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Almost Certainly Innocent, Troy Anthony Davis Receives Another Execution Date

Christopher Hill,
Capital Punishment Project
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September 9, 2008

Troy Anthony Davis almost certainly is innocent, but that has not stopped the State of Georgia from giving him a new execution date: September 23, 2008. A hearing on his case is scheduled before the State of Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole on Friday, September 12, 2008 at 9:00 a.m. It is imperative that the board receive notes, emails and calls from people who want to try and stop this injustice.

An African-American, Davis was convicted of the murder of off-duty Savannah Police Officer Mark MacPhail in 1991. No physical evidence links him to the crime, and he has steadfastly maintained his innocence. Nine non-police witnesses testified against him at trial, but all but two of these witnesses have recanted their statements. Some claim that they were coerced by police to say that Davis was the murderer.

One of the witnesses who did not recant was seen acting suspiciously the night of Officer MacPhail’s murder and has been heard boasting that he killed an off-duty police officer.

In 2007, Davis was one day away from being executed, but the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole voted to give him a 90-day stay because of the injustice in his case – an injustice that moved death penalty proponent Judge William Sessions, former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to write the Board of Pardons and Parole on Davis’s behalf.

Subsequently, the Georgia Supreme Court agreed to hear Davis’s motion for a new trial, but then denied the motion on technical, procedural grounds. Dissenting, Chief Justice Leah Sears wrote (PDF):

…I believe that this case illustrates that this Court’s approach to extraordinary motions for new trials based on new evidence is overly rigid and fails to allow an adequate inquiry into the fundamental question, which is whether or not an innocent person might have been convicted or even, in this case, might be put to death.

The Troy Davis case is yet another example of our criminal justice system’s inability to ensure beyond reasonable doubt that only the guilty are convicted at trial and sentenced to death. In the last 35 years, 129 innocent people have been released from death row. Five of the exonerees are from Georgia. In many cases, people have been released because of law enforcement misconduct. In two of the five Georgia exonerations, evidence was withheld from the defense.

It is understandable that when a police officer is killed his fellow officers desperately want the culprit convicted. It is unacceptable when those officers intimidate witnesses to ensure a conviction. In Davis’s case, an illiterate man signed a statement he could not read because he was threatened with criminal charges.

The Troy Davis case also is an example of a less obvious problem with our criminal justice system – that the ever-increasing number of procedural hurdles erected by courts and legislators to deny death-row inmates relief and expedite their executions has seriously eroded the system’s ability to correct its mistakes.

Troy Davis cannot prove his innocence to all naysayers because in his case, as in 90 percent of all murder cases, there is no DNA evidence that can be tested to exclude him as the culprit.

Nevertheless, given the serious questions about his guilt, Troy Davis must not be executed. Act now: Write Georgia’s State Board of Pardons and Paroles and ask them to commute Troy’s death sentence.