Troy Anthony Davis – Executing the Innocent
I’ve posted several pieces on the tragic case of Troy Anthony Davis. I can’t let this story go. The more I study the law, the more I’m convinced there are times when the administration of the law can be far removed from questions of guilt or innocence.
A New York Times article cited a decision made by Judge Mark Wolf of the Federal District Court in Boston where Judge Wolf wrote that the crucial question for courts was “how large a fraction of the executed must be innocent to offend contemporary standards of decency.” He was referring to what it would take before there is a public outcry against the practice of accepting that some innocent people will be executed. The article, “Signs Grow of Innocent People Being Executed, Judge Says” was written by Adam Liptak back in 2003.
Noted political commentator and journalist Cynthia Tucker wrote a piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution a while back that is a must read for anyone concerned with justice. Her article began with the following:
If Troy Anthony Davis had occupied a higher rung on the social ladder, he probably would not have been convicted of murder in the August 1989 shooting death of a Savannah police officer. If Davis were a doctor or lawyer or college professor, it’s unlikely police would have targeted him on the word of a small-time thug.
The point she makes goes to the heart of this tragic story. Troy Anthony Davis may be innocent but could still be executed — and this could happen with many of the key players on the state’s side being fully aware of Davis’ potential innocence. They have followed procedure and, for many of them, that’s all that matters. Whether or not he actually murdered Police Officer Mark McPhail is irrelevant to some in the justice system at this point.
You can read the rest of Cynthia Tucker’s article on Troy Anthony Davis here.
After many years of trying to get his case heard, Troy Davis’ sister Martina ignited a movement that has resulted in a ground swell of support. Many people have spoken out against this execution, including Pope Benedict XVI, Rep. John Lewis, former President Jimmy Carter, former FBI Director William Sessions, Bishop Desmond Tutu, former federal prosecutor Bob Barr and a long list of others — yet the clock continues to tick on the countdown to the day the state of Georgia has planned to execute Troy Davis. (This article was written in April 2009. Since that time Troy has been issued several temporary stays of execution including one by the United States Supreme Court yet no court has heard the new evidence and Troy Davis is now scheduled to be executed on September 21, 2011)
Davis was convicted of killing Savannah police officer Mark McPhail 20 years ago in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant. The case was based solely on eyewitness testimony. However, since the trial, 7 of the 9 eyewitnesses have recanted or otherwise changed their stories, but NO COURT has heard this new testimony!!
“Without a hearing, without the power of subpoena to get everybody that we need to get into a court to look at the evidence that supports these witnesses’ recantations — that just never happened. And I think that leaves this case quite unresolved,” said Jason Ewert, one of Davis’ defense attorneys.
Amnesty International has provided a quick way to contact the governor of Georgia.
Please, do the right thing and contact the Governor.
Please pass this story on using the “share” feature on this site or linking it to Facebook. We need your support. Regardless of the position you take on capital punishment, any reasonable person would agree that we should do whatever we can to avoid executing an innocent person. But somehow the Supreme Court does not take that position.
In his most recent book, “The Conservative Assault on the Constitution”, quoting Chief Justice William Rehnquist, noted Constitutional scholar Erwin Chemerinsky wrote, “Claims of actual innocence based on newly discovered evidence have never been held to state a ground for federal habeas relief absent an independent constitutional violation occurring in the underlying state criminal proceeding.” So convicting and even executing an innocent person is not a constitutional violation according to Rehnquist and several other justices.
The Supreme Court issued a temporary stay of execution on the Troy Davis case in order to grant the court enough time to determine if they would hear his case. They decided not to hear the case. Justices Scalia and Thomas dissented from a stay of a death sentence in 2009 declaring: “This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.”
According to Erwin Chemerinsky, these justices are willing to accept the risk of executing an innocent person to avoid the costs of a large number of petitions coming from those on death row.