Georgia Pardons Board Denies Clemency for Troy Davis; Execution Set for 7pm Tomorrow
The Georgia State Board of Pardons and Parole ruled this morning that Troy Davis, convicted of murdering a policeman in a highly dubious trial two decades ago, should be executed tomorrow evening according to schedule. The board rejected pleas by Davis’ attorneys that highly questionable witness testimony and a lack of physical evidence linking him to the crime constituted sufficient doubt about his guilt to spare his life.
Davis, now 42 years old, was convicted in 1991 for the shooting death of off-duty Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail. The officer was rushing to the aid of a homeless man who was being assaulted in a parking lot in the early morning hours of August 19, 1989 when someone shot him dead.
No murder weapon was ever recovered. No physical evidence was ever found linking Davis to the crime. No fingerprints. No DNA.
Seven of the nine prosecution witnesses that identified Davis as the shooter have recanted or altered their stories. Some of the witnesses allege police coercion forced them to falsely identify Davis. Several of them were actually shown photos of Davis that identified him as a suspect in the murder before being asked to finger him as the shooter. A key witness who told police he had never seen the shooter’s face later told the jury at Davis’ trial that he was sure who the killer was.
Prosecutors also relied on two hearsay confessions, both of which were later recanted by the witnesses.
Davis and other witnesses have identified Sylvester “Red” Coles, who was also present at the murder scene, as the real killer. Tellingly, Coles implicated Davis in the shooting and was one of only two witnesses against him who never recanted or altered their original stories.
Some witnesses say Savannah police pressured them into identifying Davis as the killer with threats of imprisonment or other punishment for offenses they had committed, or had offered them leniency regarding those offenses. “I am not proud of lying at Troy’s trial, but the police had me so messed up that I felt that’s all I could do or else I would go to jail,” one key eyewitness told the Huffington Post.
“If I knew then what I know now, Troy Davis would not be on death row,” juror Brenda Forrest told CNN, reflecting on the shocking revelations of police coercion and witness tampering. “The verdict would be not guilty,” she added.
So shaky was Davis’ conviction and death sentence that his execution has been halted on three previous occasions. In 2007, the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Parole granted a stay of execution in the final hours, ruling that he should not be killed unless the board’s members were “convinced that there is no doubt as to the guilt of the accused.”
In 2008, as Davis was 90 minutes from being executed, the United States Supreme Court intervened and ordered an extraordinary hearing in order to consider new evidence.
But in 2010, a U.S. District Court in Georgia ruled that Davis failed to prove that he was innocent and denied him a new trial. A subsequent appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was then rejected. William T. Moore Jr., the presiding judge in the hearing, ruled that in order to overturn the original verdict against him, Davis not only had to demonstrate the dubious nature of the evidence against him, he also needed to show “clear and compelling” proof of his innocence.
The recantations and alterations in the prosecution witnesses’ original testimonies were deemed “unreliable.” This is shocking: their accounts had been sufficient to secure a murder conviction and a death sentence, but now they were insufficient to halt that execution. This speaks volumes about our nation’s capital punishment system, one which has almost certainly sent innocent people to their deaths.
As Davis’ time seemed to be running out once again, hundreds of protest rallies were held across the globe and more than 630,000 letters were delivered to the pardons and parole board pleading for clemency. Among the prominent international figures who have asked for Davis’ life to be spared are former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Nobel Peace Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Pope Benedict XVI.
Even death penalty supporters are pleading for Davis’ life to be spared. In an editorial published last week in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, former F.B.I. director William S. Sessions wrote: “Serious questions about Mr. Davis’ guilt, highlighted by witness recantations, allegations of police coercion, and a lack of relevant physical evidence, continue to plague his conviction.”
And former federal prosecutor and four-term Republican congressman from Georgia Bob Barr wrote this in an editorial published in the Savannah Morning News: “I am a longtime supporter of the death penalty. I make no judgement as to whether Davis is guilty or innocent. And surely the citizens of Savannah and the state of Georgia want justice served on behalf of Officer MacPhail. But imposing an irreversible sentence of death on the skimpiest of evidence will not serve the interest of justice.”
It certainly won’t, but it now appears that barring another last-minute intervention, Davis will be put to death by lethal injection tomorrow evening at 7pm. In this country, guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” is not a prerequisite for executing convicts, despite the lofty rhetoric of our so-called justice system.
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