(April 5, 2011)
Troy Davis may soon face execution despite serious doubts that continue to persist in his case.
The Board of Pardons and Paroles is the final failsafe in Georgia that can prevent an execution. They have the power to commute Davis’ sentence to life, preventing the irrevocable step of killing the prisoner. The Board said in this case in 2007 that it would not allow an execution to go ahead “unless and until its members are convinced that there is no doubt as to the guilt of the accused”. Doubts persist in this case.
Davis was sent to death row in 1991 for the 1989 murder of off-duty police officer Mark Allen MacPhail in Savannah, Georgia.
No physical evidence directly links Davis to the murder – no murder weapon was ever found.
The case against Davis primarily rested on the testimony of nine witnesses. Since his trial, 7 of the 9 key witnesses have recanted or changed their testimony, some alleging police coercion.
Davis has faced execution three times, once coming within two hours of execution.
In 2009, the US Supreme Court ordered an evidentiary hearing to review Davis’ actual innocence claim, which took place in Savannah’s federal district court in 2010. The presiding judge ruled that Davis did not prove his innocence under what the judge described as the required “extraordinarily high” standard. However, rather than resolve the doubts about Davis’ guilt, the hearing demonstrated that doubts persist in the case. Without the aid of physical evidence, he had to rely on witnesses whose statements were readily relied upon by the state at trial, but whose post-trial revisions and recantations have been dismissed throughout the appeals process.
At the hearing, a witness offered new testimony that he claimed he was too fearful to offer in the past. He testified to seeing the alternative suspect in the case, a relative of his, shoot Officer MacPhail. Additionally, new witnesses emerged to testify that the alternative suspect confessed to them that he had committed the murder. Their testimony was dismissed by the court as not credible.
The federal judge acknowledged that the state’s case against Troy Davis was not “ironclad”.
Davis is now at risk of receiving an execution date because the US Supreme Court on 28 March 2011 refused to consider his final appeal.
Georgia does not currently have the drugs needed to carry out executions; however, this may or may not cause much delay as authorities may be able to acquire new drugs soon.
Troy Davis’ case underscores reasons why the death penalty should be abolished. 138 people have been exonerated from US death rows since 1973; others may have been executed despite serious doubt about their guilt. There is no convincing evidence that the death penalty has a special deterrent effect and capital prosecutions come with huge financial costs, far higher than ordinary criminal justice cases. The cost of the death penalty diverts resources from more constructive solutions, such as support for law enforcement and crime prevention and services for murder victims’ families. We can have justice without the death penalty.
Please help us spread the word about Troy Davis. Let’s tell Georgia: there should be no executions, not least when there are doubts about guilt. Please sign the petition and help us get signatures on our two sign-on letters – for clergy and legal professionals. Information and of these tools are available at www.justicefortroy.org. [Within the USA:] You can get text alerts by sending the word “troy” to 90999 [“nine zero, triple nine”].