Friday, July 13, 2007

9 a.m. Monday morning

That's when the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles meets to consider the fate of Troy Anthony Davis, scheduled for execution at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

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Meanwhile, today the Atlanta Journal-Constitution weighed in with this lead editorial:

A chance of innocence
State parole board must intervene in death row inmate's case Published on: 07/13/07

Last-minute appeals by lawyers to spare the life of a death row inmate are common. And sometimes the claims made on behalf of inmates strain credibility.

Others are much more than that. Sometimes, they are legitimate efforts to stop the state from executing someone who could very well be innocent. The case of Troy Anthony Davis, scheduled to come before the state Board of Pardons and Paroles on Monday, is one of those. It would be a grave injustice if Davis is killed by lethal injection next week.

Davis, 38, was convicted of the brutal murder of Mark Allen MacPhail, a young Savannah police officer responding to a fight in a parking lot in 1989. Without substantive physical evidence — no gun, no DNA — prosecutors relied entirely on the testimony of witnesses. They found nine who implicated Davis. A jury found him guilty. He has been on death row since 1991, but Davis has maintained his innocence from the day he was arrested.

After his legal appeals were exhausted, however, significant developments occurred that demand closer examination:

• Seven of the original nine witnesses against Davis have renounced or contradicted their trial testimony. An alarming number now claim they were intimidated by the police. Of the two witnesses who have not recanted their testimony, one was implicated by two other witnesses during the trial as MacPhail's killer, and by four new witnesses since then.

• Davis is caught in an untenable procedural bind. Because of a 1996 law aimed at speeding up death penalty appeals, federal and state courts have ruled they can't consider new evidence in a death penalty case if the defendant should have brought it to the court's attention during the appeals process. But in the Davis case, most of the witnesses didn't recant their testimony until years later. Moreover, to get the courts to reopen the case, the defendant must be able to show that given the new evidence, no reasonable juror would convict him. That's an impossibly high standard.

• Some of the witnesses didn't get a chance to recant because the initial appeal in the Davis case was handled by attorneys from an underfunded state defender's agency that lacked the resources to track witnesses down and investigate what they told police, as opposed to what they testified to at trial.

The case has generated an exceptional amount of interest. Groups and individuals opposed to the death penalty support Davis, including Amnesty International, Nobel Prize winner Desmond Tutu, Sister Helen Prejean and Harry Belafonte. Archbishop Wilton Gregory has asked Catholics in the Atlanta archdiocese to pray for clemency for Davis.

The case has also drawn the attention of the Constitution Project, a bipartisan group that seeks consensus on difficult legal issues. William S. Sessions, a former federal judge and FBI director under three presidents, a death penalty advocate and a member of the project's Death Penalty Initiative, has researched Davis' case and strongly believes more investigation is needed.

Over the years, 124 death row inmates have been released from state prisons after evidence proved their innocence. Police, prosecutors, judges, witnesses and juries make mistakes, but those mistakes can never be reversed once a death sentence is carried out.

The Board of Pardons and Paroles is not being asked to set Troy Anthony Davis free. But in the name of justice it should allow him to make a new case for his innocence.
Mike King, for the editorial board

1 comment:

Sonia Tejada said...

Have you heard the outcome of the meeting yet? Can please post it on your blog.