Written by Jeff Woodard
December 2008 - January 2009
The peaceful tone of the Rev. Marvin Morgan's voice belies the passion of his message: It's time to get "personal" in eliminating the death penalty. Morgan's willingness to take the place of Troy Davis on death row in Georgia appears to be the ultimate gesture.
||UCC minister the Rev. Marvin Morgan (c.) is arrested by Georgia police.|
"If each of us were to be placed in shackles and led to the execution chambers, knowing we are innocent...try to imagine what that must be like," says Morgan, minister of pastoral care and counseling at First Congregational UCC in Atlanta.
On Sept. 22, Morgan and Davis' friend, Steve Woodall, hand-delivered to the office of Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue a letter requesting that Davis' execution be prevented. "If you are not willing to do so," Morgan wrote, "I, Marvin L. Morgan, do hereby request that you (the State of Georgia) take my life instead of that of Troy Davis, and allow Troy to be set free. I am available immediately to be taken into custody so that this request may be carried forward."
Morgan said they were told Perdue was unavailable to meet with them. "We waited until 5 o'clock and he still wasn't there. We refused to leave and were arrested for trespassing," Morgan said, adding that Perdue never responded to the letter. But the next day, the 11th Circuit Court of appeals granted Davis a stay of execution, his third in the past year.
Davis, now 39, was convicted in 1991 of the August 1989 killing of Savannah Police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail. Since the trial, seven of nine key prosecution witnesses have recanted their testimony. Others have come forward to implicate another man in the killing of the 27-year-old MacPhail.
"There is an apparent lack of any physical evidence connecting Troy Davis to the murder," says Morgan. "It's hard to understand that in the face of overwhelming doubt, that a parole board could deny a cry for clemency."
Morgan says he wholeheartedly embraces the death-penalty position held by Amnesty International. "It is, in every sense, the ultimate denial of human rights. The audacity of the state to act in a premeditated matter to kill another human being — in an effort to prevent other human beings from being killed — doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Regardless of the method used, it is inhumane, degrading punishment."
Since 1977, more than 1,100 people have died in executions in the U.S., including more than 40 in Georgia. During that same period, says Morgan, more than 100 have been released from death row on grounds of innocence or new evidence surfacing.
Morgan says he plans to work with anti-death penalty leaders such as the Rev. Timothy McDonald of the Concerned Black Clergy of metropolitan Atlanta to help save Davis' life. "We must keep this issue before the public. First one person offers to die, then 15, then 20. We won't stop."
Jeff Woodard is a member of Pilgrim Congregational UCC in Cleveland.