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The End of the Line for Troy Davis?

Troy Davis
Troy Davis
Tanya Greene,
Advocacy and Policy Counsel,
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April 12, 2011

Troy Davis is probably innocent.

Probably innocent — is that the standard we now use to justify executing people?

Last week, the United States Supreme Court ended any real chance Davis had that the courts would stop his execution. He is now at the end of the road, and the state of Georgia could set a new date for his execution at any moment. The last time he had an execution date, in a highly unusual move, the Supreme Court agreed to hear his case just two hours before the execution. But this time, if he gets two hours from execution again, there will probably be no stay.

Instead, the government is poised to paralyze and stop the heart of Troy Davis, to eliminate him from the human community — because he might be guilty. But probably not.

The founding fathers wrote the Constitution with an anxious eye toward the formidable power of the government against the individual. Many of them had endured tyrannical persecution themselves and wanted to ensure no one in the new United States could be similarly singled out unfairly and thrown in jail (or killed!) without proper process and resources to mount a defense. Various protections were included in the Constitution to ensure that an individual would be provided the tools to combat the mighty government effectively when it accused him of something. But as the Troy Davis case tragically proves, there are giant cracks and holes in those safeguards and the state of Georgia may execute a man who is probably innocent.

As Davis’s likely execution nears, the 138 people who have been exonerated from death rows across the country should cause the state of Georgia great concern. The government had no DNA, videotapes, fingerprints, or other physical evidence to convict Troy Davis. All they had were supposed eyewitnesses — seven of whom have since recanted and admitted they did not see Troy Davis shoot Mark MacPhail, an off-duty Savannah police officer. And it gets worse: these same witnesses now reveal how law enforcement put them in the position to falsely accuse Mr. Davis of murder. So there’s really no solid evidence for the government to rely on anymore, if there ever was.

It would seem that the state of Georgia might be more careful and conscientious when relying on shaky testimony and nothing else before strapping a man down to kill him, especially when the whole world is watching. The last chance for remedy of this egregious injustice is an appeal for clemency to the Georgia Pardons and Parole Board. Last time, despite hearing from tens of thousands of concerned Georgia citizens and people from all over the world, the board denied clemency to Davis already, just before the Supreme Court granted him a stay.

This time, our voices must be even stronger. Clemency in Davis’ case does not mean setting him free but instead converting his death sentence to life in prison without parole. (At least then, if the day comes for him to be exonerated fully, he could be alive to see it.) The ACLU has a petition you can sign now and there is talk of rallies in cities across the country — watch here for notice of a day of solidarity and other updates.

Sometimes the court system fails to do justice. Now that the courts have failed him, we encourage you to join in the increased advocacy effort to convince the board to grant clemency to Troy Davis.

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