and sentenced to death for Macphail’s killing. Yet Davis was not convicted on DNA or physical evidence, but solely on the testimony of nine witnesses. Yet seven of those nine witnesses have now recanted their testimonies, some saying that they were intimidated or threatened by the police into fingering Davis as the man who pulled the trigger. Of the other two witnesses, one of them is the primary alternative suspect, and the other changed their story, first saying Davis wasn’t the killer and then saying he was. In addition to raising serious questions about police misconduct, it brings into Davis’s guilt into serious doubt.

            After receiving a stay of execution, Davis was to be executed by lethal injection on September 23, 2008, despite the fact that on September 27th, his case was to be reviewed by the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court had an emergency meeting and issued a stay of execution ninety minutes before Davis’s scheduled execution. However, after declining to intervene, Davis was to be executed in October until, three days before his execution, the U.S. 11th Circuit District Court issued another stay of execution. However, they declined to intervene as well, and the stay is set to expire on May 15th, 2009.

            I ask of you, as the President of the United States, to use your power to stop Davis’s education and ask for a new trial. The recantations have never been heard in a court of law, and it is unjust and immoral to execute a man when such serious doubt to his guilt remains. Davis has received the support of many notable people and organizations, such as Amnesty International, President and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Jimmy Carter, Nobel Peace Prize Winner Desmond Tutu, Reverend Al Sharpton, the European Union, Representative Bob Barr, Representative John Lewis, and thousands of people across the globe.

            I am a fifteen year old student from a suburb of Atlanta, and I have no exterior motive to ask for a new trial for Davis. I merely request this out of my sense of civic duty as a citizen of the United States of America, where each and every person is guaranteed liberty and due process, and I request this as a human being seeking to right a major wrong occurring before my very eyes. I request this because I know that we must stand up for what we believe in, and I request this because I know it is the right thing to do.

            If there is any person who has the moral character and humanistic passion to stop this injustice, it is you President Obama. During your campaign, you promised a government more open to the people and more accountable for its actions. I implore you not to let a potentially innocent man die. For many people in their lifetimes, it is rare to have an opportunity to save a person’s life, to truly stop the flame that is life from being extinguished, and you have that opportunity President Obama. Please do not let it pass you by.

Most sincerely yours,

Gautam R. Narula

Alpharetta, Georgia

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Five years ago

Five years ago today, my friend Troy Davis was wrongfully executed. One year ago today, I published Remain Free to share his story.

In that one year:

  • Remain Free beat out a New York Times bestseller written by a US president for the Georgia Author of the Year Award
  • Remain Free has been featured in NRI Pulse, India New England News, Khabar Magazine, and the Sunday edition of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Khabar Magazine, and India New England News
  • I’ve spoken at MIT, Cornell, UGA, Georgia State, Kennesaw State, high schools, Amnesty International groups, and CreativeMornings Boston (with a few more to come!)
  • I’ve met and talked to incredible people from all walks of life who share a passion for reforming our justice system, ranging from the parents of other teenagers who’ve befriended death row inmates to rappers, fashion designers, entrepreneurs, and everything in-between.

 

To mark the one year anniversary of the publication of the physical copy of Remain Free, the one many of you made possible, I just published the Kindle version so people all over the world can read it. As with the physical version, all profits will be donated to the Innocence Project.  And of course, the book can be read in serialized from for free on remainfree.com

In the end, this was to serve the mission of sharing Troy’s story with as many people as possible. A huge thanks to all of you who’ve supported this journey that began around this time eight years ago.

Remain Free Part III Section V

April 27, 2009

Dear Uncle Troy,                                                                               

I was not aware that my previous letter was not sent, so I am attaching this letter and the previous one into one letter. I will have to admit that the court’s decision surprised me. For some reason, I was sure that they would accept the appeal. When I read over the decision in an article, I felt their reasoning was not justified. They stated that much of this was submitted too late, and that previous courts had already “thoroughly” viewed the evidence. What they fail to realize is that this is not some late credit card payment where you pay a fine on a technicality; a human life is in jeopardy here, and no one should be forced to die because of a technicality. The value of life should, and in a cosmic sense does, supersede all laws of man.

 

Meanwhile, I have been mobilizing the students at Alpharetta High School; after remaining stagnant for some time, the number of people in the “Alpharetta High School for Troy Davis” group is rising once again. I am beginning a letter writing campaign where I will collect letters from the students to send it to anyone and everyone who has the power or influence to stop the execution. We may have suffered a serious blow with the court decision, but the struggle lives on.

I hope I will have another chance to visit you soon (I believe it has been about seventy days since the last visit). What bothers me the most about the death penalty is how arbitrary it is. I just learned of another death penalty case in Savannah where one witness recanted, and the judge ordered a whole new trial, yet here we have seven recantations but no justice. Had the same thing happened in Atlanta, I am positive you would not have been convicted. Had you been convicted but been in the north, you wouldn’t have received the death penalty. It is clear that this is not the correct way to go about things, but the State of Georgia seems bent on living in the past, just like it did during the civil rights movement, and just like it did during the Civil War. Regardless of the outcome, just know that as always we are there to support you and that you are never alone. I included a poem I wrote about how I feel to all those people who say that your execution is a “victory” for justice and about how I feel towards the way the government of the State of Georgia is run, and even towards the manner in which the United States and other Western nations treat or have treated the rest of the world.

 Most sincerely yours,

Gautam R. Narula                 

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Remain Free Part III Section IV

March 19, 2009

Dear Uncle Troy,

 

            I apologize for not having written to you in so long. Things have been hectic at home and school, but I’m glad I finally got the chance to write to you. Several times my friends have asked me about Troy Davis, or asked me “How is the case going?” or “Has the Court made a decision yet?” and I have to keep telling them that we are still waiting and still hoping for good news to come. A small amount of good news has come this way however; today, Governor Bill Richardson signed a law that repealed the death penalty in New Mexico, and apparently ¾ of the New Mexicans who sent in letters or emails to called by telephone stated that they were for the repeal. I think Americans are finally waking up to the fact that the death penalty is cruel, inhumane, and does not effectively deter crime.

            I’m still thinking about the last time I visited you, almost a month ago. What I found most interesting was that most of the people there seemed very normal, hugging their wife and kids, playing games with their infant children, talking to their loved ones. It just seems to hard to believe that these people are the same people who committed horrible crimes. It’s just too difficult to sort people into “good” or “evil”. It’s not something that is black and white, not an “A or B” statement…

            I want to share with you a composition I wrote on February 27th, 2009

Who We Are, and What We Can Become

            If there are two things I have noticed about human nature, it is that humans are by nature polygamous and cruel. Perhaps many find this debatable, but throughout my reading of history and just observations in general, it seems that this is true. The former is a topic for another time, but the latter I feel is a more pressing issue. If you were to look at all the wars and conquest of the past, and even the present, you would see that cruelty is present everywhere. From the distant past, like the Sumerians who owned slaves, or the Assyrians who brutally tortured and slaughtered those who they conquered, to the Classical Period when the Romans and Greeks would enslave the “barbarians” of conquered regions, to the massacring of Muslims by the Crusaders in the 13th century, to the violent pillaging and slaughter of the Mongols as they conquered Eurasia, to the present day, it seems far easier to find acts of cruelty than it is to find acts of compassion.
Even today, torture and slavery still exist. It took us from approximately 500,000 B.C. to the 1800s A.D. to realize that no human deserves to be treated like an animal and enslaved to another, and we are still trying to realize today that no one is inferior because of his culture, religion, or skin color. I believe that humans are instinctively violent, insecure, and cruel, and that is why it has taken us so long to overcome our prejudice towards each other. It is only today, with the artificial layering of the ideas of the Enlightenment and society pressed upon us can we suppress these natural instincts. This was the idea I believe William Golding was getting at in his novel
Lord of the Flies, the idea that the inner nature of humans has been checked only by the artificial clamps of society. In the past, slaughtering and massacring a whole city was considered the norm, and not particularly brutal. Conquerors from Alexander the Great to the British Empire in the 20th century violently suppressed those they subjugated without remorse.
In his well known series
Cosmos, the late well known scientist and astronomer Carl Sagan suggested that our aggression and territorialism comes from one of the inner parts of our brain, which was derived from the reptiles who eventually evolved into the primates. But perhaps there is more than just a biological explanation. Deep down, I think we realize that life is cruel. In the 2004 Tsunami, thousands of people were killed or lost everything. Did they deserve this? No, but it happened. Some of the people I know, some of the kindest and noblest people I have ever had the honor of meeting in my life, for doing nothing wrong, have been paralyzed or have died or have been wrongfully imprisoned. Yet this is what life handed to them. Today, billions live in poverty and under the control of tyrannical dictators. In Sudan, the janjaweed has slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people. In the 1970s, Francisco Franco of Spain and the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia ordered the mass killings of millions. In China, Mao Zedong led the country to the largest peacetime mass killings ever known in history. I have accepted the fact that life is harsh, though I am fortunate enough to be shielded from most of its brutality.
This is why I believe we should recognize the compassion that does exist in everyday life and embrace it. Every act of kindness is one of those exceptions, one of those “but” moments, which shows how great humanity can truly be. Throughout history, people have always searched for a purpose, for a reason of existence, for a reason why they are here today on the Earth, whether placed there by a Creator, as most believe, or not, as others believe. I believe that reason is to reduce the cruelty present in everyday life, to make life less painful for others and to make the world a kinder and gentler place. This is why I stand up for Troy Davis and why I’ve been vegetarian since I was five years old. I stopped eating meat when I came to terms with the pain and suffering it caused animals. There is so much pain in this world for all creatures, animals and humans alike, that I felt it immoral (not that I think those who eat meat are immoral; I respect their decision as I hope they do mine) to inflict even more pain upon the animals when it was unnecessary. No, the lion is not cruel when it kills a gazelle, because it is only trying to survive. However, when a human has the choice not to kill an animal, I felt it right not to do so. I have supported Troy Davis because in addition to being a truly inspirational person in my life, I realized that he was one of the people who have been wronged by our country. To be placed on death row when serious doubts about your crime exists is as inhuman as the torture that our government still commits against others. I support him because I know that if I can make the world less painful for others, I have fulfilled my purpose in life.

This exposition may appear to be depraved, cynical, and sadistic in many regards, but nothing could be further from the truth. By recognizing the darkness of our past, we can appreciate how far we’ve come. The world is a kinder place than it has ever been before, and it is becoming a better place. People are realizing the inherent rights we as sentient beings deserve. What gives me hope is that we have the intelligence to change ourselves. We are more than the sum of our natural instincts, and we have the will not to give in to all of our instincts and urges, a monumental feat. If we can defy gravity and place a man on a celestial body, then we can change ourselves. And if we can learn from the past and look to the future, if we can recognize the true value of kindness, humanity, and compassion, there is no limit to what we can achieve.”

            These are my true feelings about human nature, though perhaps they are a bit cynical. I hope I will get a chance to see you soon and speak to you in person.

Love your adopted nephew,

Gautam R. Narula      

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Remain Free Part III Section III

January 7, 2009

Dear Gautam,

            Hi nephew and how’s life been treating you lately? I pray that you, family and friends are all doing well and in the best of health as well as spirits.

            Things on this side of the fence are the same. I’ve been battling a cold off and on for 2 weeks now but this is the worst I’ve felt. Constant sneezing and runny nose.

            Where’s my mother when I really need her care huh? Women are so strong because even a little cold brings a man down. =P

            Thanks for your letter. It really made me think so I reread it this morning. You spend a lot of your time thinking and trying to solve even the smallest problems that we humans refuse to focus on.

            In life we all want to be treated fairly and not pre-judged but when it comes to crime everyone points the finger at the defendant as if he/he is already guilty no matter what.

            It’s the shallow minds that refuse to hear the end of the story or even question the possibility that the defendant is guilty. People should just think more like yourself because there’s always a  hidden truth that’s left out.

            Look at religion! Every religion claims they are the “ONE TRUE Religion” but how can that be? I believe there’s only ONE “Sovereign Ruler” and that’s our creator no matter what title we give Him/Her.

            But mankind refuses to be wrong so they resort to ignorant arguing and fighting which eventually leads to war.

            In the Bible one of the Key Commandments reads “thou shalt not kill”. Read Exodus 20: verse 13 in your Bible. However, look how many cultures support war. Religious wars were going on even before Jesus walked the earth. God fought many wars for His chosen people who followed. His laws/commandments. He also led mentally groups of people to war so that His will would be done for Him on Earth through others. However as a Christian once Jesus was put to death on the torture stake we who became Christians were supposed to follow all God’s laws and commandments because Jesus did not come to change the laws but fulfill them.

            However, should any person, religious or not speak against WAR in America, you are unpatriotic. Churches are supposed to remain separated from Political Events/Governments. It’s the churches that push and support wars more than non-believers.

            They are serving two Gods while claiming only one. How can you teach kids not to lie, cheat or steal or even kill, when you support war as a religious person, support the death penalty and agree that it’s okay to kill a few innocent for the sanctity of the  “Justice System”?

            So Gautam keep thinking, keep asking questions because you have mentally mastered life more than hundreds of millions of adults in such a short time. You’re right, it doesn’t matter if you receive a 95 on your precalculus or not. What matters is that you never stop learning. Give 110% to everything you do and never allow yourself to be mislead. Become a leader.

            The letter your mom showed you someone wrote about support me but also said I’ll become a martyr illustrates my point about people. They want to play both sides of the fence so they’ll never be wrong but because of ignorance they’ll always be led and never leaders like yourself. People are already listening to you.

            As for me they needed a cause and I believe at the right time God drew these people to me so that they won’t witness my freedom but witness “His Power” to have the final say when the most influential System man has spoken.

            Through my Situation all who are watching will witness “God’s” presence in my life and it is only because I put faith in Him that I’m still alive and only through God’s will that I’ll walk free. Man said, so what, yeah he might be innocent but we’ll have to change our system if we don’t kill him so let him die.” God simply stepped in and said, “NO” watch me set him free.

            Whatever greater power you believe in Gautam, give it your all and let it/him/her guide you. The real God will search your heart and come to you. Whatever roadblocks you face in life won’t stop you, they’ll just slow you down long enough to strengthen you so that you can overcome them for good.

            I’m very proud of you as well as Priya even though she and I need to talk about certain bad decisions she’s made lately relating to school & life. Give her and your parents a hug for me and my love. Tell Sahil I said hello and I miss hearing from him.

God Bless you!

Uncle Troy D.

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