Jay Ewart 03L, by all accounts, was just a kid when he joined the team at his firm to take on the Troy Anthony Davis vs. State of Georgia appeal. Fresh out of the Emory School of Law and working on his first death penalty case, he “learned on the job.” After studying every detail about the 15-year-old case, he soon became immersed in a trial that garnered media attention around the world.
Ewart discussed the case in depth with Kay Levine, criminal justice expert and associate professor at the Emory School of Law during the Emory Alumni Association’s Faculty Within Your Reach program, “A Matter of Life or Death: Lessons Learned from the Troy Davis Capital Murder Trial,” on January 18.
After transitions in his firm, Ewart rose as the lead counsel on the case. Nearly seven years later, he fondly remembers Davis as a friend. “When I first met him, I don’t think he liked me a whole lot. I was a young guy walking into the death row, probably in a bad suit; he could tell from a mile away that I didn’t know what I was doing at the time,” Ewart recounts. “It was a relationship that progressed; it just took a lot of time.”
There are many things about the case that have affected Ewart, but none more than witnessing the death of his friend and client. A few years before the September 2011 execution, Davis asked Ewart to be in the death chamber, and being there has changed Ewart’s ambivalence about the death penalty. “I wasn’t a strong advocate and I was not particularly anti-death penalty. I think there are some pretty horrible cases out there…especially when you know the person is guilty, they have admitted guilt, and the evidence shows that they are guilty,” he says. “[But] I walked away from that experience saying that I would never be for this.”
A lot has changed for Ewart since taking on his first death penalty case. Watch as he talks more about life during and after representing Troy Davis.
The “A Matter of Life or Death” program is part of the Emory Alumni Association's Faculty Within Your Reach series, which is designed to bring alumni and distinguished Emory faculty together in conversation about a range of topics. “To Happiness and Beyond: Are you Flourishing in Life?” with Corey Keyes, associate professor of sociology, and John Dunne, associate professor of religion, on February 22 at the Miller-Ward Alumni House is next in the series.—Tania Dowdy 08Ox 10C