Letter from Westminster

Sad news reached me last week from the other side of the Atlantic when I learned of the death of my friend Virginia Davis.

Virginia was the mother of Troy Davis, a man who is currently on death row in Georgia, USA, having been convicted of killing a police officer in 1989.

Troy’s case is a complex one. It has been widely written about and if you want to know more about it then you could do worse than starting with the Amnesty International web­site but today I am thinking not about Troy’s case but about his family.

When I saw him Troy had already been on death row for 18 years. Having met a number of people who had been on death row for long per­iods over the years I expected him to be bitter and resentful of the system. This often extends to the victim of the crime of which they have been convicted.

Troy and his family were different and never failed to mention their con­cern for the family of the police officer, Mark MacPhail, who had been killed. They understood that their family was not the only one that had been the victims of the system.

That Troy remains as well-adjusted as he is was due for the most part to the continuing support of his family who are tireless in the support of his cause. At the heart of that family was his mother Virginia.

I remember sitting in a tiny inter­view room with Troy, his mother and sister and the three of us from Amnesty International. It was cramped and stiflingly hot as we talked about his case and listened to him describe his life on death row – details like the fact that in 18 years he had only once stood on grass.

I remember also moving my attention from Troy for a moment or two and settling my gaze instead on Virginia. Thinking perhaps that the attention was off her for a while she had allowed the mask to slip and as this incredibly strong and dignified woman listened to her son you could see the mother’s pain and worry written on her face.

I am sad for Troy’s family that they no longer have Virginia’s strength and faith (she was a devout Christian) to sustain them. I am sorry too that she died without know­ing how her son’s case will event­ually be resolved. Officer MacPhail’s family and Troy Davis’ family are all victims of a system that I have always held to be inhumane and dehumanising.

I do not know if Troy will event­ually be executed or not but I do know that if he is then it should not be done using drugs exported from this country.

Two weeks ago Vince Cable can­celled the export licences for the cocktail of drugs that was used for state executions. It may not stop the US states from using the death pen­alty but it is one more hurdle for them to overcome if they insist on doing so. I like to think that my late friend Virginia would have appreciated the gesture.

Alistair Carmichael MP


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