Friday, September 16, 2011

Time Grows Short For Troy Davis

As Think Progress tells us here, demonstrations have been taking place to call attention to Troy Davis, who faces execution next Wednesday; also, a letter has been sent to the Georgia parole board with the signatures of 51 members of the U.S. Congress, including Georgia representative John Lewis, urging a halt to the execution.

For the benefit of anyone who isn’t familiar with the Davis case, this tells us the following…
The case against Davis has unraveled, yet he still faces execution. The conviction rests primarily on nine key witnesses, but six have recanted and one contradicted her trial statement. The police recovered shell casings at the crime scene, which were naturally present given that there was a shooting. However, they never found a murder weapon or any other physical evidence linking the shell casings to Troy Davis.

Almost all of the witnesses were vulnerable for one reason or another. One witness was illiterate, others were minors that were questioned without their parents or supportive adults, some had criminal histories, and most were African American.

The murder of the white police officer enraged local law enforcement, and indeed it was a terrible crime. Officer Mark MacPhail was rushing to the aid of a homeless man who was beaten unconscious in a Burger King parking lot on the other side of a Greyhound bus station in a poor end of town. When he came running to the scene, he was shot, and he fell to the ground without even having drawn his weapon. He left behind a wife and two very small children. Outrage was appropriate in the wake of his death. However, reports about how the investigation was conducted call into question how fair and proper things went. Many speak to the intense pressure on the African American community to find the perpetrator. Most of the witnesses allege coercion by the police in obtaining statements.

Strangely, one of the two witnesses who did not recant his testimony has been implicated in at least nine affidavits and by a new eyewitness account as being the actual perpetrator. This very same man was the one who first reported to the police that Davis was the shooter. He was never treated as a suspect himself. He was not put in line-ups and he was present at the crime scene with other witnesses for a reenactment of the events.

Davis had a heck of a time trying to seek relief once his case moved from the trial level to the post-conviction habeas process. The Georgia Resource Center was hit with a two-thirds budget cut, which reduced the number of staff attorneys to two, representing about eighty prisoners. Triage was not even possible with the remaining resources. Yet this was the time for Davis to assemble evidence and an argument about his innocence claim.

Also, in the mid-1990s, the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), was passed on the heels of the Oklahoma City Bombing. It limited access by death row prisoners of the federal appeals process, placing time limits on introduction of new evidence for example. Davis’ case was negatively impacted along with others.

Troy Davis has been confronted with a system that would rather hold onto a decision a jury made twenty years ago than admit that some fundamentally wrong things have happened. It is a system bent on preserving itself more than on being absolutely sure that injustice and inaccuracy are filtered out.
On top of the letter from Congress (and the call to halt the execution from former FBI Director William Sessions, as noted here), an online petition has garnered 663,000 signatures calling for a new trial in the Davis case (here).

I realize that the High Court of Hangin’ Judge JR decided not to hear the appeal by Davis (Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito, and Kennedy too many times also, have plenty to other baggage to answer for also as far as I’m concerned), but I wondered about the man who originally prosecuted Davis and believes the conviction should still be upheld. And that would be Chatham County, GA District Attorney Spencer Lawton.

As noted here, a number of Lawton’s convictions have been overturned, including death penalty cases. And in this radio interview with host Dori Smith, Lawton doesn’t appear to know what the 8th Amendment is (he’s “got no idea” if it prevents the execution of the innocent…actually, it opposes “excessive bail” and “cruel and unusual punishment”), thinks the fact that a possible suspect appearing without counsel in a criminal case means that the lawyer thought he was innocent (actually, what it means is that the lawyer is incompetent), and he compares Amnesty International to a mob.

Please click here to lend your voice on behalf of Troy Davis. He’s not asking for freedom, he’s just asking to be allowed to live so he can be granted a new trial and try to prove his innocence. And he should have it.

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