Guest post by Liliana Segura. Liliana is a member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and has written on the death penalty for The Nation and other publications.
UPDATE: This evening the Georgia pardon board granted Troy Davis a 90-day stay, just a night before the state was set to execute him for a crime witnesses say he didn't commit. His tragic story is recounted below.
The case of Troy Anthony Davis is a textbook example of blind prosecutorial zeal--and the legal blockades that can leave the innocent condemned to death.
Davis is a black man convicted for the 1989 killing of a white police officer in Savannah, Georgia. Those facts alone should raise an eyebrow or two when it comes to Southern justice. But consider these facts:
The case against Davis relied solely on eyewitness testimony. No physical evidence linked him to the crime. Nor was there a murder weapon found.
Out of nine non-police witnesses, seven would later admit to having been coerced by police and recant their testimony.
As the Washington Post reports:
"Three of four witnesses who testified at trial that Davis shot the officer have signed statements contradicting their identification of the gunman. Two other witnesses -- a fellow inmate and a neighborhood acquaintance who told police that Davis had confessed to the shooting -- have said they made it up. Other witnesses point the finger not at Davis but at another man. Yet none has testified during his appeals because federal courts barred their testimony."
Why would the courts refuse to hear such compelling evidence regarding a prisoner's possible innocence?
One reason is the Clinton-era Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which in 1996 rolled back federal reviews of state death penalty convictions, making it nearly impossible for prisoners facing execution to introduce potentially exculpatory evidence. It's chilling to think of what the subsequent decade has wrought, given the number of overturned death sentences in recent years. Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, 124 people have been exonerated from death row. Six have been from Georgia. As Jared Feuer, the Southern Regional Director of Amnesty International told Democracy Now! this morning, "It really is a runaway train."
One would think that officials in Georgia would be hesitant to go through with an execution on so little evidence.
One would be wrong.
On Friday afternoon the state Board of Pardons and Paroles denied a request from Davis's lawyers asking for more time to make their case for clemency.
In legal papers filed last week, Chief Assistant District Attorney David T. Lock dismissed the witnesses' recanted testimonies, writing: "A recantation...does not prove that the witness' testimony was in every part the purest fabrication."
So much for "beyond a reasonable doubt."
"They're saying that actual innocence doesn't matter," Davis's sister Martina Correia told Democracy Now!
With Davis's execution previously hours away, more than 4,000 letters of support have been sent the Georgia parole board. Desmond Tutu, Harry Belafonte, and even William Sessions, the former head of the FBI, have spoken out against the execution. A number of jurors spoke before Georgia's clemency board this morning, saying that they would never have convicted Davis based on what is known now. And longtime civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis told the board: "If executing Troy Davis on the evidence we now have is the best our justice system can do, then that system is not worthy of the word justice."
Click here to voice your support for clemency in this case.
Call the Board of Pardons and Parole at (404) 657-9350.
Send an e-mail to: Clemency_Information@pap.state.a.us